RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - College students are racking up student loan debt. Yet a new study reveals they're leaving nearly $3 billion nationwide in free Pell Grants on the table.
Pell Grants are federal money for college that don't have to be paid back. So why aren't more students applying for them?
A study by NerdWallet.com found 17,388 students in Virginia were eligible for Pell Grants but did not apply. The average award is $3536. NerdWallet says that leaves $61,498,653 that Virginia students could have received and would never have to pay back.
Student loan debt is skyrocketing. The average amount per borrower is $28,400.
But a NerdWallet study found students not even applying for Pell Grants that they qualify for.
"Maybe they're not even aware of the FAFSA that they could complete something like this," suggested NerdWallet's Gianna Sen-Gupta. "They just don't think they can qualify because their parents make too much money."
But Sen-Gupta says other factors help students qualify. "Like your parents' debt and other factors, how many other children they have."
And if students aren't filling out the FAFSA form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, that means they may not be getting available state aid either.
Said Jonathan West of College Funding Group, "The state of Virginia has the Tuition Assistance Grant, which is available for Virginia residents who go to private school in Virginia. This year that was $3,100 per student per year."
And there's more money many students miss. West started the website CFGScholarBank to help students find little known private scholarships that often have few applicants.
"On our website, we have a database of over 450 local private scholarships that we've pulled together from various sources. It's free and it's searchable," said West.
Nerdwallet has a web page that offers assistance filling out the FAFSA form here.
Students can also find scholarship information through FastWeb.com.