February 23, 2011
Mr. Rogers’ Bloggerhood – FAFSA!… Excuse me?
If I were to ask 10 people on the street to tell me about the FAFSA, I’m sure the responses would be quite varied. Some might pity me and give me the number to a family friend who’s had experience helping “people” like me. Others may back away slowly fearing a contagion of some kind, a few may even try to hurt me because they think I’ve used an inappropriate pejorative. This might be a slight exaggeration of the truth, but the point is still a valid one – people just aren’t as familiar with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid as they should be.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the gateway people must pass through in order to be considered for federal and most state financial aid opportunities. This includes student loans, federal work-study programs, grants (free money), as well as some scholarships. I’m fairly certain that had I not described the FAFSA and had subsequently invited you to attend a FAFSA night with me, the responses to my inquiry would have been as equally as amusing as the examples already highlighted.
So, what is a FAFSA night? Is it just some night that a school counselor keeps a computer lab open later and has people come in and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid? That can and does happen, and it can be valuable. I’d like to share an experience about what a FAFSA night can look like with the proper preparation and services.
I had the good fortune to attend West High’s College FAFSA Night (February 17th, 2011) and it exemplified the ideal opportunities that can happen at such an event, when the necessary preparation and resources are committed. The Utah College Advising Corps, a group that assists many of our underrepresented students throughout the metro area, organized the evening. The timing was perfect. The ideal situation for filing a FAFSA is after students and parents have been able to complete their taxes (which for most of us can’t happen until we get the W2 from our employer in early February), but before college financial aid priority deadlines, which typically occur in March. They had a number of professionals leading workshops designed to assist students and their families in preparing for scholarships, the ACT, filling out college admission applications, orientation for college, filing taxes, and last, but not least – completing the FAFSA. Oh yeah, and they had each of those services available in both English and Spanish.
I am fortunate to work for a state agency (the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority – UHEAA) that is committed to helping individuals make that transition to college, and actually puts significant resources behind that effort. We are not alone in this effort, across the state college financial aid officials, school counselors, access advisors, and others volunteer their time and talents in similar efforts. Nearly 40 students and their families completed the FAFSA at the event. Of all the students I helped at West High, I didn’t have one that didn’t initially qualify for some grant aid, and most qualified for the maximum.
An additional benefit UHEAA is offering to participants of FAFSA nights this year is a prize. Students who register for and attend a UHEAA administered FAFSA night are entered into a drawing for two iPod Touches and $15 iTunes gift cards (the cards are given at each venue). If you want to attend one of the remaining few events, visit uheaa.org and click on the banner of the bottom of the page. Hopefully this blog has been informative enough that the next time someone says FAFSA you won’t be tempted to utter “bless you!”Posted by: Steve Rogers
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