Financial Aid Deadline Looming: Community Colleges Offer Assistance

The FAFSA deadline is fast approaching and many community colleges are offering workshops and other types of assistance to help students get the financial aid necessary to head to college next year.
The deadline for submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is looming, and colleges across the country are offering assistance with financial aid paperwork. This basic form, which is the first step in gaining grants or loans from the federal government, have helped many students pay for the rising costs of higher education. For those with questions about the FAFSA, answers may be as close as their local community college.

What is FAFSA?
 
The FAFSA is the first step in the financial aid process, whether students are looking for federal or state assistance. According to a report at the Rhode Show, this mother of all financial aid forms allows the federal government to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid. The states also use the paperwork to determine whether students qualify for loans or grants at the state level. Colleges and universities use the information on the FAFSA to get an idea of just how much financial aid a student might need to attend a specific school.
 
The FAFSA opens the door to a variety of financial aid options, including the popular Stafford loans and grad PLUS loans. Student loans like these are preferable to private loans for most students because they come with low interest rates and an array of consumer protections and benefits. One of the most attractive features of some of these loans is an Income-Based Repayment Plan that allows students to pay off balances in increments they can afford once they graduate from college.
 
Low Participation in FAFSA, Despite Benefits
 
Despite the many potential benefits of financial aid, universities and community colleges agree that not nearly enough students take the time to complete the FAFSA each year. The President’s Council on Financial Capability reported last fall that two-thirds of students who take out private loans to foot the bill for higher education never exhaust their financial aid options first. It is no wonder that institutions of higher education across the country put in a push to get more FAFSAs submitted each year.
 
One reason for the low application rate is that many students believe their families make too much money to qualify for any sort of financial aid. However, the Sallie Mae website states, “No matter how much your family earns and how substantial your assets, you qualify for an unsubsidized Stafford loan.” While students with parents who make above a certain threshold may not qualify for all types of financial aid, there are still some products they could be eligible for.
 
Mary Crowe, Assistant Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships at Elgin Community College, told the Elgin Courier-News, “We really advocate for [Elgin students] to [fill out the FAFSA], even if they don’t think they’ll qualify or get money.” Crowe explains that about 54 percent of students at her school currently get some sort of financial aid, which amounts to more than 6,000 students on their campus.
 
Another problem is that completion of the FAFSA is perceived as a major headache for students and their parents. The form requires a substantial amount of financial information and can be nearly as confusing as a tax return to decipher. However, there is plenty of help for completing the form online, and workshops available through community colleges to help parents and students make sense of the paperwork. While some of the workshops have already occurred, others are still to come on college calendars, giving students additional opportunities to learn more about how to use financial aid to their advantage.
 
Ivy Tech Offers Financial Aid Assistance
 
In Ivy Tech Community College’s home state of Indiana, the deadline for submitting FAFSA paperwork is March 10. Until that date, the community college is doing everything it can to help students get the financial aid they desperately need and qualify for. This week, Ivy Tech is hosting a financial aid workshop, featuring a financial aid expert who will be on hand to answer questions and guide students through the application process. According to a report at the Greencastle Banner-Graphic, the workshop is to be held on the college’s campus, from 4:30 to 6 in the evening.
 
Ivy Tech encourages students to meet the March 10 deadline when they can, since earlier FAFSA submissions tend to receive greater amounts of financial aid. Students 23 and younger must attend the workshop with their parents, while students 24 and older can attend solo. According to financial aid guidelines, 24 is the age when a student is considered financially independent and can apply for aid based on his own financial information. Attendees are asked to bring 2011 tax returns, W-2 forms and income information.
 
Other Schools Offering Free Help
 
Salem Community College, Elgin Community College and Northwest Iowa Community College are also offering free assistance through workshops and open houses during the busy FAFSA time. According to NJ.com, Salem Community College has already hosted one workshop in February, but has two more scheduled for March to discuss financial aid options and offer assistance with completing FAFSA paperwork.
 
Elgin Community College is hosting open houses for students interested in applying for financial aid through June. The school provides financial aid professionals during those events to answer questions and offer guidance on application completion. Northwest Iowa Community College hosted their Financial Aid Assistance Night earlier this month, with free information and advice from financial aid experts, according to BrandonInfo.com.
 
Financial aid is a necessary part of the college experience for many students today. With the new school year looming in just a few short months, now is the time to get financial ducks in a row and find out what sort of federal and state assistance you can qualify for.

Additional Resources [+]
Short End of the Stick: Why Some Community College Students Can't Get Federal Loans
Short End of the Stick: Why Some Community College Students Can't Get Federal Loans
While Community Colleges Struggle, More Federal Subsidies Pour into For-Profits
While Community Colleges Struggle, More Federal Subsidies Pour into For-Profits
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