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College Corner: Managing the FAFSA

[media-credit id=176 align=”alignright” width=”300″]IMG_3773-2[/media-credit]Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be an intimidating process for both parents and students. Although completing the application can be somewhat confusing, potential pay off can be well worth the time and frustration.

From academic years 2006?07 to 2011?12, the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students at 4-year degree-granting institutions receiving any financial aid increased from 75 to 85 percent.

One of the biggest reasons I have encountered for students not completing the FAFSA is because they believe their parents make too much money to qualify for financial aid. Even if this is the case, not filing for the FAFSA can disqualify students from receiving scholarships through their college that often require completion of the FAFSA to qualify.

With the addition of the Middleclass Scholarship in the 2014-2015 academic year, some students who would not have received assistance in the past are now eligible for grant money if they will be attending a CSU or UC campus.

In speaking with Miriam Villasenor, Public Contact for the Fresno State Financial Aid Office, her biggest piece of advice was not to miss the Mar. 2 priority deadline.

“By missing this deadline students are no longer deemed as priority students,” Villasenor said. “And the likelihood of receiving financial aid may decrease significantly.”

She also encourages families to take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. By using this tool, a family’s tax information can be transferred directly from the IRS website to the FAFSA application, allowing the report to be as accurate as possible.

After completing the FAFSA, colleges will receive a report stating the family’s estimated financial contribution (EFC), in other words, how much the family can afford to pay toward college.

According to the Minnesota Office of Her Education, “The amount of financial aid you are eligible to receive is determined by subtracting the EFC from the total price of a specific school. Don’t rule out any school simply because of price. Your financial aid eligibility increases as the price of a school increases, but the expected family contribution stays the same.”

Students make several mistakes on the FAFSA, which is why it is so important to read every question carefully and have a second set of eyes to look it over.

Villasenor stated that a common mistake is for students to report their parents? income as their own income, which could significantly decrease the amount of money they will be eligible for.

Sean Moore from SMART College Funding states that 80 percent of completed FAFSAs contained one of more mistakes, particularly related to claiming assets.

“Pay close attention, as this can make a huge difference in how much aid you receive,” Moore said. “For example, money in a retirement account won?t count against you, but money in a checking account will. Small family businesses also aren?t a counted asset, so don?t lose out on money by incorrectly including assets that should be uncounted.”

Although mistakes are easy to make, there are professionals dedicated to helping parents and students complete the application. To get answers to your FAFSA questions or to begin the process, please visit their website.

There are also several local workshops that families can attend to learn more about the FAFSA. Workshops labeled Cash for College allow students the opportunity to earn a $1,500 scholarship.

Local Fresno area workshops:

Feb 18, 6-8 p.m. Fresno Pacific University (AIMS Hall)
Register here.

Feb 26, 6:30-8 p.m. Cash for College Workshop at Clovis Community College Campus (for more information, email [email protected])

Other local Cash for College Workshops. Register here.

For last year?s article about the FAFSA, click here.

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For more opinions, read the Jan. 13 article, New staffers reflect on fall semester.

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