High school guidance counselor Roslyn Wagner, rear, talks with Jessica Hujber, 15, on Thursday, May 26, 2011 at Cooper City High School in Cooper City, Fla. Wagner used to handle just one grade. But two years ago, one of the school's four guidance counselors retired and she hasn't been replaced. That left her with the 800 students to shepherd through scheduling and college admissions, to counsel and support.
Opening the door to federal financial aid for college begins with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which became available Thursday.
Federal officials estimate that more than 15 million students paying for college or trade school will receive $150 billion in grants, loans, or work-study funds this year.
“It’s probably the most important thing for the vast majority of students,” said independent college admissions advisor Carolyn Z. Lawrence.
Here's some advice:
- Make the deadline. Fill out the application early.
- College financial deadlines vary. Students who want to attend University of California and Cal State campuses have to fill it out by March 2. Ivy League colleges and universities have a February 1st deadline. Check the financial aid websites for the colleges you applied to.
- Don’t do it alone. Get help from your high school college advisor and/or the financial aid office at the college you’re applying to.
- Be accurate with parents’ financial information. Use income information from the tax year that just ended. If a tax return for that year hasn’t been filed, estimate income on the application, then correct it once the return has been filed.
- Use the web and phone resources on the FAFSA web site.
“I think a lot of students, and parents too, assume that college is going to be, you know, extremely out of reach and they don’t understand how financial aid works, what type of financial aid is available or what types of financial aid are available,” Lawrence said.
There’s a symbolic change to the FAFSA this year: a college applicant with same sex parents living together - regardless if they're married - can now include them in the application. Federal officials said a clearer financial picture of those families will lead to a better calculation of the student’s financial need.