Paying for college is one of the largest and most important investments in one’s lifetime. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the WASFA (Washington Application for State Financial Aid) can help cushion the dent college tuition makes on one’s wallet. These applications must be completed annually in order to qualify for nine federal student-aid programs, the 605 state aid programs, and most institutional financial aid. The Consumerist recently reported that college students failed to claim more than $2.9 billion in grants last year by not filling out the FAFSA in 2013. Washington state alone had $58.1 million of unclaimed Pell Grant money.
Filing the FAFSA and the WASFA can be daunting, so the GEAR UP staff at Walla Walla High School have spent all of the January Wednesday evenings (5-7pm) in the school library assisting seniors and parents with filing the FAFSA and WASFA, as well as providing general information about financial literacy. They also hosted one of these information sessions at SEA-TECH (Southeast Area Skills Center), one of Walla Walla Public Schools’ partners. SEA-TECH is one of 15 skill centers in Washington State that provides students with access to technical programs of study.
A common concern that students and parent have is that student grades will impact their ability to get money. While many scholarships have GPA minimums, federal aid is not based on grades. Another reason people don’t file the FAFSA is that they think they’ll fall outside the “correct” income bracket for receiving aid. The truth is that the FAFSA formula is based on a complicated formula that accounts for a lot of factors in addition to parental income, and so it’s hard to tell at first-glance if you truly won’t receive money. Don’t let yourself become the reason you didn’t get free money! Finally, some think the process for filing is too difficult. In reality, the FAFSA is easier to file than ever. It’s online and takes less than an hour of your time as long as you have your social security number and tax documents. No matter who you are or what you income is, file your application for student financial aid!
Upon completion of their FAFSA, students were rewarded with fancy WashBoard pens that come with USB flash drives containing information about scholarships and other college financial information.