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Posted on January 8, 2020 at 6:00 am
I have a confession to make. I never filled out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) when I was in high school.
When I graduated during the mid-80s, students typically completed their FAFSA applications midway through their senior year. For me, the FAFSA deadline also coincided with my realization that I was burned out. I had taken too many AP classes and was considering taking a year off before college.
Two years later, my parents and my brother got organized and filled out his FAFSA application during his senior year. This was great because he had a post-graduation plan. He was accepted to an out-of-state private college, was awarded a scholarship, and still needed additional aid to pay for things like food and books.
At that time, the FAFSA application was only available in paper (no internet yet) and had to be sent via snail mail. The whole process seemed a bit complicated and time consuming. However, for my brother, it was worth the effort because he found the rest of the funding he needed.
When I finally had the chance to submit my own FAFSA for graduate school, the internet existed and I could apply online. And even better, for each subsequent year I applied for aid, I could just update my original application rather than starting from scratch.
I didn’t qualify for any grants or scholarships, but the loan I was offered in my aid package made it possible to complete my degree.
Also knowing the repayment terms up front and that they were going to be much more manageable than a bank loan or a credit card made the process of taking a student loan the smart decision for me.
That’s also what is great about submitting your FAFSA: You don’t have to take the aid that’s offered. But if you don’t apply, then you won’t know what you qualify for.
When researching, I was shocked to discover that only 54.6 percent of Washington state high school seniors and college-bound students successfully submitted their FAFSA for the 2018–19 academic year (statistics from the Washington Student Achievement Council).
If you or a family member is thinking about attending college next year, don’t be part of the 45 percent that left free or low-interest tuition money on the table last academic year.
The Federal Student Aid website has a wealth of information and tools to help answer questions, such as explanations of the different types of aid, eligibility criteria, and checklists for every age of applicant and stage of application. There’s also a helpful section on how to repay loans when the time comes.
If I could tell the high-school-senior me one thing, it would be to complete the FAFSA.
It takes a bit of time and effort, but ultimately you’ll know your options and be better informed for your educational future.
I encourage you not to be like me!
The library can help. We have books about college student aid you can check out, and if you would like one-on-one help filling out your FAFSA, you can always Book a Librarian for personalized assistance.