FAFSA-Slider1-760x337Thinking about heading off to college can be daunting, for students and parents alike. Especially when it comes to paying for that degree.

Most students needs some sort of financing package and that’s where Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) comes in.

Think of FAFSA as the gateway to money for higher education. Not only is FAFSA used to apply for federal student aid–the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Work-Study, Federal Perkins Loans and Federal Stafford Loans–it is also used to apply for student financial aid from state governments and most colleges/universities.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the federal government annually awards about $150 billion in the form of grants, work-study funds and low-interest loans to help millions of students pay for college.

It is a big mistake for a student to fail to apply for FAFSA. While January 1st is the initial day you can submit your form, it is better to have income tax returns filed before tackling  a FAFSA application. Don’t wait too long: students who apply in the first quarter of the year obtain more money than those applying later.

In California,  a March 2nd online submission date, or postmark on a mailed application, is the deadline for many state financial aid programs.

According to the U.S. Department of Education website, there are four misconceptions around qualifying for financial aid for college.

To dispel these myths, note that the following are not true:

  1. I (or my parents) make too much money, so I won’t qualify for aid.
  2. Only students with good grades get financial aid.
  3. I’m too old to get financial aid.
  4. The form is too hard to fill out.

While the last point may seem true, with 103 questions to be answered on this year’s form, you don’t need to go it alone.

To help Mission Promise Neighborhood students and parents wade through this 10-page application, come to MEDA’s FAFSA Preparation Assistance Night on Wednesday, February 25th, from 6pm to 8pm at Plaza Adelante. Bank of the West is sponsoring this free event and will be sending volunteers to sit with applicants and help them submit their FAFSA forms (pre-register). All participants will be entered in a raffle to win a Nexus 7 tablet–perfect for taking to college.

Think of FAFSA as the first step to a successful college experience.

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