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Big Push Gets Underway for Free Application for Federal Student Aid

As families begin filling on Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms this month, there is a push for high schools to do all they can to help in the process.

First lady Michelle Obama launched a FAFSA Completion Challenge video contest in the fall encouraging schools to document how they increased the number of FAFSA forms students submitted this year over last.

High school counselors are ramping up in-school efforts to get students on the path to college by hosting help sessions on applying for college and financial aid. Some school are holding FAFSA Days to provide free assistance in filling out the federal forms.

Strengthening the role of counselors and helping students tap into financial aid to make college more affordable has been a key component of the administration's efforts to broaden access to higher education for disadvantaged students.

With the FAFSA season beginning Jan. 1, families can get started by going to the government's free website at fafsa.ed.gov — not to be confused with private FAFSA preparation companies with similar web addresses that charges for their services. Search on the federal site for varying deadlines by state and college.

Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, has information about types of aid available, qualification criteria, applying for aid, and managing loans on its website, as well as a series of You Tube videos.

It encourages students not to bypass the FAFSA process because they believe it's too complicated, the family's taxes must be completed first, they don't have high enough grades or their families make too much money. In a video dispelling these myths, the office notes that families can use income estimates based on last year's taxes, there are no academic requirements to qualify, aid is available even to high-income families, and completing the FAFSA can be done in less than one hour.

Last year, the National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators released a series of free tools to help families with the FAFSA process.

Financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz has useful information for the 20 million families who submit a FASFA each year on the website Edvisors.com and in his free book for download, "Filing the FAFSA."



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