There’s still time for families to fill out the FAFSA

Heidi Finley

Has your family filled out the FAFSA yet? It’s not too late.

The FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – is an online form that enables student eligibility for federal, state and institutional financial aid.

The College Foundation of North Carolina, a state entity that helps students with educational and career planning, warns that only 45 percent of North Carolina’s graduating high school students have completed the FAFSA – far short of its 75 percent goal. This means students are potentially missing out on funds for college.

Timeka Ruffin, a regional representative for CFNC, said many people don’t fill out the form because they think they won’t qualify for aid or can’t afford college in general. But “for the people who are low-income, there really are options to help you pay,” she said – and the FAFSA is a good start.

Some are also intimidated by the form, but “it’s actually gotten easier,” Ruffin said. “The average time to fill it out is about 15 to 2o minutes.”

Federal Student Aid, the office of the U.S. Department of Education that handles the FAFSA, says that to fill out the form, families should gather their Social Security numbers or Alien Registration numbers; federal tax returns; records of untaxed income such as child support, interest income and veterans benefits; and checking and savings balances, and investments.

Ruffin said it’s best to fill out the FAFSA when it’s first available, Oct. 1. That will get students the earliest crack at all the funds available from the schools where they’re accepted. Some colleges also have their own deadlines for students to fill out the form and have it sent to them.

By this time of year, many colleges have already doled out their available funds. However, FAFSA completion is a case of better late than never, and students have until June 30 to get it done.

Help is generally available at any college’s financial aid office, and sometimes high school counselors can help, as well. There’s also a FAFSA Completion Day event at University City Regional Library on May 1 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

“Just know that it’s never too late to do it,” Ruffin said. “There are funds available to help them pay for college.”

 

Finley is the editor of Carolina College Bound. Send questions or suggestions to hfinley@charlotteobserver.com