If you are a community college student and believe that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is only about determining federal Pell Grant eligibility, you are not alone. Most people believe that they either do not qualify for a federal grant, or they think the FAFSA is only for low-income families. As a result, many leave Pell and other funding resources untapped.
Last year alone, high school seniors left nearly $3 billion in unclaimed federal grant aid, and guess what? Leaving Pell behind is only the tip of the FAFSA iceberg. The FAFSA is a tool used not only for deciding Pell Grant eligibility, but it is also used by colleges and universities to help determine eligibility for state, local and institutional financial aid — essentially all financial aid decisions spring from the FAFSA.
The FAFSA provides important information on college costs and completion outcomes. It allows you to enter up to 10 college choices. At the completion of the application, you are provided with detailed information summarizing both the costs of attendance and graduation rates for each institution. The FAFSA allows you to explore, compare and contrast individual public and private colleges in your area and beyond and gives critical information you need to make the right decisions about your future.
If you are in college or looking to transfer and trying to balance the wants of where you want to go with the costs and benefits of attendance — it isn’t easy. But what I know is that Phi Theta Kappa members have many options when it comes to paying for college. In addition to our transfer scholarships (see CollegeFish.org), our nation’s community colleges awarded over $460 million in state aid and over $180 million in institutional aid to first-time, full-time students last year alone. Many of these awards are for students who excel — either inside or outside the classroom.
Already filled out the FAFSA before? Know that you have to renew it every year. Your college needs to know if what they are giving you is still appropriate, and they also need to know if your situation has changed — things such as job loss or loss of income will matter to your college’s financial aid officer.
Don’t let the name fool you — the FAFSA is not just about determining federal aid eligibility, as the name implies. The FAFSA is also a tool for choosing colleges and, more importantly, a map to help you navigate the complex landscape of college admissions.
Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner is the President and CEO of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. If you want to get in touch with Lynn, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org