While completion of the FAFSA form is required for all graduating seniors, many students may be unaware of the benefits of submitting their form early. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) form, which opened on October 1, is the gateway to over $120 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study funds, as well as other private or merit-based scholarships. But what many don’t realize is the funding is often distributed on a rolling basis: first-come, first-served. Those who file early have the best chance at receiving the most money.
All LPSS high schools have plans in place to assist students and families with filling out the FAFSA form. Counselors can help families access a wide variety of helpful options, including line-by-line individual assistance in filling out the form. GEAR UP is supporting those efforts and encouraging students to act quickly to take advantage of the vast range of funding available to those who submit their FAFSA form as soon as possible. Most students who apply will qualify for at least some assistance, whether it’s federal grants, work-study funds or even low-interest federal student loans. (A FAFSA form is also required to qualify for Louisiana's TOPS program.) The earlier students apply, the better their chances are of receiving at least some valuable financial support to
pay for college.
GEAR UP also wants to get the message out that filling out the FAFSA is easier than ever. The list of documents required isn’t long, and the Department of Education offers a mobile-friendly version of fafsa.gov as well as a mobile app that can be used to complete the form. In addition, many users will be able to pull in their family's tax information directly from the IRS using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to transfer their data directly from the IRS and automatically populate the form. Another change this year is that prior-prior year income data can be used, which may be especially helpful for those who have had changes in job or income status due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Rather than waiting for updated income information, families are encouraged to fill the form out early with the prior year’s information if necessary, since they can always update it later with any changes. An appeals process is also available for those who have a change of circumstances after submitting the form.
Unfortunately, many students who would have been eligible for funding fail to fill out a FAFSA form every year, leaving millions of dollars in aid on the table. In 2020, many families have seen their incomes decline due to the pandemic and economic downturn, so the need for college financial aid will likely be greater than previous years. So it is especially important for students to get their FAFSA in as soon as possible to avoid missing out.
To learn more about the FAFSA and the resources available to assist families in completing the form, please contact your high-school counselor or GEAR UP College and Career Coach. LPSS GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a college-access program that provides students and families with the support and resources they need for college success.