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College bound: Students, families tackle financial-aid hurdle

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Shelly Fain had heard the horror stories about applying for college financial aid for her daughter.

The Greenwood mother was told by other parents that paperwork to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA, could take a while to gather and that it was going to be a grueling annual event to make sure her daughter, Alyssa, had money to help pay for college.

Millions of high school seniors and returning college students will tackle the document in the upcoming months. Indiana’s deadline for students to be considered for state aid is March 10.

The FAFSA is mostly filled out online and is the No. 1 document a college student needs to complete to be eligible for financial aid at the state and federal levels. Colleges use financial information on the document to award their own financial aid as well.

Financial aid experts say families should start preparing now.

“It doesn’t take that long, but it does take planning,” said Amber Audrain, college success campaign manager for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Financial aid experts advise families should gather all the information they need, such as tax information for everyone reporting income, a PIN number for the student and college codes for schools where the student is applying, as soon as possible.

Getting help

Need assistance filling out the FAFSA?

These resources can help families tackle the document required to get financial aid for college.

College Goal Sunday

2 p.m. Feb. 23 at several sites across Indiana.

Closest sites to the county are:

  • Beech Grove High School, 5330 Hornet Ave. Beech Grove.
  • Indiana University-Purdue University, Columbus, 4555 Central Ave.

FAFSA Friday

A webinar by Learn More Indiana.

Financial experts will help students get through the document and will answer questions.

Webinars are at noon and 6 p.m. Feb 21 on Learn More Indiana’s YouTube page.

Financial information will be needed for the student and their parents, regardless of the parents’ marital status or gender, if those parents live together, said Amanda Stanley, director of program relationships at the Indiana Commission for for Higher Education.

If a student’s parents are divorced and not living together, the student will only provide parental data for one parent, Stanley said. If divorced parents are living together, the student would be required to provide information for both parents, she said.

Other changes in the past few years have made filling out the document easier than ever, said Paul Johnston, financial aid director for Ivy Tech Columbus/Franklin.

Families who have their taxes done before filling out the

FAFSA can use the IRS retrieval system, where the correct numbers will be plugged into the document from IRS records.

That can save time and error, Johnston said. He advises families filling out a FAFSA form to have their taxes done in February.

While the FAFSA can be cumbersome, families shouldn’t let it deter them, experts said.

Families should tackle the

FAFSA in pieces and concentrate on the question they are being asked. Questions mostly pertain to financial information, but students will also report personal information such as Social Security numbers.

“Don’t look at the FAFSA as a whole, look at it as one question at a time,” he said.

Families shouldn’t avoid filling out the document because they think they won’t get aid, Audrain said.

“A lot of people don’t fill out the FAFSA because they think it will be too complicated or because they don’t think they will be eligible,” she said.

In reality, students don’t pay the full cost to attend their college because they have financial aid, Audrian said.

The Fains will tackle the document in the next month so Alyssa can get financial help on her college tuition.

“I can’t say I am looking forward to it, but it shouldn’t be too bad,” she said.

Alyssa is looking at private schools, such as University of Indianapolis and Franklin College, with heftier price tags than other schools she is considering, such as Indiana University and IUPUI.

Her family already has plugged in numbers to a FAFSA forecaster to get an idea of what attendance at each college will cost after financial aid, Fain said.

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