Northside Hosts FAFSA Workshop for Seniors
By Melanie Juarez
On Tuesday, Oct. 16, LadderUp, an organization that provides financial programs and resources to help students, joined Northside’s Counseling Department to host a workshop helping families fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA. FAFSA determines the amount of government aid students are eligible for. This year, FAFSA was made available on Oct. 1, 2018, and must be submitted by June 30, 2019 in order for students to receive aid for the 2019-2020 school year. It is highly recommended that students fill out the form sooner rather than later, as some funding is given on a first come, first served basis. However, filling out FAFSA is a notoriously daunting and confusing process, especially for students who are the first in their family to attend college and have to navigate the process on their own.
Northside hosted its FAFSA Completion Workshop to provide support for families in this process. Beginning at 6 p.m, Northside’s library was open for families to come in and fill out the form on site. Families first signed in at the library desk, then sat down at tables or computers to begin. Ms. Katherine Mathews, Counseling Department, Mr. Alexander Hughes, Counseling Department, Ms. Monique Moore, Counseling Department, and a representative from LadderUp were in the library, available to answer any questions and troubleshoot any issues. The workshop was open to anyone starting the college process - most students came with their parents, but there were also several students and parents who came alone. It is important to note that FAFSA is designed to be filled out by the student, yet requires both the student and a parent to electronically sign the form.
For Northside seniors, this is their first time filling out FAFSA. “It [FAFSA] is pretty straight forward, but I feel like there are a lot of questions” said Jacob Davila, Adv. 906, who attended the event. “We could easily get lost, because we have not done this before,” Davila also said that “It’s reassuring to know there are lots of people here tonight ready to answer even dumb questions.” Other students agreed. “It’s really daunting and there are already a lot of things that we need to do,” said Susy Morales, Adv. 902, “like writing our essays for applications, and we do not always have time for it. I think having an event like this where we do have time set aside for people to help us is good,”
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid has been making efforts to make the application process easier and more accessible to students. FAFSA can be filled out on paper and by telephone, but since 2008, it has been a largely electronic process. One recent development in the application process is the introduction of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which allows families to link their FAFSA with the IRS to automatically fill in most of their financial information. Federal Student Aid just rolled out an app called myStudentAid that can be used to fill out the form.
Still, every year parents and students have many questions about the elusive FAFSA. Early in the evening, a pair of parents came in who thought they had to fill out FAFSA for their sophomore student. Mr. Hughes explained they did not have to - FAFSA is filled out by students planning to attend college the next year. At Northside, that means only seniors have to worry about it for now, but this year will not be students’ final brush with the form; as Ms. Mathews said, “You get to do this every year of college!” FAFSA must be filled out every year a student attends college because a student’s financial situation can change year to year, so Northside’s FAFSA Completion workshop was just the first round of filing for seniors.