College Goal Sunday: The 411 on FAFSA

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ECTC, U of L reps break down financial aid process for college-bound students

By Marty Finley

Beyond concerns about college placement tests and the admissions process, one of the potentially frustrating aspects of making the leap to college for parents and students is the cost.
On Sunday, financial aid representatives at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College provided a hand of support, letting families know the best way to deal with worry is thorough preparation.
The initiative is known as College Goal Sunday, a statewide informational session that pops up in roughly 20 sites in the state to give prospective college students tips and resources about how to properly fill out the Free Application for Financial Student Aid.
FAFSA forms were available at the Regional Postsecondary Education Center during the event, and financial aid professionals walked attendees through the financial aid process and the differences that exist between merit-based financial aid, such as grants and scholarships, and need-based programs, such as federal loans.
Laura Lamb, a financial aid specialist with ECTC, led the presentation and explained key financial aid programs offered through the state, such as the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, a merit-based award that can increase based on a student’s academic performance. Paid for by lottery proceeds, the KEES scholarship also can increase based on a student’s ACT or SAT scores, Lamb said.
Lamb also explained College Access Program (CAP) and Kentucky Tuition grants.
CAP grants are awarded to undergraduates and provide up to $1,900 per year in “free money,” Lamb said. The Kentucky Tuition Grant, meanwhile, is offered to eligible students at private colleges in the state and can pay awards up to $2,964 a year.
In explaining the grants, Lamb also emphasized the importance of preparing the FAFSA form early because the grants are available during a limited window between January and March. If students file the form after the window closes, it is the equivalent of turning down free money, she said.
Lamb also walked the crowd step-by-step through the FAFSA application process and stressed the importance of keeping thorough financial and tax records in case a school or the federal government asks for verification of the figures. Roughly one out of three applications is randomly selected for the verification process, Lamb said, comparing it to an audit.
However, she said it does not automatically suggest the applicant provided fraudulent information or committed an error.
“Don’t panic,” she said, telling the crowd to follow the instructions thoroughly if verification is requested.
During the presentation, visitors probed the financial aid workers’ knowledge, with some expressing frustration or confusion because of layoffs and military-based relocations.
At each turn, the message was the same: Stay calm.
Another theme that emerged was the importance of fighting through past frustrations. Mary Pike, a financial aid specialist with the University of Louisville, fielded many of the questions and encouraged attendees to file the FAFSA again this year even if they did not qualify last year or have had bad past experiences.
Even if you do not want to pursue a loan now, she added, financial circumstances months from now may make a loan more enticing. Should that happen, the application process will be done.
Lamb said the key is to absorb the knowledge and seek aid if needed.
“Feel free to contact (us),” she said. “We’re here to help.”
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or at mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.