Regular readers of The Scholarship Coach know we love to talk about the FAFSA. Why? Because filling out the FAFSA is where your college financing begins. Before you take out loans, deplete your savings account, and send in that check from grandma to your future alma mater, you should start by filling out the FAFSA.
If you've heard of the FAFSA before, but aren't quite sure what it is or where to start, you're in luck—there are a lot of resources available for you and your parents, many of which can be found on the Internet. But nothing beats person-to-person assistance from an expert. Thanks to the College Goal Sunday initiative, you can get that help for free right in your backyard.
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The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form filled out annually by current and prospective college students to determine if they are eligible for student aid from the federal government. Students who do not fill out the FAFSA can't receive any government grants or loans, or be eligible for federal work-study hours. Even if you're not 100 percent sure you'll attend college in the fall, you should still take the time to fill out the FAFSA. After all, it's free!
Unfortunately, the FAFSA can sometimes be confusing and frustrating to complete, which brings us back to College Goal Sunday. With events held in 37 states and the District of Columbia, College Goal Sunday is a volunteer program that provides free information and assistance to students and families who are applying for financial aid for college.
Events are typically held on Sunday afternoons between January and April at locations across each participating state. The events are open to all students who are planning on attending or re-enrolling in college, not just traditional college-age students.
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If you attend a College Goal Sunday event in your area, you can meet with financial aid professionals from colleges and universities and other volunteers who generously offer their expertise to students and their parents. These experts will sit down with you and help you fill out the FAFSA. Prospective and current students can also use the opportunity to talk to experts about how to apply for other financial aid opportunities, as well as get information on state-specific student services and admissions requirements.
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Before you go, make sure you bring all the information you need—including your social security number, driver's license, and bank statements—so you can maximize your time with the experts. We also recommend bringing a list of questions you may have about college financial aid.
Finally, if you can't attend a College Goal Sunday event, many states offer help over the phone or on the Web, and there are national services that can also be great resources.
Michelle Showalter joined Scholarship America in 2007 and is an alumna of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.