Fill Out FAFSA to Fund Higher Education

Guest Correspondence

Nationwide, 661,000 high school graduates in the Class of 2018 who were eligible--but didn’t complete an application--for federal financial aid lost out on their share of $2.6 billion in free money for college, according to NerdWallet, a financial media company.

How is this happening when cost is a top reason many students give for not pursuing or completing postsecondary education?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is key to getting money for postsecondary education, including work-study, government grants and loans, aid from states, and scholarships from organizations and schools.

Fear or confusion about completing the FAFSA or an assumption by some families that they need not bother because their students would not qualify for aid are common reasons given for a lower-than-desired FAFSA completion rates.

The same factors cause some families to miss out on potential state scholarships and grants by not submitting the Florida Financial Aid Application (FFAA), required for Florida Bright Futures.  

To clear up confusion and emphasize the importance of completing the forms, a community-wide campaign is launching October 1 through the Local College Access Network to provide assistance for all high school seniors and their families to complete the FAFSA and FFAA applications as integral to postsecondary planning.

We are committed to this collaborative, full-press endeavor. Increased FAFSA completion rates are related to higher rates of postsecondary completion, especially among low-income students, which aligns with the strategic goals of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County and LCAN. In fact, some states (not Florida) now require that seniors complete the FAFSA as a graduation requirement.

The FAFSA is worth taking the time to fill out. For one thing, financial aid is not just for students with lower incomes. More students are eligible to receive financial aid than their families might realize. Many scholarships, grants and other types of assistance, such as merit-based awards, are not needs-based but require the FAFSA information to be considered.

Another important clarification is that students planning to go to technical colleges are eligible for financial aid; it is not limited to traditional college or university students. 

Students who qualify for Bright Futures scholarships programs, but think they don’t need to complete the FFAA because they are going to college out of state, are advised to reconsider. If they don’t file their FFAA by Aug. 31 of their senior year, they can’t tap into their Bright Futures funds should circumstances change and they return to Florida.

Everyone has a role to play in this community-wide campaign. Volunteers are needed to help families complete the applications. Prior experience with the FAFSA application is not needed. Free training will be provided September 16 and September 19 at United Way of Suncoast office. Go to to find specific dates and locations of FAFSA and Bright Futures open houses and register for volunteer training.

The FAFSA and FFAA applications open Oct. 1, and you can apply beginning that day. Helpful links are provided at the end of this column. Because many colleges and universities make priority financial aid decisions by December 1, it’s advantageous to apply as soon as possible.

A series of FAFSA and Bright Futures open houses will be held during the month of October at convenient locations throughout Sarasota County for families that need assistance. There is no charge to students and families. Financial aid officers from colleges will be present to assist with technical aspects, and dual-language volunteer support will be available. 

Don’t let funds go to waste. If you have a senior, you are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity. Remember, applications open Oct. 1. Please spread the word to your neighbors, family and friends.

Jennifer Vigne is president of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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