High school students planning to attend college can do themselves a favor by having their financial aid forms squared away sooner rather than later.
That's the message that the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation is projecting in its campaign to help alleviate some of the rigors of the college application process.
On Jan. 7, HESC announced January 2013 as "New York State Student Financial Aid Awareness Month" - a period during which students and their families can learn about and apply for financial aid opportunities available to help them pay for college. HESC is coordinating the statewide campaign, entitled "Start Here, Get There," to inform and educate these students and families about college financial aid and promote the early completion of the most important tool in securing that aid - the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
"It's all about getting kids to school," said Dan Tramuta, associate vice president for enrollment services at SUNY Fredonia. "We know that the earning potential is much greater for those who go to college than those who don't. (Start Here, Get There) was started as a statewide effort because there are so many misnomers and false assumptions about college financial aid - its cost and affordability. The whole mission for the month is to make sure that families realize that, in spite of what they read, college is affordable and there are alternative funding options."
The "Start Here, Get There" campaign has undertaken this task by holding workshops throughout the state. These workshops are hosted at high school and college campuses, and give students and families the opportunity to complete and submit the FAFSA and Tuition Assistance Program forms in a single session.
One of these workshops was held at the SUNY Fredonia campus on Jan. 19. According to Tramuta, who has also served as president of the New York State Financial Aid Administrators Association, Fredonia has hosted more than 40 individual financial aid workshops at various locations throughout Western New York since mid-November.
"We believe that early application for financial aid is critical," he said. "This is the sixth year that we've offered a financial aid day in January. We do outreach for high school seniors, potential junior college transfers or returning students. We had about 150 in attendance for our event. Families went to a computer lab with 100 computers where they completed their 2013-14 FAFSA and TAP applications. We give them everything they need to complete and submit the forms. It's a free service, because it's a federal benefit and they shouldn't have to pay and it's our way of giving back by getting information out to students and their parents about the financial aid and admission process."
Another area workshop will be held at Falconer Central School from 10 a.m. to noon on Feb. 9. The event, called "College Goal New York," will give families the chance to meet with and receive assistance from financial aid representatives from Jamestown Business College, Jamestown Community College and St. Bonaventure University. According to Elizabeth Yager, technical assistant for the financial aid department at JCC, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation will also be on hand to distribute materials.
"(College Goal New York) began as a way to help low-income, first-time college students complete the FAFSA," said Yager. "Everybody is invited we send letters to all high school students in the area, and we usually get between 40 to 50 students and families (at each event)."
She added: "The most important thing is (for students) to check the websites of the colleges that they want to attend. (The colleges) have different priority dates, and those can help (students) be eligible for different types of aid. JCC's (priority date) is March 1."
According to Robert Minton, guidance counselor at Falconer, "College Goal New York" is essential for helping students get the most out of the application process.
"The importance of filing the FAFSA, on time or early, is to get the financial aid process started for college," he said. "College is expensive, and we want students to have as much opportunity as possible. If the scholarship and grant programs are applied for too late, (students) may not be considered for all of those programs they want to be sure to apply early or on time."
HESC is New York state's student financial aid agency that helps people pay for college by providing need-based grant and scholarship award money to college-going students. Among the core programs offered by HESC are: the Tuition Assistance Program, numerous state scholarships, federal college access grants and a College Savings Program. In 2011-12, HESC provided more than $971 million to nearly 424,000 students.
To learn more about HESC, Student Financial Aid Awareness Month and the "Start Here, Get There" campaign, go to www.StartHereGetThere.org. The website also provides an online chat for personal assistance with FAFSA questions as well as a listing of workshop events and their locations. For more information about "College Goal New York," visit www.collegegoalny.org.