Roanoke colleges team to assist students with FAFSA process

by Shawn Nowlin

Earning a four-year college degree can easily cost or exceed $175,000. While differences between private and public institutions certainly exist, most believe that both are entirely too expensive.

Approximately 20 million people fill out Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year which determines student financial aid eligibility. Without it, most would not be able to afford college.

Among the criteria students must meet to receive federal financial aid include: have a high school diploma or GED, maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) and be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen.

This year’s FAFSA process differs significantly from previous years. In the past, the applications opened in October. Now, they are available through Dec. 31. Designed to improve and simplify the process, the changes will increase the number of students eligible for certain grants and cut the number of questions in half.

This Saturday, the Higher Education Center at 108 N. Jefferson Street will host an informative workshop from 3 to 5 p.m.

Virginia Western Community College, Radford University, Roanoke College and many other area schools will have representatives present to help prospective students initiate the process and provide additional resources. On Jan. 29, Patrick Henry Community College will host a similar event.

As a parent, Michele Smith says it’s important to take advantage of all available resources. “I have three kids who will be graduating in the next two years. I always tell them that before they make a decision, especially something as important as which college to attend, it’s imperative to gather as much information as possible,” she said.

The different types of financial aid programs are the Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan, Federal Direct Subsidized Loan and the Federal Work-Study Program. Many colleges have an Early Aid Estimator online that gives students an idea of just how much aid they will ultimately receive.

Cam Brown like hundreds of other Roanoke Valley teenagers, will be a college freshman in the fall. “Within 45-minutes of my house are several quality colleges and universities,” Brown said. “When I meet with college recruiters, I ask them all the same questions. I will know in the coming weeks where I will be attending.”

Online at fafsa.gov, in the MyStudentAid mobile app or by contacting 1-800-433-3243 to obtain a PDF form are the three options students have to complete the FAFSA process. An email address and social security number are required to create an ID.