"File the FAFSA – No Matter What!"

September 6, 2016

By Amy Keir, Oregon Office of Student Access and Completion

NCAN members work with students every day whose unwavering aspirations, dedication and perseverance in achieving their educational dreams illustrates the need for federal financial aid policies that concentrate resources where they are needed most. The Oregon Office of Student Access and Completion is one such member. (Read more stories like theirs here.)

To ensure financial aid gets to the students who need it most, NCAN recommends three immediate policy improvements for the new president and Congress: #FixFAFSA, keep the promise of the Pell Grant program, and provide work opportunities to low-income students.

The FAFSA is the first step to accessing financial aid and succeeding in college, but it can be a challenge – especially for high school seniors.  

Take Marisol, who graduated this spring from Pendleton High School in eastern Oregon. At first, she had some complications with the FAFSA. But Marisol persisted: “I kept asking for help from my ASPIRE coordinator, Jill Gregg, until I finally got answers on how to fix this problem,” she said. “Once I got that figured out, I had to create a new FAFSA and redo all the steps I had already done.”

Marisol’s diligence paid off – literally. “I managed to complete the FAFSA in January,” she said, “which was nice, because the faster you complete it, the more money you can receive.” 

Marisol is proud to be attending Portland Community College this fall; she is receiving several scholarship and grant awards that will make her education possible. “It's very beneficial to keep applying and searching for help, because it is possible to go wherever you want,” she said.

In Oregon, the Higher Education Coordinating Commission’s Office of Student Access and Completion (OSAC) provides funding opportunities and college access programs that benefit thousands of students like Marisol. OSAC directs the ASPIRE mentoring program and FAFSA Plus+ – a year-round FAFSA completion program that also includes financial literacy, award letter help and other information – both of which are offered at Pendleton High School. 

Jill Gregg, who worked with Marisol and is the ASPIRE Coordinator at Pendleton, uses FAFSA Plus+ at her school. Thanks to the program, Jill has access to data on the progress of individual students as they complete the FAFSA: She knows the status of each student’s application and can tailor her support to their unique circumstances. She can also intervene before it’s too late.

“I would check the FAFSA Plus+ list weekly and call in students to my ASPIRE office individually if they had a problem with their FAFSA," she said, "or if they had not yet submitted it.” 

This individual attention means that students and families are not alone as they complete the FAFSA and apply for financial aid. Such persistence is essential for students, especially low-income ones, to get the financial support they need to make it to and through college.  

Jennifer Satalino is director of The College Place, Oregon, a program of Educational Credit Management Corporation. She works with Marisol and countless other students across Oregon, and she has one hugely important piece of advice: File the FAFSA – no matter what! 

“Even if you think you don’t qualify, just do it. Even if you don’t end up needing [aid] this year, your information will pre-populate for future years,” Jennifer said. Students, families, and educators are all preparing for the FAFSA’s early Oct. 1 opening date, she noted. “Oct. 1 is a Saturday, so get up, treat yourself to a nice coffee, and just do it!”

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