What if You HAD to File the FAFSA?

Nearly all the seniors at one Chicago high school have already filed this year's FAFSA. Here's a look at why they've been so proactive, and why you should be too.

The federal deadline to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is June 30. That may be a full three months away (and depending on where you live, the deadline to be considered for state aid could be much sooner), but it’ll sneak up on you—especially given the fact that it isn’t exactly the most entertaining thing you can do with your time. But filing the FAFSA is imperative if you want to get all the financial aid dollars you possibly can.

Via gifsec.com

The thing is, no one is going to hold your hand and force you to dig up all those numbers and other bits of boring but important information so you can file the FAFSA on time. But what if filing the application got you a ticket to prom? Or what if getting your friends to file got you out of detention?

Universal Pictures via tumblr.com

That’s exactly what’s happening at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. College Preparatory High School in Chicago. In a recent NPR piece, Alana Mbanza, the school’s college and career coach, discussed her plan of attack for ensuring every last one of her students files the FAFSA.

From chasing down students in the halls to raffling off tickets to prom, Mbanza stops at nothing to make certain that all her students submit the form. As an added incentive, she even erases detention for students who refer their friends who haven’t yet completed the FAFSA.

Mbanza’s efforts are working: last year, 100% of the school’s seniors filed their applications, and 96% of this year’s seniors have already filed it, well ahead of the federal deadline.

According to the NPR piece, every year more than two million students who would qualify for federal Pell Grants simply don’t submit the FAFSA, thereby missing out on precious financial aid dollars.

Fox Network via tumblr.com

Don’t be one of those two million students! Here are just a few of the reasons why you need to submit the FAFSA:

  • It’s free to complete. Don't you like free stuff?
  • Think you won’t qualify? Think again. There’s no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid.
  • It’s easier to complete than you think. You can fill it out online, every question has detailed instructions, and you can even chat with a customer service representative if you get stuck and need help.
  • Your grades matter, but they aren’t a deal-breaker. As long as you make satisfactory academic progress in college, you can continue to receive federal aid.
  • It doesn’t have to take much time. The U.S. Department of Education reports that simplifications they’ve made to the FAFSA mean you could end up spending  as little as 30 minutes on it.

Need some more guidance and encouragement? Check out some of our best advice for filing the FAFSA, as well as an overview of the application from fafsa.gov:

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a Writer and Senior Editor at Wintergreen Orchard House, where she manages the collection of data from schools in the Northeast and Midwest regions. Stephanie holds a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. She looks forward to sharing her experiences with college-bound students and the counselors guiding them along the way!  

You can circle Stephanie on Google+, follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to her CollegeXpress blog.


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