Baton Rouge - As Louisiana’s high school seniors prepare for graduation and college, affording college may be a unique challenge, due to job loss within families as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance has long advocated for students to focus on finding opportunities for financial assistance, things like grants and scholarships, to help pay for college. One thing each student can control, especially during times of uncertainty, is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), to maximize the amount of gift aid (free money).
The latest statistics, from the 2018-19 school year, show $2.6 billion was left on the table because students did not complete the FAFSA.
“If you plan on going to college, completing your FAFSA is absolutely crucial,” said Noah Miller, a high school senior at Jewel M. Sumner High School. “You really need to make use of all the financial aid and scholarship opportunities that are offered to you.”
“Not filling out the FAFSA, if you plan on going to college would be a big mistake,” Miller said.
The FAFSA provides access to federal aid such as the Pell Grant, Work-Study and Federal Student Loans. The FAFSA is also the application for state aid like the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), TOPS Tech, and the Louisiana GO Grant. Colleges and universities also receive money to award students, some of which is first-come, first-serve. If a student waits too long to complete their FAFSA, they could possibly miss out on potential financial aid dollars.
Miller says comparing colleges, seeing his options for financial aid, and searching for scholarships dominated many of his family conversations. He has decided to enroll at Southeastern Louisiana University, this fall, as a nursing major.
“I weighed all the options, but it really narrowed down to location. I wanted to go to a university that was nearby, and it just so happened the [Southeastern Louisiana] University offered [me] some of the best scholarships in the state.”
Miller’s high school participated in LOSFA’s FAFSA Now Pilot, which urged the Class of 2021 to complete their FAFSA early, by February 1, 2021.
High school seniors still have time to complete the FAFSA prior to the start of the fall semester. By completing the FAFSA now, it allows your college time to process your financial aid award letter. In most cases, your estimated financial aid package could be available by the time to attend your fall orientation session this summer.
Kristi Lawson, Miller’s counselor, said this year the FAFSA completion process was not without challenges particularly in the midst of COVID-19. Jewel M. Sumner High School logged 76% FAFSA completion at the end of January, according to the National College Attainment Network’s (NCAN) FAFSA Tracker.
“There are not many internet providers or strong cell phone towers in the rural area (Kentwood, LA.), which made it difficult to complete the FSAid process,” Lawson said. “We noticed that if we opened a certain window and held the phone at a particular angle, the confirmation code made it.”
She says most students were not resistant to completing the FAFSA; They begin conversations about the FAFSA and its benefits during each student’s freshmen year. For parents and students who were unsure or had delays, Lawson conducted daily announcements during the school day, placed phone calls, and sent weekly emails to students. She also printed out signature pages for students and parents and provided a stamped envelope to mail the document.
Two other schools, West St. John and Sicily Island High School also logged 100% FAFSA completion by the FAFSA Now Pilot deadline.
“Completing the FAFSA was important to me because I want to make it further in life than just graduating high school,” Mikayla Lewis, a graduating senior at West St. John High School, said. Lewis plans to attend the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to pursue a career as a doctor.
Students can receive virtual assistance from LOSFA to complete the FAFSA, by registering here.
Students and parents can also text the word ‘LOSFA’ to 50065 for assistance, use #GeauxFAFSA on social media, and/or email GeauxFAFSA@la.gov.