February 6, 2007

Helping families with the FAFSA

Posted in FAFSA at 8:50 AM by Joe From Boston

Kudos to my co-worker Chris Penn for helping out families with the Financial Aid Process!  Here’s a great article about Chris and the eastern Massachusetts College Goal Sunday.

The Experiences Of A College Goal Sunday Volunteer

Experiences from the 2007 Massachusetts College Goal Sunday (CGS) event were chronicled on Monday by CGS volunteer Christopher Penn, the host of the Student Loan Network’s Financial Aid Podcast. Monday’s edition was #458 in Penn’s series and is available via the podcast’s Web site.

Penn joined a cadre of volunteers at the Jan. 28 state-wide event where families could get free, on-site professional assistance filling out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) and talk with financial aid professionals about available student aid and how to apply for it. Similar events are held as part of a nationwide College Goal Sunday program which is funded through the Lumina Foundation for Education and managed by NASFAA.

Among Penn’s observations during his “rewarding, eye-opening, and educational” experience was the fact that many families became very frustrated while attempting to fill out the FAFSA.

“I’ve argued that you don’t need a financial aid consultant to figure out how to pay for college, but now I understand why people hire consultants and why there is a market for it,” Penn said.

He observed many families become frustrated with the process because it had never been explained to them.

“If you feel frustrated, it is not your fault,” Penn assured listeners.

Fortunately, the approximately 90 families attending College Goal Sunday in Framingham, Mass. were helped by “some of the most knowledgeable, enthusiastic people,” according to Penn. He was especially impressed with the depth of expertise that financial aid administrators from neighboring schools brought to the event.

After helping a number of families at the event, Penn noted several weaknesses in the online FAFSA process, including th inability to save the application in steps, seven, eight, and nine. He said families he worked with lost countless applications because the save button disappeared after step six.

Penn advised students and families to complete the 1040 tax form before attempting to complete the FAFSA. He also urged applicants to be as accurate as possible when filling out forms, noting that families can miss out on money when they use rough estimates instead of accurate numbers.

Penn felt the inspiring and motivational aspect of the day was observing families from all walks of life striving for the same goal, a bright future for their children. They were all doing their best to get their children a college education so they could have a better life, he said.

By Haley Chitty
NASFAA Assistant Director for Communications