February 10, 2009
So why are they planning to spend their free time this Sunday helping prospective college students and their parents learn the ropes of the financial aid system?
"It saddens me when I speak to a student or family who is in need of financial assistance, but discover they failed to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and it is too late to help them," Gordon said. "Every student planning to attend college in 2009-10 should file the FAFSA, because some low interest loans are not based on need."
Financial aid counselors from Indiana State, Ivy Tech Community College, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and St. Mary-of-the-Woods College will be at Ivy Tech's Wabash Valley campus at 2 p.m. Sunday for "College Goal Sunday" -- a day set aside to call attention to financial aid deadlines and help students and families with financial aid issues and paperwork.
While families may complete the FAFSA for 2009-10 at any time throughout the academic year, students should complete the FAFSA by March 10 to receive full consideration for Indiana programs and all federal programs. It is not necessary to have filed 2008 income taxes before completing the FAFSA.
Gordon and other financial aid counselors recommend completing the FAFSA by March 1. The extra time allows for errors to be caught and changes made before the deadline. March 1 is also the application deadline to qualify for Indiana State's Laptop Scholarship Award, which provides a business-grade laptop computer to students with a 3.0 grade point average.
Volunteering to help at College Goal Sunday also "helps make our jobs easier down the road," said Grigg, also a financial aid counselor at Indiana State. "It also helps students and their families make a decision on which college they can afford."
Grigg has been helping students for more than 20 years, first at Eastern Illinois University for 10 years and for the past 11 years at Indiana State. It's a job that technology has made easier.
Gone are the days when students had to wait in long lines to have their paper class schedules matched manually against their financial aid eligibility. All that work is now computerized and disbursements are often deposited electronically into students' accounts.
How ever the job is done, Grigg never tires of her work.
"I enjoy the interaction with students and parents and knowing that what I do makes a difference in their lives," she said.
A 2004 graduate of Indiana State, Gordon has experience with financial aid as a student as well as a counselor. Without student loans, he likely would not have been able to complete a college degree.
While loans can be an important component of a financial aid package, Gordon urges students to use them judiciously.
"Don't use loan money to live lavishly. You have to pay the money back and the interest, while generally low, is real. Loans can be a big help, but don't use loan money to pay for Christmas or spring break," he said.
Students are encouraged to complete a FAFSA regardless of their family income. Many scholarships are contingent on the timely filing of a financial aid application.
"Often, families are surprised to learn how much help is available in paying for college," Gordon said. "They're also surprised at how much help financial aid administrators can be. That's evidenced by the thank you cards we receive." Families also need to know that financial aid can be adjusted in response to changes in their financial situations.
"In today's economy, more people are able to take advantage of financial aid based on special conditions such as job losses, death or divorce," Grigg said. At Indiana State, three out of four undergraduate students receive some form of financial assistance, a statistic that demonstrates just how affordable college can be -- if students and their families meet the application deadlines.
The 21st Century Scholarship is one of the most lucrative state scholarships available in Indiana. 21st Century Scholars who met family income requirements and signed a pledge in junior high or middle school to remain drug and alcohol free -- and who have kept that pledge -- can be eligible to have up to 100 percent of tuition and fees paid. But, they have to fill out a FAFSA each year by the March 10 deadline, Grigg said.
"Returning students tend to procrastinate but a deadline is a deadline. The most challenging part of our job comes when students don't fill out the FAFSA in a timely manner," she said.
This year, there's even more incentive to attend College Goal Sunday. Students who visit one of 36 sites around the state and complete a brief survey will have their names entered in a drawing for three $1,000 scholarships.
"College Goal Sunday is a great event that helps to remove the financial barriers to higher education by a committed group of financial aid professionals. College Goal Sunday is a good way to get started on your educational journey and a great investment for the future," said Kim Donat, director of financial aid at Indiana State.
Darla Grigg meets with a student in the Office of Student Financial Aid at Indiana State University. Grigg is among six ISU financial aid counselors who will join colleagues from other area colleges and universities for College Goal Sunday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. at Ivy Tech Community College-Wabash Valley.
Walter Gordon reaches for an often-used tool of the trade, a calculator, as he works in the Office of Student Financial Aid at Indiana State University. Gordon is among six ISU financial aid counselors who will join colleagues from other area colleges and universities in volunteering for College Goal Sunday.
Contact: Kim Donat, director of student financial aid, Indiana State University, 812-237-2215 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or email@example.com
Financial aid counselors at Indiana State University and other institutions will be hard at work on Sunday as they volunteer to help students and their families with financial aid paperwork on "College Goal Sunday."