One of the biggest challenges for students — besides getting into college — is how to apply for financial aid.
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is helping students and parents by offering free FAFSA completion sessions throughout the state.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is used to determine eligibility for need-based financial assistance, including the State Grant, Federal Pell Grant, work-study programs and scholarships.
PHEAA spokesman Keith New said the online version of the FAFSA is much simpler than the old paper form.
“I think a lot of the concern about filling out the FAFSA is rooted in past years,” he said. “It was more of a paper-driven process. It’s online now and literally 99.8 percent of all applicants complete it online.”
Sessions are now underway in western Pennsylvania and will continue through April. Sessions in Allegheny County will begin Feb. 18 in Monroeville.
New said the sessions help students and families do some preparation before tackling the FAFSA form.
“You need to have your tax records with you,” he said. “You need to know which schools you’re planning to attend to, so there’s a certain amount of homework that needs to go into it as well. And if students and families aren’t necessarily prepared for that, then they might find the process frustrating.”
All FAFSA completion sessions are free and open to the public.
PHEAA has also launched an online tool called “MySmartBorrowing” that helps students calculate education costs at different schools, career and salary expectations, employment opportunities, and student loan repayment possibilities.
New said the site helps students better prepare for their future.
“By factoring all those things in,” he said, “they kind of look down the road and see what’s manageable and what’s not manageable.”