FAFSA frustrations? Not if this team can help it

February 13, 2024 Paying for College
Education and career counselor Chris C. at Great Bay Community College FAFSA Open House

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is probably no one’s idea of fun. But the Granite Edvance education and career counseling team is on a mission to make sure it isn’t frustrating or fear-inducing.

In December, the federal government released a redesigned FAFSA with fewer questions to answer and a new tool for importing information from the IRS. Along with being easier to fill out, it has a new formula for calculating financial aid that will make more students eligible for federal grants.

But change can be difficult, even if it’s good change. And while the changes to the form are positive, the rollout has been bumpy. The form came out late this year (December instead of October), and the aid formula is now undergoing additional updates to account for inflation, throwing off the normal timeline for college admissions.

Anticipating some of the challenges families may face, Granite Edvance counselors have been hosting FAFSA open houses at community colleges throughout  the state for the past several weeks.  The events are just the latest step in a months-long effort to assist as many students as possible in navigating the form and accessing financial aid.

“The FAFSA is a critical piece of unlocking financial aid and breaking down barriers to higher education, but for many students and families, completing this form can be a barrier in itself,” said Shelby Miuzzo, assistant vice president of college planning and outreach at Granite Edvance. “We’re here to demystify the application and correct some misinformation about what the FAFSA is and isn’t.”

After undergoing extensive training to prepare for the new FAFSA, Granite Edvance’s education and career counselors have been offering free direct support in a variety of ways – including in-person and virtual appointments, webinars, and presentations. Along with facilitating the open houses at community colleges around the state, they’ve extended their hours of availability for appointments and created new resources to help with the form. They’ve also been working closely with school counselors to ensure they’re equipped with the latest information to help students and convening a regular stakeholder group to assist with a new state FAFSA-completion law that coincides with the FAFSA update.

Altogether, counselors have helped about 350 students with their FAFSAs through individual appointments and the FAFSA filing events so far this year.

Often, they’re helping with much more than simply filing a form. What families need when they show up at appointments can run the gamut.

“Sometimes, all they need is a second set of eyes or just someone to help troubleshoot,” said education and career counselor Chris Cox, who was popping from one workstation to another during an open house in Portsmouth last month, answering questions and offering candy.

But often – and especially this year – counselors are there to reassure as much as troubleshoot. The FAFSA is unknown territory for students who are just starting their college journey, as well as for their families. The topic it introduces – paying for college – is a stressful one, and this year there’s the added pressure of tightened timelines. It’s comforting just to know there’s someone on their side.

“We have families who come back to us every single year,” said senior education and career counselor Karen Collins, who was also helping at the Portsmouth open house.

As they assisted families with the FAFSA, Karen and Chris handled the stream of questions that naturally bubbled up: about college admissions, college savings accounts, how financial aid is calculated, what to expect after filing, and more.

Some students were able to file their FAFSAs right there. Others went home with the information they needed (and maybe a lollipop). Some stayed to chat and even share a laugh.

You could almost describe it as fun. Almost.

Photo information: Granite Edvance Education and Career Counselor Chris Cox assists a family with the FAFSA at an open house add at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth in January 2024.

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