"The early bird gets the worm" when it comes to applying for college financial aid, officials say.
Financial aid experts are encouraging next year's college-bound students to attend Alaska's College Goal Sunday at 2 p.m. today in the Juneau-Douglas High School commons to get an early start at securing aid. Representatives from the University of Alaska Southeast, the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, and the Northwest Education Loan Association will be on hand to help students and parents fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, a federal required financial aid application.
"It will be a fun way to get (the FAFSA) out of the way and have help while they're doing it," said Barbara Burnett, UAS financial aid director and event coordinator.
Burnett said it's important for all students intending to attend college next year to fill out the FAFSA prior to the March 1 deadline for the federal form.
"A lot of people wait until summer to fill it out, and that's way too late," she said. "If people miss the deadline, then they are just out of luck."
The FAFSA helps students secure funds for college, particularly students who come from lower-income households. Burnett said the options become much more limited if the deadline is missed.
Stephanie Butler, ACPE director of operations, said not filling out the FAFSA could result in the loss of thousands of dollars of financial aid.
"If you can get paid several thousand dollars as the result of filling out a form, that's a pretty good deal," she said.
Butler said the financial aid experts will go over the FAFSA line-by-line with students, parents and adult learners at the event. Those who are filling out the form, as well as the parents, are encouraged to bring any information available from the 2005 tax year, including last year's tax return, W-2 forms, investment information and end-of-year pay stubs. Certain financial information is required from parents in order for students to be eligible for federal aid.
Seniors on the edge who may not enroll in college next school year are also encouraged to come to the event and fill out a FAFSA.
"Filling out the form doesn't hurt anything and it keeps the door open," Butler said. "Not filling out the form doesn't open any doors. If they're undecided, let's keep the door open."
Burnett said they are expecting Juneau's second annual College Goal Sunday to be bigger than last year's, which attracted nearly 100 people. They are offering refreshments, door prizes and free baby-sitting this year in hopes of attracting as many as 200 people.
Nearly a dozen similar events are being held around the state today to help get students and their families ready for the investment of a higher education.
"It's kind of like a big party with everybody, but not at the same location," Burnett said.