CLEVELAND — Paying for college can be a huge barrier for many students and their families and it turns out many of them may be eligible for money and not even know.
According to data from the National College Attainment Network analyzed by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio, high school graduates in Ohio left $111 million dollars in federal student aid on the table last year.
It's all because they didn’t fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or better known as FAFSA.
Nakia Hudson’s daughter Kennedy Bell is in her senior year of high school and preparing to go off to college next year. So last November, they both sat down to fill out the FAFSA together. Hudson has had her own experience with the process.
“This go round, I have to say whatever changes they made to make it more user friendly, it wasn't that difficult,” said Hudson.
But still, with 130+ questions to complete on the form, it's not a total walk in the park.
“There are still some things that are, you know, it's a little confusing. The dates, the deadlines, waiting and things of that nature. But we're making it,” said Hudson.
Now, Kennedy has a good idea of what kind of aid she’s eligible for from the colleges she’s interested in.
“We were able to see from two schools the types of scholarship money that would be available to her and the Pell Grant that would be available to her from one institution,” said Hudson.
She’s still waiting on more info about additional aid, but what she has so far is helpful as she considers which school to go to.
However, many Ohio high school graduates were unable to get that information or aid last year just because they didn’t fill out the form.
“Whether you think you might get something or you don't think you might get something, you should still fill it out,” said Maggie McGrath, the executive director of the Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland.
McGrath said many people don’t even consider the FAFSA because they think they aren’t eligible for aid, they find it too challenging to complete, or they face other barriers to getting it done. But it's the key to not only getting federal aid, but also state aid, scholarships, and federal loans with a lower interest rate. She said there’s help out there for families that need it.
“College Now Greater Cleveland. We have a resource center. You can make an appointment at any time and come in and meet with someone who will walk through the whole thing with you,” said McGrath.
Hudson said she tries to be that resource for other parents, and now, she and her daughter are preparing for the next steps of her college journey.
“I'm excited. I think she's a little nervous, but I think she's more excited than anything,” said Hudson.
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