Tips offered for federal student aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid form is available online or via an app on smart phones. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

TAHLEQUAH -- Students interested in financial aid to help pay for college or vocational training were pointed in the right direction during a Cherokee Nation-sponsored Q&A session in January.

The virtual event focused on applying for financial assistance via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, aka FAFSA. One of the presenters was Barbara Townsend of Northeastern State University.

"A new FAFSA becomes available on Oct. 1st of each year," Townsend said. "So the one for next school year, 2021-22, has already been available since Oct. 1. You need to do it your senior year of high school or freshman year of college. So if you haven't done your FAFSA yet and you're a senior, go ahead and do that now."

Financial aid comes from federal, state, school and private sources. The types of aid provided are grants that do not have to be repaid, loans or work-study jobs.

Current and prospective college students should complete the form, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

"Your college uses your FAFSA data to determine your federal aid eligibility," the federal website states. "Many states and colleges use FAFSA data to award their own aid."

FAFSA information and the latest form are available at studentaid.gov.

"Everything has been consolidated into one website for the Department of Education," Townsend said. "If you go to studentaid.gov, it takes you to a home screen that has a bunch of different choices -- understanding aid, applying for aid, completing the aid process and managing your loan information. So it's a great place to go."

The FAFSA form is also available on smart phones via the myStudentAid app.

"You can download it on Apple or Android," Townsend said. "You just type in myStudentAid, and it should bring up a link to download that app so that you can do it on your phone."

FAFSA eligibility requirements include a demonstration for financial need.

"It's income-based, household size-based," Townsend said. "So all those questions that you're answering on the FAFSA is put into a formula and they come up with what's called an expected family contribution. That number lets us know what you're eligible for. We take that number and the cost of attendance and we figure out what your financial need is and then we make you an offer based on that."

During the virtual session, a participant asked how long it takes for a reply after filling out a FAFSA form or if she needed to be enrolled in the schools she applied to.

"You should get an email within 24 to 48 hours after filling out the FAFSA," Townsend said. "You can add up to 10 schools to send your information. When NSU gets a FAFSA and you're not enrolled, we won't give you any financial aid offers. We'll communicate with you, but we can't give you any financial aid offers until you're an enrolled student."

According to the U.S. Department of Education, its office of Federal Student Aid provides more than $120 billion in financial assistance annually. For FAFSA information, call 1-800-433-3243.