PHOENIX — Paying for college can be one of the biggest expenses parents face. Experts say taking advantage of federal aid can be critical to making those college dreams a reality.
The FAFSA application is a free application for federal student aid. And, when filled out correctly, it can bring the cost of college down for many families.
Shannon Larson is with The HEFAR Group, a company that offers free college planning services. She said a lot of families are nervous about completing the FAFSA because they’re worried they’ll make a mistake.
“Am I going to make a mistake? I think people get so worked up over making a mistake and then sometimes they do because they’re so worried about it,” she said.
She and other planners like her will guide applicants through the process and make sure they aren’t including information that could hurt them. “So the FAFSA form doesn’t ask about retirement accounts and the question they list is net value of investments. Well, people automatically assume that includes their retirement accounts so people include their retirement accounts a lot and that can be a big mistake.”
Larson has helped Carol Kaminsky and her husband plan for the expense of sending their son to college next year. His top choices are Brown and Georgetown which Carol said made them nervous at first.
“A little bit like super proud and a little bit overwhelmed like 'ok, is this something we can afford can we get him there?'” Kaminsky said.
As it turns out their EFC (expected family contribution) for those schools is less than what it would cost if he stayed in-state.
“If my son can get into the schools he really wants to go to, it will cost him thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars less than it would for him to stay in-state and go to ASU," she said.
Larson said she understands paying for college might seem impossible for families who were hit hard by the pandemic, but she says that may actually increase the amount of aid they get.
“I like to say that we’re the silver lining, when you’re going through a tough time financially when you fill out that FAFSA form you’re going to see some benefits to those tough times.”
Larson says the earlier you meet with a planner the better, but even if you don’t her best advice is to do your research and take your time.
“It’s not a fun form to complete and people should take their time," she said.
The HEFAR Group doesn’t charge for their college planning services.
To learn more about HEFAR Group's services, click here.