Winning the FAFSA race

By Parker Happ

New Years resolutions are hard to keep, but one you should definitely look to fulfill is filling your FAFSA form fast, my friend. Say that five times fast.

In all seriousness, the sooner you file, the better. Students new to filling out the form should note that it doesn’t hurt to just fill it out and see if you qualify for any sort of financial aid. There may be Pell Grants available worth upwards of $10,000 of no strings aid for your education.

According to the Beacon News, with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application, state and federal institutional grants distributed need-based financial aid to 8,101 undergraduate students at NIU last year. Additionally, when compared to last year, fall semester recorded a 35 percent increase in scholarships as 1,700 new students enrolled with some sort of merit based scholarship. This all paints a picture of all forms of grants and scholarships, be they federal and state Pell Grants or Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, are highly sought after and potentially highly competitive. MAP Grants allocated $400 million in state aid exclusively for Illinois college students.

Understanding what your different options for aid are and how they can benefit you is key. A Pell Grant provides college students with money for their education from the government. Through an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965, every year $1.9 billion in federally funded Pell Grants, which, unlike loans, do not need to be repaid, are distributed to 5.4 million full-time/part-time students. These grants are one of the many possible financial benefits of filling out FAFSA.

As previously stated, MAP Grants are a potential aid option through FAFSA. These grants are available to Illinois residents enrolled in at least 3 hours at an approved Illinois college working on their first bachelor’s degree. Use the Illinois Student Assistance Commission’s EFC Calculator to estimate the amount of your potential MAP award. MAP Grants can be applied to tuition or mandatory fees, but not for books, travel or housing. Ultimately, you won’t be able to access the money until you complete your FAFSA.

So, as your New Year’s resolutions of getting to the gym and eating healthier fade away, keep filnig FAFSA in mind. Unlike the potential pounds you want to lose from more treadmill time and iceburg lettuce eating, FAFSA funds will not stay for long.