‘Ca-ching, ca-ching’: The importance of filing FAFSA early

By Chelsey Boutan

It used to be August. Then July. It got moved to April and now it’s the third week of March.

Each year, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) filing deadline for MAP Grant eligibility approaches sooner for students. Jane Jordan, associate director for NIU’s Student Financial Aid Office, said students need to act quickly.

State funding issues, combined with a higher volume of eligible applicants for MAP Grants, makes it imperative for students to submit their FAFSA now or before NIU’s priority filing date of March 1.

“The state of Illinois has a pot of money,” Jordan said. “And every time an eligible student applies for FAFSA statewide, ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching, it’s adding up. Once they estimate that they have spent their allotted amount, they suspend the MAP Grant.”

Jordan said students should submit their FAFSAs early so they can be considered for as much funding as possible. This is especially true for students who are eligible for the MAP Grant, Jordan said.

Jordan said about 75 percent of NIU students receive some form of financial aid. Due to the downturn in the economy, there are more eligible applicants, she said. Inali Saghu, associate director for the Student Financial Aid Office, said there were 19,539 undergraduate and graduate students who received more than $278.1 million in financial aid during the 2010-2011 academic year.

Junior elementary education major Laura Watkins applied in January 2011 for the MAP Grant and received $2,300. She said she will apply again in a week.

“The earlier you apply, the greater chance you have of getting it,” Watkins said. “Without the grant, it would be hard for me to take as many classes. I just wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Jordan said students can still apply now even if they haven’t received their tax returns yet. It is still possible for them to estimate the information on the FAFSA form and update it later, she said.

“Students are filing earlier then ever, and good for them,” Jordan said. “If they are MAP Grant eligible, this is not a time to be delaying. Call us, e-mail us, we even have live chat available for students during office hours. If they have questions or concerns reach out to us. We’re here for them.”