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The Free Application For Federal Student Aid is open. It's best to apply early, according to the Office of Financial Aid.

FAFSA is an opportunity for all eligible students to receive financial aid for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. According to FAFSA's website, all students can apply as long as they meet the following requirements: The student is enlisted in selective service if male, the student has a valid Social Security number and satisfactory academic progress.

Director of Financial Aid Rebecca Babel said FAFSA is a combined application for both the federal and state governments, so both authorities can judge how much financial aid to give to a student based solely on one application.

Babel said it is vital for students to fill out FAFSA as soon as possible because doing so will ensure they will receive their fair share of the allocated MAP grants. She said the suspension dates for the grant aren’t usually released until 2-3 days before the suspension, usually in February or March. By the time students realize they have limited time, they will only have days to complete the application.

“Anyone who files after that date is suspended and in general that usually means they won’t get financial aid,” Babel said.

Resources are available for NIU students through the Financial Aid office. Babel said that filing FAFSA normally only takes approximately 30 minutes for people who have their tax documents ready, and the office of financial aid will walk students through the process one-on-one or on the phone to ensure all students get the aid they are eligible for.

Various forms of financial aid are processed through FAFSA. Federal student aid is received mostly through the Pell grant and state funded aid comes through Illinois’ MAP grant. Babel said NIU received $20.8 million in MAP grants and $25.2 million in Pell grants.

According to Babel, the average amount NIU students received for the 2018-2019 school year were $4,264 for Pell and $3,810 for MAP

MAP grants are given exclusively to Illinois residents who demonstrate financial need. Babel said MAP is granted on a “first-come first-served” basis, meaning the students who fill out the application first are the first students to have their corresponding amount fulfilled.

The size of the grant given to each student is based on need, which is calculated by expected family contribution and the cost of attendance. Students with a lower EFC are prioritized.

This year Illinois will prioritize students who received MAP grant funding first in order to ensure the students who rely on MAP are advantaged to continue their education, Babel said.

FAFSA will officially close on June 30, 2020, but Babel strongly recommends students file their FAFSA before then.

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