According to Nerdwallet.com, Maine students left more than $11 million in Federal Pell Grants (federal grants that don’t need to be repaid) on the table for the 2014-2015 academic year (the most recent year for which data is available) because they did not complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Each year in Maine, only 60% of Maine high school seniors complete the FAFSA, the federal application that college, universities, and trade schools use to determine student eligibility for federal financial aid, according to FAME. While a 60% FAFSA completion rate puts Maine in the top tier of state completion rates, it is critical that the remaining 40% of high school seniors file their FAFSA so they can understand their financial options for pursuing education after high school. To see FAFSA completion rates for each of Maine’s high schools visit here.
“Unfortunately, many families mistakenly believe they won’t be eligible for federal financial aid, so they don’t fill out the FAFSA, leaving potentially significant grant money on the table or missing out on financial aid all together,” said Martha Johnston, FAME Director of Education. “We want to change that and encourage every Maine family sending a child off to college, trade or technical school to complete the FAFSA.”
According to FAME, there is no specific income “cut-off” so families won’t know what they are eligible to receive unless they apply. And any amount of grants and scholarships can make a big difference in helping to reduce total student debt. The average student debt in Maine is 29,644 per student, and 63 percent of Maine students graduate with debt.1
On Sunday, October 1, 2017, the FAFSA for the 2018-2019 school year will be available to families at fafsa.gov. Previously, the FAFSA became available in January, but last year the availability date was permanently changed to October 1. Having the FAFSA available earlier can result in students receiving their financial aid awards earlier and having more time to understand their awards and make the decision as to where to attend school.
“We encourage Maine families to complete the FAFSA as soon as they can – in fact we like to have families complete the FAFSA in October because aid eligibility is different for every school and can be disbursed on a first-come first-served basis,” noted Johnston. “Filing the FAFSA early is the best way to maximize financial aid eligibility and reduce student loan borrowing.”
Don’t Fear the FAFSA Facebook Live Events
FAME is collaborating with local comedian Karen Morgan, a finalist on Nickelodeon Television’s Search for the Funniest Mom in America. Morgan, who lives in Cumberland and is the mom of three children, sent her oldest off to the University of Maine at Farmington this fall. She will be featured in a series of free Facebook Live events, called “Don’t Fear the FAFSA,” hosted by Mila Tappan, an outreach manager for FAME’s CAFE´ (College Access and Financial Aid) Team on the FAME Facebook page. Together, the two will help walk parents, and students, through the various stages of completing the FAFSA and answer questions in real-time. The Don’t Fear the FAFSA Facebook Live events will air on the following Tuesdays at 7:30 PM. Dates and themes for each event are:
- Tuesday, September 26 – What is the FAFSA & How to Get Prepared
- Tuesday, October 10 – Filling out the FAFSA: Tips and Tools
- Tuesday, October 24 – Busting FAFSA Myths: What’s Holding You Up?
- Tuesday, November 7 – FAFSA Complete, Now What?
“We’re excited to add Karen’s voice to our statewide FAFSA education efforts,” said Johnston. “Her humor will help us shatter some of the current myths and hopefully eliminate some of the fear around filling out the FAFSA, by providing insights and a real-mom perspective.”
Morgan admitted to FAME that she didn’t complete the FAFSA for her son because she had been dissuaded by friends that it was too hard to complete. “I wish I’d had FAME as a resource when I was considering filling out the FAFSA because I may have made a different decision,” said Morgan. “I’m excited to dig into the form this year, with FAME’s help, and see what happens.”
Statewide Help Sessions
Over the last 13 years, FAME has hosted free statewide in-person FAFSA Labs or in-person help sessions for families. At those events, families can get help from an experienced FAME representative or financial aid professional to fill out the FAFSA . This year, 15 sessions are scheduled from October 12 to October 30. A complete list of dates and locations is available at FAMEmaine.com. If families are not able to attend the in-person help sessions, FAME also offers online support at FAMEmaine.com. Families can also call 1-800-228-3734 with questions.
For those families attending the in-person help sessions, FAME recommends bringing the following information:
- FSA ID – this user name and password is needed to access all Federal Student Aid websites, including the FAFSA. We recommend the student and one parent create it ahead of time at fsaid.ed.gov
- Social Security numbers (SSN) for student and parents
- 2016 Federal Income Tax Returns, W2s and other records of money earned
- Current bank statements for student and parents