CHICAGO—February has been designated Financial Aid Awareness Month (FAAM), and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) is challenging Illinois students and families to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) early, seeking 800,000 completed applications in 2011, an increase of seven percent over last year.
“How many forms can you fill out in about an hour and come away with up to $15,000 in free money for college?” asked ISAC Executive Director Andrew Davis, referring to the potential combination of federal Pell grants, Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants and potential institutional student aid. “During the month of February, ISAC is focusing on FAFSA completion, and our College Illinois! Corps stands at the ready to help students along in the process.”
Representatives of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission are participating in more than 170 financial aid events throughout the state during the month of February. Events include financial aid presentations, which give an overview of the financial aid process, and FAFSA completion workshops that give step-by-step instructions with the end result being a completed application.
Highlighting Financial Aid Awareness Month is College Goal Sunday (CGS), an effort that helps students and families who need assistance in completing financial aid forms. CGS events are typically held a week or two after Super Bowl Sunday and the program has grown into a nationwide volunteer program as a result of the work of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and Lumina Foundation.
To assist students and schools, the www.collegeillinois.org/outreachcalendar website contains a listing of financial aid events across the state. Check with high schools, libraries or other community organizations for additional local events. Counselors are also standing by and can be reached by calling 800-899-4722.
The best way to apply for financial aid is online at www.fafsa.gov. The application is submitted electronically and is automatically processed to determine eligibility for the state’s Monetary Award Program (MAP). FAFSA completion statistics will be posted weekly at collegeillinois.org, along with year-over-year comparisons and MAP eligibility numbers sorted by first-choice school as reported in the FAFSA. Last February, nearly 160,000 FAFSAs were completed in the state of Illinois.
“The earlier you apply, the better,” continued Davis, noting that MAP awards were suspended the earliest in history last year. “Don’t count yourself out. You never know what kind of aid you’ll qualify for until you apply.”
A state agency, ISAC’s big goal is to increase the proportion of Illinois adults with a postsecondary credential to 60 percent by 2025. The commission continued its mission to make college accessible and affordable for Illinois students by distributing almost $430 million in student aid to nearly 200,000 students across the state in FY 2010 alone.
The Commission provides educational funding via numerous programs such as the Monetary Award Program (MAP), the Illinois Veteran Grant and College Illinois! Prepaid Tuition Program in addition to outreach to underserved populations through the College Illinois! Corps. Students and families have free access to a wealth of financial aid and college planning information at ISAC’s family of websites available at www.CollegeIllinois.org and www.529prepaidtuition.org.