HARRISBURG, Pa. — FAFSA applications opened just a few weeks ago and millions of future college students are starting to fill them out. Experts say it doesn't pay to wait.
The fall semester is in full swing at colleges and universities across the country, but inside the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency in Harrisburg, students and parents are looking ahead to the next school year and seeking financial help. FAFSA applications for the 2023-2024 school year opened on Oct. 1.
"FAFSA is the primary application that students need to complete in order see if they'll quality for federal aid, state aid and school aid," said Tiffanie Devan, PHEAA higher education access partner. "It's really a way for students to try to get some additional funding to help them cover the cost of an education."
Higher Education Access Partner Tiffanie Devan said the application process can be confusing to navigate alone. It requires tax returns and personal information that will help determine a student's eligibility. That's why PHEAA invited students and families to a FAFSA completion session, giving them hands-on guidance.
"A lot of families just feel overwhelmed by it. They don't know, they're not experts in this," Devan said. "So, we're kind of the subject matter experts and the goal is to make it as easy and less stressful as it can be."
The event comes at a crucial time for students. Devan said the longer they wait to apply for aid, the greater the chance some of that money could be gone.
"We always want to encourage students to get that FAFSA completed as soon as possible. There are some programs that have limited funding and if they do, they base who's going to get it, sometimes, on the day that they've completed the FAFSA," she said. "You want to make sure that you get in, you get it done, you get it early and that you get the assistance you need."
PHEAA officials said they want students to take advantage of all the financial help available to them, but they also want to prepare students and families to take on the responsibility.
"We're educating students and families about the cost of education. How to prepare, how to plan," Devan said. "The goal is to use all the free money first and then to rely on student loans only if you have to."
FAFSA applications are available on the Federal Student Aid webpage. For more information on how PHEAA may be able to help you navigate the college loan process, head to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency website.