HANCOCK COUNTY — Preparing your child for college can be stressful, and deciding how to pay for higher education can be difficult.

Greenfield-Central High School student Dylan Hays plans to graduate this year — a year earlier than he originally planned — and now he and his mom, Joy Purvis, are securing financial aid a year sooner.

They filed Dylan’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid on Monday at Greenfield-Central High School, and the process was overwhelming, Purvis said. It was made easier, however, by some free help from FAFSA pros.

Story continues below gallery

This month, the Hancock County Community Foundation and local high schools are partnering to offer FAFSA Days, during which experts from the National Center for College Costs will be on campuses throughout the county to help parents and graduating students fill out student aid paperwork. The FAFSA forms must be filed before March 10 if students are seeking federal or state grants, loans and scholarships to pay for school.

Two of the four FAFSA Days planned to help families were held Monday and Tuesday at Greenfield-Central and New Palestine high schools. Another is planned for Feb. 16 at Eastern Hancock High School. Mt. Vernon High School will host an event Feb. 24.

School counselors and experts from the National Center for College Costs, which helps students and parents prepare financially for college, were on site to answer the questions parents and students encountered while filling out the form. They also helped interpret its results to let families know how much financial aid they might be eligible for based on their financial situation and plans for college.

The Hancock County Community Foundation provided the $10,000 needed to secure the National Center for College Costs’ participation in the event. It’s the fifth year the community foundation has hosted the program.

Last year, the 105 students who took advantage of FAFSA Days were eligible for more than $500,000 in federal and state grant dollars, said Hancock County Community Foundation president Mary Gibble.

It’s the first time Hays or his mother had filed the form. Hays plans to attend Ohio University next year to study sociology and is looking for as much financial aid as possible.

When they encountered problems or had questions Monday, someone was there to help, which made the process much easier, Purvis said.

“I have no clue what I’m doing,” she said. “I thought we had a year and a half, and now we have six months, so it’s really overwhelming.”

Joanne Haymaker spent more than 20 years working as a financial aid counselor at DePauw University, and she now works for the National Center for College Costs. She spent Monday and Tuesday working with parents to file their student’s FAFSA and help interpret what it meant for dollars available for college.

The process is difficult for many, Haymaker said. Even parents who have filed the form before with their older children have trouble, as there are often changes that can make the process confusing, she said.

FAFSA days help ensure parents and students turn the form in and don’t give up simply because it’s difficult, she said; it’s essential for students looking for financial assistance to fill out the form, so providing parents and students with the tools to do so is important, she added.

Monday’s FAFSA day at Greenfield-Central High School was successful, said guidance director Kim Kile. More than 20 students or parents attended the event.

Many parents just want to be sure they’re filling out the form correctly; with thousands of dollars on the line, it can be daunting, especially for first-generation college students, Kile said.

“They feel more comfortable coming here and having their questions answered instead of sitting at home feeling frustrated,” she said.

And because students and parents are able to attend any of the school’s FAFSA Days, they still have two opportunities to seek help. The events run from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Kile encouraged parents not to be afraid as they fill out the form and to seek help at the FAFSA Days if they have any questions.

“(The FAFSA) is so vital,” Kile said. “For many students, it’s the difference between going to college and not going to college.”

Need help?

Experts from the National Center for College Costs will be at local high schools this month to help students and parents file the FAFSA form, which is required for students to be eligible for federal and state grants, loans and scholarships.

Staff from the Hancock County Community Foundation will also be available to answer questions about local scholarship opportunities.

The next FAFSA Day is 8:30 to 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at Eastern Hancock High School. The final FAFSA Day hosted by the community foundation will be Feb. 24 at Mt. Vernon High School.

How do I file the FAFSA?

Any student planning to attend college in the fall should complete the FAFSA. The deadline for most colleges and universities is March 10.

The form can be filled out at fafsa.gov.

FAFSA quick facts
  • Anyone who is planning to attend college in the fall should file a FAFSA. Many colleges require students to do so every year to be eligible for grants, loans and scholarships
  • It is free to file the form
  • The deadline to file for most Indiana colleges and universities is March 10
  • The Office of Federal Student Aid offers more than $150 billion to students in grants, loans and work-study funds for college and career schools every year
  • About 22 million FAFSAs are processed every year
  • Many colleges use student FAFSA information to determine for financial aid from the school
Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.