GREENFIELD — Sheryl Bass had heard of the FAFSA before coming to the Education Experience Monday afternoon, but she didn’t realize the Free Application for Federal Student Aid could help send her daughter to college.
Bass’ daughter is a senior at G-C who is planning to study criminal justice next year and has her eye on either Ball State University or IUPUI. Bass said she feels financially prepared to pay for her daughter’s college expenses, but finding out the government might also lend a helping hand was a pleasant surprise.
“I had heard the term, (FAFSA), but I didn’t realize it applied to middle-income people,” she said. “Obviously, it’s very helpful if she can pick up a scholarship or two.”
The Education Experience, held Monday at Greenfield-Central High School and returning next week to Mt. Vernon High School, is open to all county residents. It is a two-part event featuring FAFSA support sessions for graduating seniors and an adjoining college fair for anyone interested in pursuing higher education.
The event is sponsored jointly by the Hancock County Community Foundation, Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce, and Hancock Community Education Alliance.
“Really, this is a community effort to highlight educational opportunities as well as filing that FAFSA and getting students prepared for how they’re going to pay for their college experience,” said Kim Kile, director of guidance at G-CHS.
The Education Experience exposes students who haven’t yet made their college choice to a variety of options. With many application deadlines approaching on March 1, Kile hopes those planning to be college-bound this fall will take advantage of the Education Experience at Mt. Vernon if they missed the fair Monday at Greenfield.
“This is kind of what I would call a last-chance opportunity,” she said. “This is a great chance to figure out what your next step is.”
And the next step doesn’t have to be scary – at least, not from a financial perspective, said Dave Murray, a representative from the National Center for College Costs.
Murray was on hand Monday for free, one-on-one consultations with families looking for more information on financing college.
Murray, who attended thanks to a $4,000 grant from the community foundation, directed families through the process of filling out a FAFSA form and then helped each family analyze their financial situation. Many are pleasantly surprised by how much aid is available, he said, and their reactions show it.
“Tears of joy, hugs – huge smiles,” he said.
Research shows students who fill out a FAFSA form have a 72 percent chance of being enrolled by the second semester of college, Murray said.
“Just the act of filing is important, and it’s because they see the money that’s there,” he said. “We can usually do that in less than a half an hour, 30 minutes, tops.”
The FAFSA deadline is March 10 in order to qualify for student aid or participate in federal loan programs, making Monday’s sessions especially timely, Murray said.
“Some miss it altogether, and then, they lose that state grant if they were eligible,” he said.
In addition to knowing how to interpret FAFSA results, Murray said he has a pretty good grasp of the scholarship programs at colleges in the area, so he can give parents a basic idea about what they can expect to receive in terms of financial aid from them as well.
“All I need is that number (from the FAFSA) … and some idea of that student’s academic credentials,” he said.
Sarah Hughes, 16, a junior, visited the college fair Monday in hopes of getting a sense of the application process. She’ll be the first in her family to attend college and said she wanted to get an early start to make things easier on her mother.
“She has no idea, so I’m kind of looking to tell her the process and stuff,” said Hughes, who stopped by the Anderson University and Indiana Wesleyan University booths.
Nathan Guy, 17, made a beeline for the Ivy Tech Community College booth at Monday’s fair.
Guy has just a few months before graduation but said he still hasn’t pinned down a major, so he isn’t sure where to apply.
He plans to attend Ivy Tech for the first year to take some general education courses while he decides on a career focus.
While his college choice is somewhat up in the air, not going has never been an option, he said.
“I know that I can’t get anywhere in life if I don’t go there,” he said.
Mary Gibble, president of the community foundation, said she hopes parents will keep an open mind about their own futures while perusing the options at the college fair. They, too, might want to pursue higher education and should explore their options along with their children, she said.
Gibble said the event’s sponsors will have to gauge the interest in the Education Experience before deciding whether it will become an annual event.
“That would certainly be our hope,” she said.