Local events geared toward helping students, families with financial aid application

The federal government will hand out some $50 billion in financial aid to high school seniors this year.

Peter Vogel wants to make certain that Polk County students are in position to get as much of that money as possible.

To that end, Vogel, who works with Polk County students as a college adviser for Carolina College Advising Corps, has set up a series of meetings throughout February at which local students and their families can learn more about the financial aid process. The first of those meetings, being offered in conjunction with the College Foundation of North Carolina, is set for Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Polk County High School auditorium.

At the heart of Vogel’s effort is the federal Free Application For Student Aid, better known as FAFSA. Completing the application, and doing so in a timely manner, is vital for any college-bound senior hoping to receive any form of financial assistance.

“In order to get access to that money, you need to fill out this form,” Vogel said. “That aid is distributed in a couple of different forms. It can be a grant you get and don’t have to pay back. It can be a subsidized or unsubsidized loan or it can be a work-study job.

“But the government won’t give you any of that money unless they know what your financial need is. The premise underlying all of this is that it is the primary responsibility of the student and their family to pay for college. So the FAFSA estimates how much you could reasonably be expected to contribute to your own education.”

Colleges can take that estimated amount that families can contribute toward college funding, subtract it from the cost of attendance and determine how much financial aid a student will need.

February’s series of meetings and workshops is geared toward helping students and families submit their information by March 1, the priority deadline for the FAFSA process. Vogel’s research since arriving in Polk County has shown that local families often miss that milestone.

“You can turn in the FAFSA throughout the year, but the big deal about the March 1 priority deadline is that colleges don’t have unlimited funds to distribute to their students,” Vogel said. “They get a grant from the government, basically, a block of money. and then they give it out to people as they apply. Essentially, there’s a pot of money out there and the pot gets smaller every day. So the sooner you apply, the better.

“We know that, on average over the last two years at Polk County High, a little over 25 percent of students have filed before the priority deadline. I would like to see that number be more like 50 percent. We know that a little under 60 percent of people have ultimately completed the FAFSA. We want everybody to complete the FAFSA.”

Vogel also pointed out an additional benefit for completing the FAFSA for students planning to attend Isothermal Community College.

“In addition to getting your financial aid through the FAFSA, you get to go to Isothermal tuition free if you fill it out,” he said. “You don’t fill it out, you gotta pay tuition. So you’re just shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t fill it out.”

In addition to Tuesday’s meeting, the following FAFSA-related events are slated for February:

  • Feb. 16 – A workshop help in conjunction with Isothermal Community College from 2-6 p.m. at Polk County High School. Families can receive help completing the FAFSA at this meeting.
  • Feb. 20 – FAFSA Day at Blue Ridge Community College will be held from 9 a.m. until noon in the Technology Education and Development Center.
  • Thursdays during February – Vogel will hold FAFSA office hours from 4-6 p.m. in the Polk County High School library. Students and families can ask questions and receive help with the form during these sessions.

All of these events are free, as is completing the FAFSA. Companies who attempt to charge families for helping them complete the process are providing an unethical option, Vogel said.

“Don’t pay for help,” he noted. “Those are scams. That’s fraud.

“Seniors need to understand that this isn’t their parents’ responsibility, it’s their responsibility to get it done. You need to file the FAFSA every year in college. By the time they’re 18, 19, 20, their parents might not be supporting them on this.”