In the computer lab at the Colorado Mountain College (CMC) campus in Breckenridge, students were hard at work. Determined looks filled the room, but this was no Thursday night cram session for a big test, or even a typical day at the school.
These students were voluntarily at CMC on a Sunday, consulting with school specialists about filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
As part of College Goal Sunday, on Sunday, Feb. 9, families flocked to five CMC campuses, including Breckenridge, to receive free help in completing the paperwork that could help them pay for college.
From 2 p.m. until 4 p.m., CMC financial aid specialists such as Pam Flippin walked from computer to computer, answering questions from puzzled incoming freshmen and worried moms.
The FAFSA is an online application which takes anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to complete, in order for the student to receive financial aid, including grants, work study, student loans and scholarships. Students are encouraged to submit their FAFSA close to the first of the year to receive as much financial aid as possible.
Liliana Diaz, marketing chair for College Goal Sunday Colorado, said the day was started about 10 years ago, to offer students an opportunity to get professional, expert advice.
“It’s complicated and daunting to fill out for the first time,” she said. “For a lot of families it’s hard at first, and here they get expert help about what information the government is seeking.”
Across Colorado, College Goal Sunday took place at 19 locations. Students could enter to win scholarships; at CMC, each location held a raffle for a $1,000 scholarship.
Flippin said CMC has traditionally had low numbers of FAFSA applicants, and she wanted to show students it wasn’t as complicated as it might seem.
“There’s a lot of money out there that’s never given to students because they don’t even try,” she said. “It really can’t hurt.”
In one corner of the lab, student Max Ortiz filled out the paperwork to the CMC College Goal Sunday scholarship, while in a room across the hall, Chris Carpenter and his mother Teresa peered over a laptop with the FAFSA application. It might be a long afternoon, she said.
Diaz said typically after filling out the FAFSA the first time, families are then more confident to do it on their own during the next year.
“We want to put students face to face with the people who work with this information,” she said. “It’s accurate, real information, right from the source.”
Flippin said students can fill out the FAFSA anytime, even for a previous semester as long as the student is still enrolled, but the earlier the better.
“Some people think their parents make too much money, but they might be surprised,” she said. “There are other factors like the number of people in your household too.”
Some students could only complete parts of the FAFSA, saving the application for later once their parents completed their 2013 tax returns, or needed more information. But Flippin said as long as they got to start the process, that’s what mattered.
“It’s all about these opportunities people don’t realize are available,” she said. “The most important thing is showing education is definitely possible and you can save.”