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Karen ObandoAuthor: Karen Obando, Second-Year Adviser serving Cochrane Collegiate Academy

As December came to an end and Cochrane Collegiate students rushed with excitement toward the doors, I had to slow them down and remind them that the holiday season wasn’t the only one upon us. I pointed them toward my display of financial aid information (“’Tis the FAFSA Season!” read the top of my bulletin board). While the crowds of shoppers and holiday jingles reminded us all that it was time to take a break and spend time with family, I needed my students to remember what else would happen over the next few weeks: the 2015-16 FAFSA would open.

January 1st marked the first day that high school seniors could begin and submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid using their tax information. For many students, FAFSA provides an important pathway to postsecondary education; through federal grants, loans and work-study positions, students are able to fund their college experience and cover the cost of tuition, books and supplies, room and board, and other expenses. In the midst of exams and excitement over college acceptances, it is difficult for students to remember the importance and urgency of this extra step. For some students it seems complicated, tackling a form heavy with financial jargon and special tax information requirements. In other cases, students are discouraged from filing because they believe they will not receive aid even after submitting their application. However, the U.S. Department of Education has reported that annually, over $150 billion dollars in aid are granted to students who fill out this application. Absolutely everyone who is eligible to file should, because there is no reason to leave money unclaimed!

Cochrane Meme-O-MeterAfter brushing up on the ins and outs of FAFSA at our midyear financial aid training, I felt fully equipped to help my seniors complete this very important application upon their return in January. To have both students and parents involved in this process, I organized a financial aid night where Tameka Ruffin, a CFNC representative, and Connor Deason, a CPCC representative, teamed up to discuss how to complete the FAFSA and the types of aid students are eligible to receive. Because the FAFSA requires detailed parental information, I knew it was key to have parents in on this conversation; after all, they are an integral part of FAFSA season. While I followed up with students through classroom visits to ensure they had the information they needed, I kept in touch with parents through a phone campaign, reminding them about the FAFSA and making myself available to answer any questions they had about the application. With the help of my counseling team, Cochrane Collegiate also hosted a FAFSA day where families could visit the media center at any time and receive free assistance in completing the FAFSA.

With the priority deadline for FAFSA quickly approaching, I have continued working one-on-one with students and using every inch of wall space available to remind my seniors about the application. I recently posted a visual reminder for students about the FAFSA called the FAFSA meme-o-meter. It measures how many seniors have submitted their FAFSA thus far, and with every FAFSA completion confirmation page I receive, I add “dollar bills” to the meter. I look forward to seeing to our meme-o-meter reach a 100% completion rate so that our first ever senior graduating class can set an incredible precedent for the classes to follow!

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