Doing paperwork may be no one's idea of a good time. But students who thronged to this year's Financial Aid Awareness day genuinely appeared to be having fun completing and filing financial assistance application forms. Turnout at the annual event was at record levels.
“Of the 24,000 students enrolled at BMCC each semester, at least 75% receive financial aid in one form or another," notes Ralph Buxton, the college's director of financial aid. “The purpose of Financial Awareness Day is to help students learn about all the options available to them, get their questions answered and file their 2014-2015 FAFSA on the spot.”
Filing the FAFSA is the first step in securing financial aid. But because the process can be tedious and even stressful for some, Financial Aid Awareness Day has been designed as a fair over the past several years, with balloons, contests and prizes. This year’s event, which took place on the Richard Harris Terrace, was modeled on the board game Monopoly, renamed “FAFSAPOLY” for the occasion.
FAFSA—the acronym stands for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid”—is the form used by the Federal government to determine a student’s eligibility for financial assistance, including grants and scholarships. Applicants must provide detailed information about a long list of variables, such as their income, taxes, and dependency status.
Raising awareness—and comfort levels
Financial Aid counselors and student leaders were on hand to answer questions and guide students through the application process.
“Many BMCC students are from low-income families and depend on financial aid in order to pay for their education,” says student leader Hakeem Ingraham, a fifth-semester Business major. “Our goal for the day was to provide information in a comfortable and enjoyable setting.”
A festive air prevailed. “Apart from the great presentations, moving around the ‘board’ from station to station was really fun—and a terrific interactive experience,” says Liberal Arts major Ray Sukhu. “For example, students interested in scholarships could find out whatever they needed to know at Scholarship Street."
No time like the present
“We use the event as a way to kick off financial aid processing season for the upcoming school year,” Buxton says. “Since students must reapply annually, it’s best if they do it now—or by the end of the spring semester. They shouldn’t have to scramble when they return to school in the fall.”
For Gizelle Sanchez, a first-year Human Services major, one of the best things about Financial Aid Awareness Day “was the opportunity to start my application right then and there, with knowledgeable people around to help me and answer my questions.”
Liberal Arts major Joshua Boyles says that financial aid “has made it possible for me to do something never done before in my family—attend college.” Nonetheless, the Fair opened his eyes “to how little I really knew about financial aid,” he says. “I had an opportunity to ask a lot of questions and get solid answers that will actually help me in my financial planning.”
If there was one message that came out of Financial Aid Awareness Day, it was “apply early.” Students who file early enough can receive up to half of their Federal financial aid 10 days before the semester begins, Buxton says.
Perhaps no less important, students who apply now will find that everything is squared away by the fall, he adds, “and they can focus on their education without worrying about how to pay for it.”
Students can complete the FAFSA online or can apply on paper by mail. The Office of Federal Student Aid strongly recommends the online option because it conducts immediate error checking, and may speed the application process by a few weeks.