How to get help with college financial aid: FAFSA sessions across the Carolinas

For any of you with loved ones looking to go to college, there’s some free help over the next few weeks in the Carolinas you’ll want to know about. We’re talking about in-person expert advice on filling out the application for federal student aid, or FAFSA (see links below for locations).

That guidance is a big step in figuring out the real cost of college for your family.

When Todd and Marigordon Varner get back from Fall break, they’ll need a vacation. The father daughter duo is shopping colleges.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Marigordon.

“We’re trying to get an idea of all the details of what it’s going to take to get in and pay for the school,” said her father.

We can’t help you with the first part, but as for covering the cost, nothing is more helpful than the Free Application For Federal Student Aid known as FAFSA.

“Really the biggest misconception with FAFSA is people are terrified of it,” said Leigh Lanford, in the financial planning department at Converse College.

Lanford says the online application is simple, you can link it to your IRS return, so it populates the information for you.

“I think we do have a lot of parents who are pleasantly surprised that they’ve qualified for grants and money that they didn’t think they would qualify at all for. So it’s always beneficial, I tell parents, despite what you’ve heard, it’s a good idea to file the FAFSA and see what comes,” said Lanford.

It used to be that you had to wait until January to file your FAFSA application. But now the season starts in October to give families more time to compare financial aid packages.

That’s why over the next few weeks, there are lots of free FAFSA workshops throughout the Carolinas.  North Carolina is hosting a “FAFSA” day with locations throughout the state on Saturday Oct 28th.

And the SC Commission on Higher Education is working with different high schools in the state to offer College Goal nights to students and they have asked for our help.  Below are dates and times that are already set:

For now, since Marigold is only a junior, the Varners are using another tool, cost calculators (on every University and College’s website) that give an estimate of financial aid.

“I’m very hopeful that it will help narrow down and find the school that is the best fit for me and that I can not go into debt forever and ever and ever.”

And by planning ahead, they hope this time next year will be a lot less stressful.