By Michele Dotson

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 2.27.23 PMOn Saturday, February 20, college bound teens and their parents converged on local public institutions offering help in deciphering the first step in getting financial aid; the Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FASFA).

Both Hickory Grove Public Library, and the State Employees Credit Union in Mint Hill (and all across the state) were open and staffed with volunteers to help take that first, vital step.

All students are expected to contribute towards the cost of their college education. But how much a student and his family will be expected to contribute depends on individuals’ financial situation.

The FAFSA is the form used by the US Department of Education to determine the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) by conducting a “need analysis” based on financial information, such as income, assets and other household information which the applicant must provide.

The form is submitted to, and processed by, a federal processor contracted by the U.S. Department of Education, and the results are electronically transmitted to the financial aid offices of the schools that are listed on the application.

FAFSA is the application used by nearly all colleges and universities to determine eligibility for federal, state, and college-sponsored financial aid, including grants, educational loans, and work-study programs.

Accessing funds for higher education can be complicated, daunting, and requires a lot of prior planning, such as filing of current year’s taxes, before beginning the process.

“I think families feel better getting some help,” says State Employees Credit Union Financial Services Representative Adria Ruppe. “It helps get the student and parent on the same page, and it just helps to give them peace of mind.”

Ruppe says many kids have unrealistic expectations about where they can afford to go to school and cautions young people from accepting outrageous sums of loan money for college.

“Some loan payments can be as much as a car payment or a house payment,” she says, and cautions teens to weigh the experience against the expense.

For more information on completing the FASFA form, go to