Partners Offer Families Free FAFSA Help to Pay for College

High school seniors and their families are encouraged to participate in a program designed to help college-bound students claim the full amount of federal financial aid for which they are eligible.

The University of Texas at El Paso has partnered with various El Paso institutions and school districts to increase the number of students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by conducting FAFSA Nights at 40 area public and private high schools from 4:30 to 7 p.m. on certain evenings from Feb. 4 through March 6. Volunteers will be available to help in English and Spanish.

Approximately 12,500 high school seniors graduate annually from area schools but reportedly less than half submit completed FAFSA forms. Early submission is the best way to ensure students get the most funding available to them, said Carmen Gonzalez, UTEP’s Generation Texas program coordinator. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board created the statewide program two years ago to mobilize students and their families to pursue college degrees.

Those students are competing against their peers around the country for hundreds of millions of dollars that only can be accessed through the FAFSA.

“Starting early increases the opportunities to maximize your resources,” Gonzalez said.

The key for a family to quickly navigate a FAFSA session – the average time is about 30 minutes – is to have all its paperwork including basic identification (Personal Identification Number, Social Security card, driver’s license), bank statements and a copy of their 2012 tax return with W-2 forms. To help with the latter, the program has scheduled various free tax preparation nights for families with incomes of $51,000 or less at area high schools that continue through Feb. 23.

Gonzalez said about 20 UTEP volunteers are among those helping fill out the tax returns and the FAFSA paperwork.

For more information including schedules, visit http://utepn.ws/fasfanights.