Getting your hands on some free money to help pay for college can be a helpful lesson for both students and parents. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following "Money Matters" report.
We won't harp on the bad news that college is expensive. Instead, let's look at the good news: The fact that help is available. The Office of Federal Student Aid distributes more than $150 billion a year in the form of grants, loans and work study money. That ultimately makes its way to 15 million students. The key to unlocking those funds and many more is the FAFSA or free application for federal student aid.
"It's the federal government's application to begin to apply for federal student aid and it's used by many schools also as the main application to determine the eligibility for other sources of aid," explains Michael Turner of the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation.
At events like one recently held at City College, Turner walks parents and students through the multi-page online application that takes about 30 minutes to complete.
"We try to tell them how simple the process is but because we have a form that deals with tax information, with income information it does scare a lot of parents and students and they want to make sure they have reassurance and assistance as they are filling this out," Turner says.
Ronice Crawford attended the session with her mom. It was a first for both of them.
"I'm the first generation going to college and so for a parent who doesn't know how to do it and a student that doesn't know how to do it this is very helpful to know how to do it," Crawford says.
At the City College event, nearly every student was accompanied by a parent, but coordinators say that's hardly the norm.
"Parents kind of take a backseat role with it in that the students themselves do most of the work," says Yuri Job, Director of Urban Scholars Program at City College.
With so much at stake and so many questions focused on the family's finances, Nelda Gonzalez says parents need to take the wheel.
"They need to be a hundred percent involved because kids, personally, I don't think they are capable of doing it themselves. I think a parents should be there to guide them at least," Gonzalez says.
To find a FAFSA event near you, visit startheregetthere.org.
To fill out the free application, visit fafsa.ed.gov.
And remember, the application is free. Any site that charges you to fill it out is a fraud.