College Goal Sunday helps students understand the FAFSA

Katie Nix

Students and parents gathered at Franklin Hall Sunday to learn how to navigate their way through college financial aid forms such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as well as other financial aids. College Goal Sunday was held in order to guide students and their families in the financial aid process.

“We just wanted to answer some of the most basic questions,” said Mark Evans, director of student financial aid at Kent State.

The event consisted of an hour-long presentation given by Sylvia Bustard, associate director of student financial aid, who was succeeded by a lab section in which students and parents could fill out the FAFSA with specialists there to help.

“We know that some schools have specific requirements for the FAFSA and financial aid, but this presentation [was] meant to bring help in a generic sense,” Bustard said.

Bustard began by giving an overview of the FAFSA form and the easiest way to go about completing it, which is through the online form. It can also be done in a paper format as well.

Evans said they wanted to answer the most basic questions during the event, the most common being whether or not to turn in the FAFSA without the current year’s tax return.

“Turn [the FAFSA] in as early as possible with estimated tax information and go back through and edit that later when you receive your tax return,” Evans said.

However, there are various errors to be made while filling out the form.

“Be careful when filling out the FAFSA though, especially early, because the form might catch some errors, but [it] doesn’t catch all of them,” Bustard said.

The most common errors are filing in the wrong birthdate, marital status of parents, household size, income amount and counting the home in which you live as a real estate investment, Bustard said.

“Fill [the FAFSA] out as soon as possible so you can get a good idea of what kind of aid you can receive,” Bustard said. “And there is a lot.”

Financial aid can be divided into two different types: gifts, such as scholarships and grants, and self-help, such as loans and work programs, all of which are determined by the FAFSA.

There a few common federal financial aid gifts, but the most common is the Pell Grant, which varies per student, but maximizes out at $5,635 per student.

There are also a variety of state-funded gifts including the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, the Ohio War Orphans Scholarship and the Choose Ohio First Scholarship, each with its own set of qualifications.

One of the biggest federal self-help pieces of financial aid is the Federal Direct Loan, which has two categories: subsidized, which is based on financial need and incurs no interest while the student is in school but does upon leaving school, and unsubsidized, in which the need for financial aid is not required to receive but interest incurs immediately at the same rate of the subsidized loans.

“There are also alternative type of loans from outside sources,” Bustard said. “But those require a co-signer for the student to receive them.”

On the FAFSA, students must list themselves as dependent or independent from their parents. An independent student has to be one of the following: 24 years old, a graduate or professional student, a veteran or member of the armed forces, an orphan, a ward of the court or someone with dependents of their own.

While these qualifications might seem like they cover all of the bases, there are still people who still do not fit in and must fill a “dependency appeal” to be considered a dependent on his or her FAFSA.

Samantha Krin, an 18-year-old applying to colleges and universities, is one of those students.

“My mother is deceased and my dad’s not around,” Krin said. “I left the foster care system and have been living with friends ever since and just live on my mom’s social security, but that ends when I turn 19.”

Krin said she knew her circumstance was one that did not happen very often and that she did not even know where to begin, so Sheila Wilson, financial aid counselor, helped to lead her in the right direction.

“Everyone here is a specialist and knows exactly how to help you,” Bustard said.

Kent State was not the only college or university participating in College Goal Sunday, which is sponsored locally by Ohio Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, Ohio College Access Network, USA Funds and Great Lakes Higher Education and is endorsed by the Ohio Board of Regents.

“This is a national-wide event,” Evans said. “All but 13 states participate because February is nationally Financial Aid Awareness Month and Kent State has been participating for seven or eight years.”

For more FAFSA information, please visit

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Katie Nix is the student finance reporter for the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact Katie Nix at [email protected].