Fill out FASFA early for best chance at awards

Roxanne Ready, Reporter

By filling out one form, students can start the process to get money for college from the U.S. government, the state or AACC’s scholarship foundation—or all three. 

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid—or FAFSA—is a form students can fill out each year to see how much financial aid they qualify for. 

Credit and some continuing education students may qualify for the federal Pell Grant, which they do not need to pay back; federal student loans, which they must pay back after completing their degrees; or work-study programs, which allow students to work part time, usually on campus, to help pay for their courses. 

“It was actually pretty easy,” Gerald Maravinyanka, a first-year engineering student and Pell grant recipient, said of filling out FAFSA. He added that everyone should “absolutely” fill it out. “It’s money you don’t have to pay back.” 

The U.S. Department of Education gives students nationwide more than $120 billion each year, according to the Federal Student Aid website. 

“Most students will qualify for some type of federal aid” as long as they meet “basic eligibility requirements” Tara Carew, AACC’s director of financial aid, said.  

And Carew added that students should fill out the FAFSA “even if you know you’re not going to be eligible for a federal Pell Grant,” because many other grant and scholarship programs also require it. 

AACC offers more than 200 institutional scholarships to students studying fields ranging from athletics to engineering. Students can apply for all of them at once using a single form within the MyAACC website; but some require proof of financial need, so students must complete FAFSA to be considered. 

“The scholarship gives me confidence that I can … turn my lifelong academic dreams into reality,” Montana Hoover, a computer science student who graduated from AACC in 2018, wrote to AACC’s scholarship committee. “I will no longer be held back by my financial obstacles.” 

AACC’s institutional scholarship application period opens in March, with a priority deadline of April 15. While the final deadline for consideration is July 20, the scholarship committee chooses some award recipients “as early as May,” Carew said. 

And the Maryland Higher Education Commission uses information from FAFSAs it receives before March 1 to determine whether students qualify for its two need-based grants: Educational Assistance and Guaranteed Assistance.  

The MHEC website——also lists 14 scholarships for groups ranging from nursing students to veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. Some require completed FAFSAs and some do not. 

In May, Maryland lawmakers approved a program giving some recent high school graduates with at least a 2.3 GPA up to $5,000 per year toward full-time community college enrollment, starting in 2019. The program will be for dependent students whose families do not earn more than $150,000 per year and independent students who do not earn more than $100,000 per year. (See related story on Page 1.) 

Carew said AACC’s financial aid department is still waiting for details on the law, but she said she expects it to rely on FAFSA because the award is partially need based. 

Students may start filling out FAFSA for the 2019-2020 school year on Oct. 1. There is no federal deadline for submitting FAFSA, but Carew recommended completing it between October and March to meet the deadlines for the various grants and scholarships that require completed FAFSAs. 

“The most important recommendation for students is to apply early,” Carew said. “If you have all of your tax documents with you, it usually takes less than an hour.” 

Carew also recommends students fill out their FAFSAs with their parents, because they may need to include their parents’ tax information. 

“Even though it can be a bit intimidating … it doesn’t take that long to fill the form out,” Carew said. “It could be the most productive hour that you spend, because there could be a number of awards waiting out there for you.” 

Students with questions about FAFSA or other forms of financial aid can visit the financial aid counter in the Student Services Building. Students can also go to the “Costs & Paying for College” tab on, then click “Financial Aid and Scholarships.