RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Paying for college can be a challenge for many students, and tuition assistance in the form of grants, loans, and scholarships can make a huge difference. Finding that money all begins by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form, which measures the families ability to pay for college.
"Yes, it is the time to do it," explained Executive Director of the NC State Education Assistance Authority, Elizabeth McDuffie.
McDuffie says the number one thing students need to pay attention to right now is the deadline the institutions or colleges has set for filing financial aid.
"Many schools in North Carolina have March 1 as the deadline," she said. "So, that's a good date to strive for as a target."
McDuffie says if you miss the schools target date, you could be leaving money on the table from the institution that could help pay for tuition.
"You could possibly be missing out," she said. "The schools set their deadlines knowing how much money they have and that they can probably honor everybody who applies by the deadline. If you apply after that, the likelihood is, you're not going to be considered for institutions money."
FAFSA's aren't just for traditional students such as high school seniors or those already in college. Anyone who plans to enter into a degree program should fill one out to see if there is any tuition assistance available.
"The key is, you need to be degree seeking," said McDuffie. "So, you need to be in a degree program, not just taking classes and taking a continuing education class."
And, if you are waiting to see if you have been accepted into a school or program, McDuffie says you should still fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible, because if you wait for an acceptance letter, it could arrive after the schools deadline for student aid.
"It's the first step to getting aid-once you are admitted," explained McDuffie. "The form is key. Without the form, you can't begin to see if any money is available to help pay your tuition."
The assistance may include loans, it may include other grants and scholarships you qualify for.
"Some of our colleges have nice endowments and investments they will use the income from to help students pay for college. So meet the deadline. It's absolutely critical," said McDuffie.
McDuffie says it's ideal to file a FAFSA after you have filed your taxes, but, if you haven't filed yet you can estimate. She points out, the process has been simplified and should take about 30 minutes online.
For more information or to file a FAFSA click HERE.
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North Carolina now accepting FAFSA forms for students needing tuition assistance
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