Financial Aid Application Hanford High

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be filled out at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

Gary Feinstein/The Sentinel

HANFORD - The enrollment period for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) started Oct. 1, three months earlier than previous years, and schools are urging students to get their applications in. 

College of the Sequoias held a Cash for College workshop this past week at Sierra Pacific High School’s career center after holding one at Hanford West High last month. At the workshop, students can receive help filling out the FAFSA. Tax information and social security numbers are needed for the applications.

A similar is scheduled for Thursday from 4-7 p.m. in Lemoore High's library.

This year, students were able to begin filling out the applications that help decide federal college scholarships and grants on Oct. 1 after previously having to wait until Jan. 1.

That additional three months is beneficial to students’ preparation for college, said Cassondra Bear, a financial aid clerical assistant at the COS Hanford campus.

“It gives them more time,” Bear said. “When they fill out the FAFSA earlier, students can get award scenarios earlier which gives them more time to plan out what college situation could be financially best for them.”

Because of the early start date, students and families now would use 2015 tax information instead of waiting for 2016 documents after the start of the new calendar year.

“It can eliminate a lot of conflicting information,” Bear said of students using previous year’s numbers when they should have waited for newer tax information that was necessary.

Hanford West senior Jasmine Vidal attended the workshop at her school last month after hearing about it in her government class and on the school bulletin.

Vidal, who is hoping to attend California State University, Fresno, said it was helpful to get the FAFSA done earlier.

“I wanted to get it done early and not worry about it later,” Vidal said. “As a senior, it’s difficult to get everything complete by all the deadlines. It just helped relieve some stress to get it out of the way.”

Bear said COS has seen an increased interest in having the college provide workshops for students who want help filling out their forms.

In previous years, Bear said college officials would hold workshops at various high schools on a weekly basis.

This year, with the start date being moved up, COS has been holding workshops almost daily at different schools. According to www.fafsa.ed.gov, the website where the FAFSA can be filled out, more than 13 million students are awarded a total of about $150 billion in funds each year.

Despite the start date being moved up by three months, the deadline remains March 2 to file.

With this being the first year of the new start dates, Bear said high schools have been getting the word out to their students. 

“I think the high schools have been pushing it,” Bear said of the early start dates. “Students seem to know about it.”

Cassandra O’Brien, who is the Career Education coordinator at Sierra Pacific High School, said the school has been doing its best to let students know of the early start dates in various ways including mailers being sent to students’ home addresses, announcements on the Sierra Pacific bulletin and by having senior classes go into the school’s career center.

O’Brien had’t seen any students fill out their applications previous to the workshop.

“I think they [were] waiting for the workshop,” O’Brien said. “We’re looking to go into classes again in January or February to help those that haven’t filled it out by then. We’re going to continue to push it.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2431 or jbutters@HanfordSentinel.com. Follow him on twitter @jsbutters.

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