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Financial Aid Night provides help to parents, college-bound students

By Staff | Jan 30, 2009

Cape Coral High School’s auditorium was full Thursday night with dozens of students and parents for the West Zone’s Financial Aid Night. Led by financial aid experts, the evening broke down the process of obtaining aid for college.
Cindy Lewis, director of Financial Aid for Edison State College, gave a step-by-step explanation of how to receive scholarships and loans, and how to fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid without mistakes.
“We try to have the financial aid system work in your favor so you will contribute the same regardless of the college,” said Lewis. “It is a hot time of the year so you need to find out what the guidance office has.”
Overall, there are four types of financial aid available for students: scholarships, grants, loans and student employment.
Lewis explained that most colleges will try to give students as much “gift money” as possible before they supplement with other sources, such as loans that need to be paid back after college.
Student aid sources also come from different areas including the federal government — the largest of providers — individual states, private sources, civic organizations and sometimes employers.
Recent reports across the country insist that financial aid is drying up. But, according to Lewis, only the private loan market is having trouble.
The federal government has not decreased the amount of aid provided to students, but private loans owned by banks or other institutions have become scarce in the market. As a result, those gaps will have to be filled with grants, loans or scholarships.
“Most often, if you look at high cost institutions, they sometimes fill that gap with private loans and they are becoming scarce,” said Lewis.
Because many private loans are disappearing, Lewis said more parents will be interested in PLUS Loans, or a federal loan that will fill any remaining balances.
Many students also depend on the Florida Bright Futures scholarships, which has three divisions — Academic, Medallion and the Vocational Gold Seal. Each covers a large portion of tuition at a Florida college or university, yet one difference this year is that spending money for students under the Academic division fell from $600 to $375.
The single greatest source of financial aid is received through the FAFSA which is available on Jan. 1 of each new year. Furthermore, many other scholarship and aid programs use this document to determine eligibility.
Years ago the FAFSA was a packet that parents filled out and mailed in. Today, Lewis said, the paper FAFSA is obsolete. Electronic versions of the application allow parents to check for errors, submit the application quicker and check their status instantly online.
Some of the parents and students who attended Financial Aid Nights said they had already filled out the FAFSA and are working on their aid packages.
Dale Iverson, a senior at Cape Coral High, said he completed his FAFSA in 20 minutes at home over the weekend. He attended Financial Aid Nights to make sure he did not forget anything on the application.
Iverson said Lewis explained everything he needed to know.
“It wasn’t very challenging,” he said.
The Lee County School District organized Financial Aid Nights in each of the district’s three zones. Lehigh Senior High in the East Zone and South Fort Myers High in the South Zone hosted their Financial Aid Nights earlier this month.
To fill out a FAFSA, visit: www.fafsa.ed.gov.