Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Help with the FAFSA equals a happy mom February 28, 2012

IT IS A RELIEF, I tell you, to have the taxes and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid filed. Both have been hanging over my head since the first of the year.

Since I detest figures and forms, I fail to welcome January with any hint of enthusiasm.

But somehow I manage to plow through the paperwork, sifting through files, pulling together information for the tax preparer. Yes, I pay someone to “do” our taxes because it is well worth the money to have everything done right without stressing me to the max.

This year I was under additional pressure to get the taxes done early so I could file the FAFSA. My son, my youngest, starts college in the fall.

Several years have passed since I last filled out this college financial aid form for my second daughter and, before that, her sister. I welcomed the respite from this task. Not that it should be so difficult given the process is done online. But, remember, I don’t like figures or forms. At all.

A portion of the informational sheet my son received from Faribault High School about the FAFSA workshop.

This time around, though, I wasn’t on my own. The Faribault High School Counseling Department hosted a Minnesota College Goal Sunday Workshop to assist parents and students in completing the FAFSA.

Yes, my son and I were among the first in line for the two-hour workshop. I expected long lines. My expectations were wrong. I have no idea how many turned out, but certainly significantly fewer than I anticipated during the hour we were there. Computer terminals were not packed, not by any stretch.

That was good for my son and me. No waiting. Questions answered as soon as my arm shot into the air, which was often.

The FAFSA offers a new feature—at least new since the last time I filed—that allows applicants to connect to their tax returns. The tax return information then automatically transfers to the FAFSA app. That option failed to work for us; something about too little time elapsing since taxes were filed.

Within an hour, my son and I had his FAFSA completed and zipped into cyberspace. The process should have taken us only a half hour, according to a rep from the local technical college, among three volunteers who assisted us at the workshop. Well, yeah, I shared with her that I detest figures and forms.

And it didn’t help that I left my prescription computer eyeglasses at home, meaning I struggled to read the words and numbers on the monitor.

FYI: COLLEGE GOAL SUNDAY is a national effort that brings financial aid professionals and other volunteers together to help students and their families complete the FAFSA. Click here for general program information about the Minnesota College Goal Program.

Click here for information and a listing of workshop sites in Minnesota.

Students who attend, fill out and submit a FAFSA and then complete a workshop evaluation are entered into a drawing for a $500 scholarship. Now how’s that for an incentive to participate? One student in Faribault will walk away with $500 for his/her college education. Win. Win.

Even if my son doesn’t win the scholarship, we’ve still won. We got professional assistance, at no cost, to complete a task I dread.

I’m just wondering. Can I return next year even though my son will already be in college?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling