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Thousands of dollars could be left on the table if students don't fill out FAFSA form

'We want to make certain that the challenges they may be encountering in completing the form, that we are removing the barriers,' Dr. Glenda Sheffield says
fafsa need money for college signage April 16 2024.png
Posted at 7:27 PM, Apr 16, 2024

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — As many of you prepare to send your kids off to college in the fall, the cost of it is likely weighing on your mind.

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is one way students can get financial assistance. However, changes to the form this year and a delayed rollouthave fewer students filling it out nationwide.

Leaders in the Palm Beach County School District want to make sure no students leave any money on the table.

Olivia Saurel is a senior at Forest Hill High School in West Palm Beach and plans to attend Florida Gulf Coast University in the fall. She filled out the FAFSA form earlier this year and already received a response back.

Olivia Saurel is a senior at Forest Hill High School April 16 2024.png
Olivia Saurel explains how has received much help from guidance counselors.

"I've had a lot of help from the guidance counselors here," she said. "I got my processed form back and I received a $7,000 Pell Grant, so it's really good to know that number. Even an estimate of what you're going to get, especially being able to budget that money and what you're going to use it for."

The federal government updated the form this year, designed to make it faster to fill out and less daunting, but it hasn't been as seamless as hoped.

Dr. Glenda Sheffield, the chief academic officer for the School District of Palm Beach County, said they've noticed fewer students filling out the form this year, matching national trends.

"They thought the form was very intense, very long in length, so the federal government has decided that we're going to do a complete overhaul," she said. "We know anytime there are changes, there are challenges."

Dr Glenda Sheffield the chief academic officer for the School District of Palm Beach County April 16 2024.png
Dr. Glenda Sheffield, the chief academic officer for the School District of Palm Beach County, explains how they need more students to sign up for financial aid.

The school district is hosting a series of help sessions to work one-on-one with families to assist them in filling out the form.

"We want to make certain that the challenges they may be encountering in completing the form, that we are removing the barriers," Sheffield said. "This form is very important. I encourage all students to complete the form whether you think you are in need of financial assistance or not because again it helps determine if you are eligible for Pell Grants, some scholarships."

Forest Hill Community High School counselor coordinator Lisa Cohen Serrano said they've been navigating some new terminology and technical glitches with this year's form.

"We would like to see more students sign up," she said. "There is money on the table, there are some scholarships, grants, things of that nature that you don't have to pay back, students need to be aware of that. They can't be aware of that unless they fill out the FAFSA and then it would be offered to them."

Forest Hill Community High School counselor coordinator Lisa Cohen Serrano April 16 2024
Forest Hill Community High School counselor coordinator Lisa Cohen Serrano talks about the issues with this year's form.

Cohen Serrano said it has been challenging to get the word out about the importance of filling out the FAFSA.

"It went from 108 questions from the old form to 18 questions, so it can be a daunting task for some, especially if you are a non-English speaker," she said.

The questions are also worded differently.

"They are not called parents, they are called contributors now and they don't need a social security number," she added. "And as a contributor, they want to know what the household contribution is going to be for the student."

Senior Zaniah Acosta is heading to LSU in the fall.

Senior Zaniah Acosta is heading to LSU in the fall April 14 2024
Senior Zaniah Acosta is heading to LSU in the fall April and says filling out the FAFSA form was easy.

"I applied a couple months ago for financial aid and for me it was pretty easy, it went pretty smoothly," she said. "Especially with a low-income family, it's harder to move out of state and fees are bigger, so with FAFSA it helps a lot."

If your child attends Forest Hill Community High School, located at 6901 Parker Ave, and you are looking for assistance with the FAFSA, the school will be hosting a help session on Wednesday, April 17 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the school's media center.

The school district will also host an event the same day from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the district's Welcome Center located at 3300 Forest Hill Blvd. in Building E.

Another event will be held at the district headquarters cafeteria at 3300 Forest Hill Blvd., on Monday, May 6 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.