October is ‘College Changes Everything’ month in Illinois
This year is also unique in Illinois because it marks the first year of the state’s new FAFSA mandate.
Students and families are encouraged to take full advantage of the free financial aid and postsecondary planning resources available in their communities as part of College Changes Everything (CCE) month this October.
“This year is unique in many ways. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended not only how education is delivered, but how students are thinking—or perhaps re-thinking—plans for post-secondary education," according to a release from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission on Monday.
This was launched by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to support students and families who are completing their college applications and financial aid forms at the same time, ISAC is extending support for the CCE campaign to provide, with its partners, free workshops and activities throughout the entire fall. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and the Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid for the 2021-22 school year will both be available on Oct. 1.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid — the form that determines eligibility for federal and some state and institutional financial aid — becomes available on Oct. 1 for the 2020-21 school year. Because some state aid, such as the Monetary Award Program grant is awarded on a first-come-first-served basis, students are encouraged to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible to have the opportunity to receive all the financial aid for which they might be eligible.
“We know that families across the country are suffering financial and other consequences of the pandemic, and that it has disproportionately impacted low income communities and communities of color,” Eric Zarnikow, executive director of ISAC said. “We want students and families to know that there are many options available so students don’t have to put their plans on hold and can still pursue college or other postsecondary education. The first step is exploring those options and completing the FAFSA or other financial aid forms so they don’t miss out on potential funding available for the postsecondary path they choose. There is free assistance across the state to help them do that.”
This year is also unique in Illinois because it marks the first year of the state’s new FAFSA mandate. All graduating seniors attending public high schools in Illinois must complete the FAFSA, or if they are ineligible for federal aid, the Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid, as a prerequisite to receiving a high school diploma. A parent, guardian, or the student – if 18 or emancipated – may opt out for any reason by filing a nonparticipation form.
Making FAFSA completion part of an expectation for high school graduation can increase awareness of resources available to help students afford education or training after high school, perhaps helping some decide to attempt college when they might not otherwise have done so. The FAFSA is the form that determines eligibility for federal, most state, and some institutional financial aid. Because most state financial aid, such as the Monetary Award Program is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, students are encouraged to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 to have the opportunity to receive all the financial aid for which they might be eligible.
The 2021-22 Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid will also be available on October 1, after 12 pm. The Alternative Application provides a pathway to MAP grants for some undocumented students or for transgender students who may be ineligible for federal student aid because they did not register for selective service. It’s important to note that most students will continue to complete the FAFSA, rather than the Alternative Application, in order to determine their eligibility for federal and state financial aid.
If a student is unsure which application to complete, they can contact the financial aid office of the college or university they plan on attending, or an ISACorps member, for assistance. Pre-screening questions on the Alternative Application itself can also assist a student in determining which application to complete.
Students and parents can check directly with their high schools for events within or sponsored by their own school. ISAC will be hosting Facebook live events as well as other online events in English and Spanish throughout the fall. For a continuously updated list of ISAC virtual events, visit here. Find your local ISACorps member here.
Personalized assistance is also available through ISAC College Q&A, a free text messaging service where students can get answers to their college and financial aid questions sent directly to their phones. The award-winning ISAC Student Portal offers free online tools and resources for students, as well as short videos about college planning and financial aid.
ISAC supports high schools and counselors who would like to participate in CCE fall activities with a downloadable toolkit, materials and event support. You can find out more information here.
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