FAFSA Frenzy sites aid families in college planning

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COLUMBIA — High school students and their families had the opportunity to attend a FAFSA Frenzy event in Columbia at Hickman High School.

The Missouri Department of Higher Education holds the events every year to provide assistance for students and their families in filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms.

There are financial aid experts and high school counselors volunteering at each of the events to provide assistance as families go through the process.

To successfully fill out the FAFSA form, parents are asked to bring in their FSA ID, a list of schools their student has applied to or been accepted to and their 2015 W-2 forms or tax return copies.

This is one of the major changes for this year's FAFSA Frenzy events. The 2017-2018 FAFSA form asks for 2015 information, so families do not have to wait until they file their taxes for the current year to be able to fill out the FAFSA form.

The FAFSA Frenzy events are being held three months earlier this year, which is another major change. The FAFSA form opened in October of this year, rather than it's usual time in January.

Hannah Wren is a Hickman High School counselor who helped run Tuesday's event.

"The thing with the FAFSA is that it has become much easier to navigate and fill out than it used to be. Some families can do it on their own, but this event is available for the families that want the help," Wren said.

She also said while the events are originally designed to help first-generation college families, the events draw many more families than that.

"We have a diverse group of families that come," said Wren. "Some of them just get stuck or they're a little leery of doing it correctly, so they'll come and get help."

One of the financial aid experts helping at the event is the financial aid assistant director at Stephens College. Greg Hutchinson has been providing financial advice at FAFSA Frenzy events for five years.

Hutchinson said the FAFSA Frenzy events are extremely beneficial so students and parents can sit together and discuss college financial planning.

"A lot of times students do things on their own, Hutchinson said. "So it gets the student, parent and counselor all in one place."

Students also had the opportunity to enter to win a $500 scholarship as they checked out of the event. The FAFSA Frenzy season lasts from Oct. 1, 2016 to Jan. 31, 2017.

Another FAFSA Frenzy event will be held at Battle High School on Wednesday, Nov. 16 from 5 to 7 p.m.