Financial aid 101

NEGAUNEE – The auditorium was packed with students and their parents eager to learn about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FASFA is a simple form that identifies a student’s needs for college based on a specific set of criteria. The FASFA will show students if they qualify for federal loans, grants and even work study.

It is a lot to take in, especially in one night, but the schools that collaborated to put the event on hope that if students and parents realize that the FASFA is just a simple form instead of a complicated tax document that will mean more students going to college.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking you make too much or their GPA isn’t high enough,” Northern Michigan University financial aid counselor Jeff Gagnon said. “Think of it (FASFA) as doing some work now to save money later.”

The most complicated thing for parents to understand about the FASFA is the Expected Family Contribution. This is a number that is tabulated after a family fills out the FASFA. This number is often thought of as a monetary number for what a family is supposed to pay for its students to attend school. However, this isn’t true. The EFC number is an index number that indicates a student’s financial need. This number will help students qualify for loans, grants. scholarships and work study.

“So parents don’t look at that number and say well I’m not giving you $15,000 for school because it’s not that,” Gagnon said.

Parents like Lynn Mileski and her daughter Liesl Flannery were hoping to learn the ins and outs of the FASFA before they tackled it themselves.

“Back when I went to school I feel like there was more financial aid than there is now,” Lynn Mileski said. “I didn’t have to take out any loans like she is going to have to.”

Liesl is hoping to attend Northern Michigan University or Michigan Tech to study computer science, but hasn’t decided which one yet. She has been applying for scholarships since the beginning of the year and has no thoughts of stopping anytime soon.

“I’m hoping to get as much scholarship money as I can,” Liesl Flannery said. “The hardest thing is getting them done. Each one requires an essay, and juggling scholarships with school work and stuff like that and just making time to get them done.”

Liesl’s story is like so many other college-bound high schoolers. They juggle athletics, academics and club participation while trying to be as well-rounded as possible, but for many there is still fear that they won’t win any scholarships or qualify for loans for college. This fear causes students to not apply for scholarships or fill out the FASFA every year.

“There are so many you can qualify for sometimes it is an overload of scholarships and you kind of have to pick and choose which ones you want to do,” Flannery said.

Students can find scholarships at their high school guidance office as well as online at,, and Students can search for scholarships for free on these sites. If a site asks for money to file the FASFA or search for scholarships don’t use that site. The FASFA can be filed for free at

Families that need help filling out the FASFA can attend the Michigan College Goal event from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Marquette County YMCA, 1420 Pine St., Marquette. Financial aid experts will be available at no charge to guide students and their families through each step of completing and filing the FAFSA. Students under 23 are encouraged to bring a parent or guardian. Parents and students should bring their completed 2013 federal tax return (1040) if possible or their W-2 and 1099 forms.

“Nine out of ten students who complete the FASFA go to college and that is why this event is so important,” EduGuide program coordinator Becky Powell said.

Sylvia Stevens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.