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February 27, 2009 - Experts Say FAFSA Is First Step in Getting Financial Aid, Money for College Is Available  RSS feed

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Classes may not begin until fall, but the Oklahoma Guaranteed Student Loan Program (OGSLP) encourages students needing financial aid for the 2009-10 school year to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible.

Despite the recent economic downturn, billions of dollars in financial aid, including free federal and state grants and federal student loans, are available to students who fill out the FAFSA. Experts recommend students complete the application as soon as possible after Jan. 1 during their senior year of high school and each following year financial aid is needed.

“Even if students think they aren’t eligible for aid, they should still fill out the FAFSA,” said Chancellor Glen D. Johnson. “Many students underestimate their financial need or don’t realize they may qualify for other programs, like federal work-study.”

Last week was Financial Aid Awareness Week in Oklahoma to promote early exploration of financial aid options.

Mary Mowdy, OGSLP executive director, says early awareness is important because many financial aid programs are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis and some families are intimidated by the application, which the U.S. Department of Education estimates will take less than an hour to complete.

“Some families opt out of completing the FAFSA and charge college expenses to credit cards or take out private education loans before exhausting all federal loan options, which isn’t an ideal approach,” said Mowdy. “Federal student loans issued through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program have lower interest rates, flexible repayment plans and important deferment, forbearance and loan forgiveness benefits that credit cards and ‘private’ or ‘alternative’ loans don’t offer.”

An initiative of the U.S. Department of Education, the FFEL Program is the largest financial aid program in the nation and the only federal education loan program that offers students and schools a choice in lenders and the resulting benefits of competition. OGSLP assures families that, despite current market conditions, federal student loan funds remain available.

“To our knowledge, not a single student has been unable to get a federal student loan due to the credit crisis,” Mowdy said.

The FAFSA can be completed online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. The online version is recommended as the most efficient method, but paper applications are also available by calling (800) 4-FED-AID or by contacting high school counselors or campus financial aid offices. The FAFSA is free, so students should never pay a fee to complete the application.

For help during the process and to ensure campus-specific deadlines are met, students can contact their college financial aid office. To learn more about the financial aid process, grants and scholarships, and student loans, visit www.ogslp.org or call OGSLP toll-free at (800) 442-8642.

The Oklahoma Guaranteed Student Loan Program, a division of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, serves as Oklahoma’s designated guarantor for the Federal Family Education Loan Program to help all qualified students meet their postsecondary educational expenses.