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With the hefty price tag that currently hangs on a college education, completing the FAFSA process is likely on the minds of most families considering higher education for their students.

While filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid can seem tedious and even a bit daunting, the application must be completed in order for college-bound students to qualify for almost all types of financial aid — including federal, state, local and private grants and scholarships, said Carol Handlan, the Higher Education Access Partner for York and neighboring counties.

"There is a slight fear of filling out the FAFSA, but in reality its pretty simplified," she said.

Handlan is among those from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency prepared to assist families in filling out their FAFSA. She has hosted FAFSA completion events in and around York County where she works with both students and their guardians as they fill out the application online.

"We provide families with the level of comfort of having an expert on-hand to fill these forms out with them," she said. "People can be apprehensive at first, especially those that don't consider themselves computer savvy, but once they get started, they realize it's not that difficult."

Completion events:  There are several FAFSA completion events scheduled in York County through mid-April, with the next one scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 19 at the YTI Career institute, 1405 Williams Road in Springettsbury Township.

Filling out the FAFSA on average takes just under a half hour, Handlan said, so families can come at any point within the scheduled time frame.

The event is open to everyone — whether they need access to a computer or have a few questions, Handlan said.

Both those looking to attend a help-session and those filing the FAFSA at home are required to have several things on-hand, including tax documents, proof of income and other personal documents, such as their Social Security card and driver's license. To view a complete checklist of information needed to complete the FAFSA, visit Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency's website, www.pheaa.org.

Participants also need to bring a Federal Student Aid ID, which is required to log into certain U.S. Department of Education websites, as well as electronically sign the FAFSA. Handlan recommended going through the process of obtaining an ID at least three days beforehand, noting both students and parents will need their own ID information.

Those who need to create an FSA ID only need their own email address and to follow the steps outlined at fsaid.ed.gov

Quick tips: Handlan said her biggest tip was simply completing the process as soon as possible.

"Some schools have deadlines as early as January, some have a February deadline," she said. "The majority of schools however, have a deadline between March 1-15; that’s the most important thing, to meet the school's deadline. The sooner they get in, the more likely they are to receive some type of award – if you're late, the money could already be gone."

It's also important to answer questions as accurately as possible, Handlan said.

"If you're filling it out and don't understand the question, look to the right and there should be a short section to clarify what it means," she said, noting that if the question is still unclear there is a live chat room full of experts to offer assistance.

Handlan said there's also an 800-number available for any sort of technical assistance required through out the process.

To view a complete list of FAFSA completion events in and near York County visit Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency's website and click on the FAFSA tab.

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com.

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