Students are encouraged to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the March 2 deadline before funds deplete.
Financial aid awards are disbursed on a first come, first serve basis. The need-based grants will be the first to go because state funds are limited due to the economic recession of the past three years.
Mary Fallon, communications consultant of the Student Financial Aid Services Inc., said seven states are pushing students to fill out their FASFA as close to Jan. 1 as possible because funds may deplete faster than previous years.
“You don’t want to wait … If you know there is a limited amount of money, and it’s starting to disperse, you want the most you can be possibly eligible for,” Fallon said. “The sooner you ask for it, sooner you’ll be in that line for aid, that’s important.”
Fallon added that a lot of colleges tell their students to estimate their income tax in order to be in the system when disbursements are released, even if they have to modify it in the future.
The average aid award last year was more than $13,000.
“State grant aid for undergraduate students has dropped about 2 percent from five years ago,” according to the National Association of State Student Grant Aid Administrators. The downward trend is expected to continue.
First-time college students preparing their FAFSA might not be aware of the fund process. Fallon said the college decides how much aid students receive, not the state or federal government.
She added that every college has a different approach in determining how the funds will be distributed to students.
“Obviously a high achieving (academic) student from a low-income household would probably get more money than a lower achieving student from a rich household,” Fallon said.
The majority of college students qualify for some sort of financial aid, even if it is just a federal education loan. Fallon said it is unusual that a student would not qualify for any aid at all.
Lizzi Chen, 22, a graphic design major, receives between $1,000-3,000 of financial aid. She said it is better than nothing and free money always helps.
Although she gets help from her parents, Chen does not take out student loans and instead has to pay her parents back after she graduates.
The first year Chen attended CSUF, she filed her FAFSA and received about $10,000. Each year her check gradually got less and less but Chen plans to apply for financial aid next year and get what she can.
She recommends others apply for aid as well, regardless of their financial situation.
“Even if it’s $500 … that’s your books right there,” Chen said.
Julie De La Pena, 36, a liberal studies major, said although she does not currently receive aid, she would like to in the future. De La Pena is able to pay tuition right now because she works full time but considers it hard.
“Right now (I’m) living at my dad’s. So I don’t have to pay all the expenses that I normally would,” said De La Pena. “I’m kind of just getting by when I make those payments.”
For students planning to take courses over the summer, aid will be included if they filed for financial aid during the 2012-2013 academic year.