Students missing out on financial aid - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Students missing out on financial aid

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 MADISON (WKOW)—University of Wisconsin Senior  Katie DeYoung works in the financial aid office, answering questions about a process she’s very familiar with.

“I had applied for financial aid before I got this job,” DeYoung said.

Each year, Katie fills out the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student aid to see what type of assistance she qualifies for.

“Everyone should definitely fill it out,” DeYoung said. “You never know what you're going to get.”

“When you fill out the FAFSA you're applying for all the federal money that's available through the department of education title four, which is loans and grants and work study,” said Susan Fischer, Director of the Office of Student Financial Aid at UW. “About  50 to 55 percent of our students apply for and receive some t type of financial aid.”

But new research shows not all college students take advantage of federal aid. For the 2011-2012 school year, about two million missed out on free, need-based aid in the form of a Pell Grant.

“It's a substantial grant,” Fischer said. “If you're eligible, the smallest amount is maybe a couple of hundred dollars, all the way up to $5600 a year, for two semesters.”

Fischer says a complicated formula determines eligibility for Pell grants and other aid, and it changes every year. That’s why she encourages everyone, regardless of income, to log on and  fill out the FAFSA.

“You can decide, if you can make it, to turn down the loans, only accept the gift aid or only accept part of the loan,” Fischer said. “You can do that, you're not obligated to take what we offer you. You can pick and choose.”

Katie says it only takes about half an hour to complete and now that it can be done online and tax information is transferred from the IRS website, it’s less intimidating.

“It's a good experience,” DeYoung said. “Students should definitely, if they're not doing it themselves, at least be with their parents as it's being filled out so they can understand the process.”

Applicants should be cautious about sites that charge to complete the FAFSA. Filling out the FAFSA is free at fafsa.gov.

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