The Fun of Filing for FAFSA

March 23, 2012 | Borough of Manhattan Community College

The BMCC Office of Financial Aid helps students apply for federal assistance, one step at a time. All the paperwork and research that goes into the application process can be time-consuming and tedious.

So, the Office of Financial Aid decided to make the whole application process more enjoyable and manageable. The theme for this year’s Financial Aid Awareness Day was pirates.

Computer stations lined the back wall of Richard Harris Terrace where BMCC counselors—adorned in pirate attire—from the Office of Financial Aid answered questions about financial aid. Many students were able to file their 2011-2012 FAFSA applications on the spot.

To add to the ambiance, there were nets hanging from the ceiling and the walls, Pirates of the Caribbean movie posters, a “treasure chest,” gold coins at every booth, and even free popcorn, games, giveaways, and more.

Every station had a pirate-themed name, such as Discovery Island, Publication Island, Counselor Island, and Treasure Island.

What is FAFSA?
FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the federal government uses FAFSA to determine a student’s eligibility for federal financial aid, which includes grants and scholarships.

With help from the Office of Financial Aid, students can also file for Work Study, supplemental grants, student loans and even TAP (Tuition Assistance Program).

The only catch is lots of financial and personal information is needed to file for FAFSA, and that’s why students need to be focused and organized when it comes to applying.

Questions answered
Counselor Elizabeth Caceres operated a spinning wheel trivia game where students answered a financial aid question—such as “What is a grant?”—for a chance to win prizes such as keychains and waterbottles.

“This event is really a reminder to students that there is a new FAFSA application, and it’s important to file early, hopefully before the summer,” said Caceres.

Financial Aid counselors Jose Altamirano and Moshe Axelrod answered student questions at the Publication Table, which was stacked with informative pamphlets about TAP, the IRS Data Retrieval tool needed for FAFSA, and more.

“There are also some opportunities for summer aid,” said Axelrod, who answered student questions about that possibility, and, according to Altamirano, it’s important for students to “file their taxes early for the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which allows students and their parents to easily transfer tax information from the IRS directly to the student’s FAFSA.”

Howard Entin, Director, Office of Financial Aid, said that applications are “up” this year, compared to last year, and the college has processed nearly 25 thousand FAFSA applications thus far.

Students had good time
Kelly Abdel, Coordinator of Outreach Services in the Financial Aid Office, said the event serviced more than 1,500 students.

“Also, based on the returned surveys, we had over a 90 percent favorable rating from students finding the event very helpful and informative,” she explained.

Altamirano believed that the pirate theme added some “levity and humor” to the FAFSA application process—and showed the BMCC community that Financial Aid Office can kick back.

“Students like seeing financial aid in a fun context, and we’ve definitely grabbed their attention,” he said.