PITTSFIELD -- As college acceptance letters continue to roll in, January is the time to start applying for financial aid.
The campaign to get students and parents onboard with filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) launched in Massachusetts on Sunday with the 10th annual FAFSA Day Massachusetts, part of the national College Goal Sunday program.
The FAFSA must be completed online at fafsa.gov, for each academic year the student will attend college. State deadlines vary from federal deadlines.
The Massachusetts deadline to apply for financial aid for the 2014-15 academic year is May 1.
The calculations for federal aid require families to submit tax forms, income and savings data and cost of attendance information, which is why families are encouraged to submit a FAFSA early.
For those who missed Sunday's FAFSA help events, there is still plenty of time to seek support and resources in filling out the form.
Without a completed FAFSA, many students forfeit their eligibility for federal, state and institutional aid as well as loans and work study opportunities.
A 2009 FAFSA Completion Project study commissioned by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (BHE) found that 45 percent of degree-seeking undergraduates at the state's public colleges and universities did not complete a FAFSA.
The findings led the BHE to require campuses to add FAFSA completion language to their admissions applications.
Despite progress, advocates for low-income and first-generation students say it is still unacceptable to see that nearly 30 percent of all public higher education students in the commonwealth may still be forfeiting financial aid dollars by not completing the FAFSA.
"Data show that increasing FAFSA completion rates and making sure that students and families know about financial aid options has a positive impact on college completion rates," said Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland in a written statement on the subject.
"It is in all of our interests - whether we are students, educators or employers - to make sure that students have the means to complete their degrees and certificates in a timely fashion. For many, federal aid is essential to reaching the goal of becoming a college graduate," he said.