PITTSFIELD -- For students planning to enter college this fall, May 1 is the last chance raise their hands for financial aid through the MassGrant program.
May 1 is the state deadline to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. College financial aid advisers consider the FAFSA to be the most critical form used nationally to determine a student's eligibility for various types and amounts of financial aid for college.
This year, Berkshire Community College has replaced its "Free College" campaign with a new "Time = $$$ @ BCC" (Time Equals Money at BCC) campaign to cover tuition and fees for students.
"Students who file early or by the deadline can qualify for the MassGrant program," said Anne Moore, BCC's director of financial aid.
She said it's worth the last-minute push to file on time for aid. Students who are Massachusetts residents, who file the FAFSA on time, demonstrate financial need, who will be enrolled in college full-time (at least 12 credits), and who do not have a prior bachelor's degree can qualify for the MassGrant program.
MassGrant awards include cash grants and tuition waivers for students attending any qualified institution, public or private. Unlike loans, grants and waivers don't have to be paid back to the funding agency.
Students who file the FAFSA after midnight on May 1 can still qualify for financial aid but the application won't be processed through the MassGrant program.
Moore said students who file on time, complete the financial aid verification process by July 1 and qualify for a federal Pell Grant (also processed through filing a FAFSA), can get their tuition and fees covered. As the deadline passes and as students continue to apply, there are fewer and fewer funds available for financial aid during that school year.
Nearly 3,000 financial aid applications were processed by BCC last year.
Moore said every student, whether full- or part-time, should apply for aid to ensure they get every dollar they are eligible for. Each year, more than 1,800 students receive an average award of $5,000 to attend BCC.
She said students also should understand that although financial aid can cover the costs of tuition and student fees, there are other costs associated with college, including transportation, meals, health insurance, textbooks and other course materials, in addition to living expenses.
"Students who meet the deadlines have more time to plan for things, like textbook costs, and have more time to apply for additional scholarships, funds or to save," said Moore. "They're better prepared, and then they can focus on their academics and the reasons why they chose to go to school instead of having to worry."
To learn more about, or to file a FAFSA, visit fafsa.ed.gov or call 1-800-433-3243. To learn more about financial aid at Berkshire Community College, call (413) 236-1644 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.