Jackson State University’s ‘First FAFSA’ encourages students to complete FAFSA early

Jackson State University is launching “First FAFSA,” a campaign encouraging students to complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) early to maximize the amount of financial assistance they will be able to receive.

“The reason students should submit their FAFSAs early is that in the spirit of the old adage that ‘the early bird gets the worm,’ a lot of times, the full consideration for a financial aid package goes to those students who apply early. So the later you are in the application cycle, funding may start to dwindle,” said Josiah Sampson, III, Ph.D., vice president of Enrollment Management.

While the amount of funding is a major concern when applying early, there is also the threat of not being able to be “verified” before the start of the semester. Verification is the process of vetting the information on the FAFSA before any awarding of financial aid is done.

“There’s a tendency for many of our students who are typically first-generation or low-income students who are caught in the verification process. When they apply early, it helps to eliminate this time-consuming barrier in order for students to complete enrollment before they move on campus or start class,” said Mitchell Shears, Ed.D., associate vice president for Student Success and executive director of Title III Programs.

While many believe that the university is responsible for delays, that is not the case. Delays are usually caused by the time it takes for the Office of Federal Student Aid to transmit the information to JSU. The Office of Financial Aid works to help students receive their packages as soon as possible.

“Federal Student Aid determines what funding a student will get, and they send that record back to the university. Often, it takes up to 10 to 14 days before Federal Student Aid sends anything to the institution,” Sampson explained. “So in cases where students do wait to the last minute, and they’re trying to avoid being purged because they have not paid their bill yet to be in school, if you turn in your FAFSA in the day before the purge happens, it takes 10 to 14 days for Federal Student Aid to return a decision to the school. It’s not Jackson State that is holding up the process.”

According to the FAFSA website, the office of Federal Student Aid allots over $100 billion to distribute to approved students in the forms of grants, loans, and work-study. Funding amounts are dependent upon factors such as household income, assets, benefits, and family size. Students can be provided the maximum amount given their circumstances if they promptly complete their applications.

JSU is required to report the number of students receiving financial aid. In the 2020-2021 academic year, 99% of students received aid, 89% received federal grants or Pell Grants, and 84% received any student loan aid.

“It paints a picture of how important it is for students to file their FAFSA or submit their FAFSA early because 84% of the student body is trying to get some kind of funding to go to school. So if you wait until late in the game, you may not get anything, or what you get may be diminished. So you want to submit early so that you can increase your likelihood of getting the right type of funding to pay for school,” said Sampson.

Financial aid awareness month is every October. During this time, JSU offers many initiatives to assist students with struggles completing their applications.

“So all that month, the Office of Financial Aid here at Jackson State conducts seminars about credit, submitting your FAFSA, and understanding debt loan ratios. We are putting on all of these talks to assist with submitting your FAFSA,” said Sampson.

FAFSA completion sessions are also held throughout the year.

“Students can also come by the office if they’re on campus. If they’re not on campus, your best source of assistance is going to be the website,” said Ozie Ratcliff, director of Financial Aid.

The university’s deadline to complete the FAFSA for the 2023-2024 academic year is May 15, 2023. Students are encouraged not to wait until May to complete it because they will be grouped in with incoming freshmen.

“When you wait until May, you are grouped in with all incoming freshmen. There is going to be a long process for you to complete your financial aid package,” said Ratcliff.

Faculty emphasizes the importance of completing FAFSAs as soon as possible for the students’ benefit, but the sentiment is shared beyond financial aid applications. This is a process for all available opportunities and just as a general life suggestion.

“I would urge the students to, when it comes to registration, FAFSA, or the scholarship portal opening, make sure you take advantage of those opportunities and try to do everything early. The key thing I want them to take away from this is learning to be proactive rather than reactive. If you’re proactive and do everything ahead of time, you won’t have to scramble to be reactive,” Ratcliff said.