12:00 AM

Financial aid no longer a mystery

COLUMBUS – While students are in college, there's always the mother that still does her son's laundry, or the father that continues to change the oil in his daughter's car. But when it's time to fill out financial paperwork for school, a task of far more importance, some students are still nowhere to be found.

"I worry about students who arrive on campus, and mom and dad have completed every part of the process to get them there," said Tally Hart, senior advisor for the Office of Economic Access at Ohio State University.

Several state and national campaigns exist to make the financial aid process easier for the entire family, such as College Goal Sunday, an annual initiative that assists students and their parents with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms and professional financial advice. The project, which began in 1989 and has expanded throughout the country since, will take place this year on Sunday (2/11).

The most important step is for the family to complete the FAFSA, but once the award letter comes, the responsibility should lie with the students, Hart said. If they aren't aware of how much they borrow and how much they will eventually owe, they may graduate with some surprises.

"Money is a fact of life," she said. "How to manage it and optimize its benefits in the financial world is a life skill that's important to establish. As a college student, it's an ideal time to hone those skills."

Another effort to generate publicity for financial access is the Know How 2 Go Ohio campaign, which will be launched at the end of the month, and will help low-income students prepare to apply to college.

When considering how to fund an education, there is a basic timeline of tasks to complete for a successful financial aid experience, Hart said. During the senior year of high school, every student should fill out the FAFSA by Feb. 1 -- ahead of the deadline, or as soon as possible. Filling out the form doesn't obligate the student to accept the loan, Hart said, and everyone deserves to know their options. Hart also recommends students sign up for free, confidential scholarship searches, which are easily accessible through private Internet sites.

In the summer before the freshman year of college, students should send their aid information to the financial office at their university, confirm class enrollment and return loan promissory notes promptly, borrowing only what is needed.

For more information, contact Tally Hart via the OSU Office of Media Relations, (614) 247-4110. To learn more about College Goal Sunday and Know How 2 Go Ohio, visit http://collegegoalsundayusa.org/ and http://www.knowhow2go.org/.