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Sagging Economy, Low Student Loan Interest Rates Boost Financial Aid Applications

by Jane Nicholson

BOONE–Financial aid counselors at Appalachian State University have seen a 31 percent increase in financial aid applications this year.

The increase has been triggered in part by the economic slowdown and layoffs in the state’s furniture, textile and airline industries.

“That’s a pretty significant increase in students and families applying for financial aid,” said Esther Captain, director of Appalachian’s Office of Student Financial Aid.

The increase also may be a result of low interest rates on student loans and the ease of filing for financial aid via the Internet, Captain said. The interest rate on the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Stafford Loan is currently 5.39 percent. The current rate on the Federal PLUS Loan for parents is 6.79 percent.

These rates are variable and change every year on July 1.

“Everything is so automated that it’s much easier to apply for financial aid than ever before,” said Kay Stroud, associate director of the financial aid office. “Financial aid administrators, the Department of Education and others also have done a good job promoting the financial aid application process.”

March 15 is the priority deadline for entering freshmen at Appalachian to complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) to the Central Processing System, the agency contracted by the U.S. Department of Education to process the forms.

Students planning to enter any other college or university this fall should check with that school to determine their respective deadlines.

Entering freshmen who meet Appalachian’s March deadline and have completed other necessary forms will learn of their financial aid awards beginning April 1.

Meeting the March deadline is important for incoming students because of the limited amount of funds available for aid such as the Federal Work Study Program, supplemental grants, Perkins Loan and N.C. need-based grants, Captain explained.

“With college costs continuing to escalate, it is vitally important that students and parents be aware of all forms of financial assistance available to them,” said Chancellor Francis T. Borkowski.

Appalachian, like all schools in the UNC system, requires that every student applying for any need-based financial aid complete the FAFSA. In addition, some schools have institutional applications. Stroud said students should always check with the school to which they are applying to ensure that they have submitted the appropriate forms.

Students and their families can complete the FAFSA on the Web at www.fafsa.ed.gov or by completing and mailing the traditional paper FAFSA. Forms are available at local high schools and public libraries, or any university or college financial aid office.

Captain estimates it takes most students and families less than an hour to complete the FASFA form, as much of the information requested is biographical.

Students who submit a FAFSA are considered for all federal financial aid loans and grants for which they are eligible, such as federally funded Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Stafford Loans, Work Study, and PLUS loans, among others. By filing one FASFA form, students can submit their financial aid application to as many as six institutions.

Prospective college students and their parents also should request a U.S. Department of Education Personal Identification Number (PIN) that will serve as their electronic signature when they complete the FAFSA on the Web.

Currently enrolled Appalachian students should refer to the financial aid deadlines

posted on the Web at www.financialaid.appstate.edu.

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