How Combining VITA and FAFSA Can Help Ease the Stress of College Tuition for Families

By Jessica Silvis, 2015 Get It Back Campaign Intern

graduates

For high school seniors, going off to college is a momentous transition colored with both excitement and anxiety. As remarkable as this next step in life is, the high costs of college tuition can be stressful for college-bound students and their families. College is expensive and – for many families – figuring out how to pay for it can be a huge roadblock.

To receive tax credits and federal financial aid, students and their families need to fill out tax returns and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These forms can be confusing and time-consuming as high school seniors navigate the college application process.

Fortunately, college-bound students in Newago County in Michigan can turn to Goodwill Industries of West Michigan. For three years, Goodwill has hosted events where volunteers prepare free tax returns and FAFSA for families.

Amanda Grover, Career Supports Coordinator at Goodwill, helps organize these events in partnership with local college access networks. First, she and her team schedule events on weekday evenings and weekends where both VITA volunteers from Goodwill and FAFSA volunteers from the college access network are available. Then, they promote these opportunities to the county’s school districts through newsletters, social media, e-mail, radio, newspapers, and flyers.

At these events, high school seniors and one or both of their parents come in and work with a VITA volunteer who prepares their tax returns. Oftentimes these high school students have jobs, so the VITA volunteer prepares returns for everyone in the family. Then, the family moves on to a college access network volunteer who uses their returns to fill out FAFSA. As quickly as that, the family is done!

During three years, volunteers at these events have helped nearly 50 families. Amanda is optimistic that this partnership will continue to grow and serve more college-bound students in the years to come.

To contact a college access network in your area, visit the National College Access Network

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