Students can get head start in hunt for aid
January a good time to fill out paperwork for college money

LAWRENCEVILLE - Here's a belated New Year's resolution for the college-bound: Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Although the deadline for submitting the form is June 30, it's better for students to complete the FAFSA early to increase their chances of qualifying for aid, said Kristen Campbell, the national director of college prep programs for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions.

"It's definitely that time of the year," Campbell said. "It may even feel early, but January is absolutely the right month to think about it."

Campbell said she encourages every student pursuing postsecondary education to fill out the form, which is available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

About 1.2 million college students who could be eligible for federal financial aid fail to fill out the FAFSA, Campbell said. Rising tuition costs can make it important for families to seek the aid, she said.

For the 2007-08 school year, in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions averaged $6,185, which is a 6.6 increase from last year, Campbell said. The average full-time student at a public four-year school receives about $3,600 in grants and tax benefits, which lowers the cost for tuition and fees to about $2,600.

Students considering going to Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville should also remember to fill out the form, said Jennifer Stephens, the college's spokeswoman. Because the college is not yet accredited, its students cannot receive federal financial aid. The Georgia Gwinnett College Foundation, however, will give grants to students eligible for federal aid.

Below are some of Campbell's tips for seeking financial aid:

· Learn the lingo. The FAFSA is full of acronyms. The more you know, the easier it is to fill out the form.

· Gather the necessary documents - your driver's license, Social Security number, your family's W-2 and tax forms, and recent bank statements - and start filling out the FAFSA as soon as possible.

· Finish the form early, but take the time to double check your work. Accuracy and honesty are important when filling out the FAFSA.

· If you don't receive what you want, don't be afraid to ask your school for a re-evaluation.

· Don't wait until your senior year to look for scholarship opportunities. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in private money go unclaimed each year. Start looking for scholarships as a freshman, and ask your school's guidance counselor for help.