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Financial aid counselors offer free help via College Goal Sunday

Financial aid counselors at the University of North Georgia help students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
As college costs have risen due to reductions in state funds, more students are seeking financial aid, but often need help finding those resources. On Feb. 24 and March 4, the University of North Georgia will be holding free events on the Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses to help students and their families complete the forms required to apply for federal financial aid. Kathy Tosh, senior financial aid counselor at UNG, explains how these College Goal Georgia events can help.

What is College Goal Sunday?

It is a free event — open to all students, regardless of age — where volunteers provide assistance in completing financial aid forms, with a particular focus on helping low-income, first-generation families.

College Goal Sunday events are being held in 40 states and the District of Columbia and are funded in part by USA Funds. College Goal Georgia, part of the national College Goal Sunday initiative, is sponsored by the Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC). GSFC helps students achieve their educational goals by administering financial aid programs and advocating for Georgia students and other state institutions on issues related to financing higher education. GSFC administers the HOPE Scholarship and Grant programs as well as other state-and lottery-funded scholarship, grant and service-cancelable loan programs.

A new rule set to take effect later this year in Georgia means that even students who are applying for State Program Funds, like the HOPE Scholarship, must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), even if not applying for federal financial aid.

Do a lot of students receive financial aid?

Nationally, 82 percent of all first-time, full-time undergraduate students in the 2009-10 academic year received some type of financial aid, according to 2010 data from the U.S. Department of Education.

That holds true at the University of North Georgia, where more than two-thirds of all students receive some type of financial aid, including loans, and many receive multiple types of financial aid. Despite that high percentage, students graduating from the University of North Georgia, which has been recognized three times as one of Kiplinger's Personal Finance's 100 best values in public colleges in the nation, had the lowest average debt at graduation among schools ranked in the report.

How can students get help locally?

On Feb. 24 in Dahlonega and March 1 in Gainesville, we'll have financial aid experts available to help college-bound students and their families complete the FAFSA. The federal government requires a FAFSA from all students seeking financial aid to attend and pay for college. Filling it out is the first critical step in applying for federal and state grants, loans, and scholarships to help pay for college. Each year, UNG's financial aid counselors help hundreds of students apply for financial aid. This year, participants can also enter to win a $1,000 scholarship to help pay for college.

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