Austin, TX, 19 February 2015 | 03:00 PM America/Chicago What are you doing next Saturday? Understanding FAFSA “It takes too much time to apply.” “The process is too difficult to understand.” “My parents make too much money for me to qualify.” These statements are just some of the reasons many students and parents do not complete the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). College can be a fulfilling, memorable academic experience; most importantly, college is a life-long investment. According to the College Board, the cost of attending college can range anywhere from $23,410 per year for a four-year, public, in-state school to $46,272 for a private, non-profit, four-year school. On average, college graduates have lower unemployment rates and drastically higher salaries. According to a 2014 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, before retirement, college graduates will earn an average of $800,000 more than high school graduates. Nationally, the percentage of students that enroll in college immediately after high school is 68 percent. In Central Texas, this percentage is less than the national average. A lack of understanding about FAFSA application process was identified as a main reasons for the gap. So t, he Austin Chamber of Commerce decided to do something about it. In 2006 the Austin Chamber of Commerce Quality of Life Foundation established the Financial Aid Saturdays (FAS) program. The program is supported by State Farm. The FAS provides free FAFSA application assistance to prospective and current college students, and their parents/guardians. “Completing the FAFSA without help can be confusing,” said Mary Smith, an Austin area mother who has participated in the FAS program. “Several years ago, I missed out on possible financial aid for my older daughter by completing the application incorrectly.” Mary continued, “The FAS staff members patiently walk parents through each step of the process, giving individual help as needed, while parents complete the form online.” She added, “They answer all of your questions so you will feel confident the form has been completed and submitted correctly.” Since FAS established the program, which serves 15 school districts, annual FAFSA applications more than doubled, from nearly 5,600 in 2005 to more than 11,500507 filings in 2014. With the help of FAS, students in the Austin-area have received a total of $116 million in federal and state student aid. This aid gives students the opportunity to realize their dreams of going to college and pursuing a career. For more information on federal student aid, visit www.StudentAid.gov or the financial aid office of the college you are considering attending. Your high school and other local organizations may also have programs and workshops available to help you through the FAFSA process.