Mason County high schools are participating in an initiative where seniors can win prizes by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The Mason County Promise Board is supporting this initiative for high school seniors at Ludington, Mason Couny Central, Mason County Eastern and Gateway to Success.

The initiative encourages seniors to complete their FAFSA application before the state March 1 deadline. Doing so helps to maximize the amount of state and federal funding a student may receive. In the past, over $100 million in financial aid was left unallocated in a single year because students didn’t complete the FAFSA.

Seniors who complete their FAFSA may be entered into school-based drawings for prizes, have a class contest for a pizza party, or get the chance to participate in other activities designed by each school’s counseling office.

Typically, over half of Mason County’s students are eligible for need-based federal or state grants that they don’t have to repay. The federal Pell grant is usually enough funding to cover full-time tuition at West Shore Community College.

To access this funding, students need help — they cannot complete the FAFSA without the support of their parents. This year’s FAFSA uses 2020 tax information from parents and students, which can be imported directly from the IRS website to save time.

Seniors graduating in 2022 will apply for the 2022-23 year. Once completed, the FAFSA enables students to access federal grants, work study, and federal student loans. When applying, students should always check “YES” to wanting “Work Study” even if they don’t plan to have an on-campus job. In Michigan, FAFSA is required to access TIP grants, which cover 12 credits a semester for qualifying students. As many as one-third of Mason County’s students qualify for free TIP funding, but students must go to the MIStudentAid website to complete a profile and respond to a TIP qualifying letter that the state sends in May or June of their senior year.

Mason County College Access Network encouraged this initiative, which the Promise Zone generously sponsored, because FAFSA completion is required to be able to qualify for most scholarships. While the Promise Scholarship has no set deadline for application, other scholarships like the Community Foundation for Mason County (Feb. 1) and the Michigan Competitive (March 1) do.

The FAFSA application can be found at www.FAFSA.gov. It takes at least 45 minutes to complete and must be renewed each year. Families should never pay to get help completing the FAFSA — help from school counselors, online tutorials and support from college financial aid offices are available for free. Students can find information on state grants and scholarships at Michigan.gov/MIStudentAid. Families and students looking for more resources and tutorial videos to help with scholarships and FAFSA can find them at MasonCountyCAN.org.

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