By Jennifer Conley

Caitlyn Ghiglieri, a junior film major at University of North Georgia, believes every student should file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid each year.

“The application itself is overall pretty simple,” Ghiglieri said, “especially if I have my family there helping me regarding our finances.”

Ghiglieri said she files her FAFSA each year to make sure there have not been any changes that would affect the status of her financial aid.

Cassidy Hofer, an employee for UNG’s financial aid office, agreed that all students should file a FAFSA.

“There is no harm in doing it,” Hofer said. “It gives you more opportunities for federal and state aid.”

The FAFSA determines how much aid is available to each student, which comes in many forms, including state-awarded scholarships, grants, federal work studies and federal loans.

Once the application is submitted, students can be awarded varying amounts of federal aid through scholarships, grants or loans.

“It made it possible for me to go to school,” Ghiglieri said. “Without student loans, I would not be able to afford school, even with my parents’ help.”

Hofer also recommended that students speak directly to a financial aid counselor.

“They can give you more opportunities based off of your specific financial situation,” Hofer said.

According to College Data, 94.5% of UNG’s incoming freshmen in the 2018 academic year filed a FAFSA and received financial aid. Similarly, 94.9 percent of all undergraduates filed a FAFSA and received financial aid.

On average, undergraduates in financial need at UNG during the 2018 academic year were awarded $14,234. This covered the in-state tuition of $7,336 with several thousand dollars to spare. This left money for students to use on textbooks, housing and food.

After filing her FAFSA, Ghiglieri was awarded federal loans. Additionally, her high grades made her eligible for the HOPE scholarship, a merit-based state scholarship that pays for roughly 80% of tuition.

While this awarded money helped her afford college and an apartment, it has also helped make international travel more affordable. Because she did not know if she would be able to afford to travel after graduation, Ghiglieri took out the maximum amount of her loans in order to study abroad.

“I am taking out debt now in order to experience things I would not normally experience,” Ghiglieri said.

While HOPE scholarship paid for tuition, she used her loans to pay for the remaining expenses, including housing, food and airfare. With federal aid, Ghiglieri studied abroad in Ireland in 2019.

Because federal aid helped Ghiglieri throughout her college career, she recommended other students also complete the FASFA yearly.

“The worst that can happen is they tell you, ‘We can’t help you other than giving you loans,’” Ghiglieri said, but without filling out that form students won’t know what aid is available.

“Maybe you qualify for other scholarships or grants that you didn’t know existed,” she said.

Jennifer Conley is a journalism student at the University of Georgia. The reporting for this article was completed before the campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.