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FAFSA night draws interest; help available monthly

FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – is how institutions of higher learning and the government determine what financial support a student is qualified to receive. The application can feel intimidating, which can ultimately discourage some from attending college at all.

But, $150 billion is available each year to those who qualify, be it for grants, scholarships, loans or work-study funding. In the Poughkeepsie City School District, most students, if not the majority, qualify on some level for aid to attend two- or four-year schools or trade schools and programs, according to Dr. Janety Encarnacion, the district’s director of college readiness and workforce education.

The district held the first of its monthly FAFSA Workshops on Jan. 31 and welcomed more than 50 students and parents and guardians in need of assistance with the application process. The workshops will be held at the Poughkeepsie High School Library from 5 to 7 p.m. on the last Wednesday of each month through May.

Kelly Semexant, college readiness and workforce education counselor for the district, said she was “elated” by the interest in January. She called it “the best turnout in years,” noting typical workshops draw roughly 25 people.

At the workshops, the financial aid team from Dutchess Community College helps students and families sift through the application. Gabriella Fryer, a program and finance associate at Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley also met with families and presented scholarship information. Semexant said most families walked out of the library with the form complete. Others were armed with the knowledge of how to do so.

“It's not as overwhelming as you may think,” Semexant said of FAFSA. “The entire application usually takes about 30-60 minutes total,” noting all an applicant needs is a social security number, email address and internet-ready device. She said most FAFSA questions can be populated directly from federal tax forms and can be transferred from the IRS during the application process. “Most students receive some type of financial aid, so everyone should fill out the FAFSA even if you don't think you qualify,” Semexant said. The district’s next FAFSA Workshop is scheduled for Feb. 28.