United Way of Greater Atlanta has launched a new program aimed at helping students in select high schools apply for college funding by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid [FAFSA] form.

United Way hosted a pilot event for the program, which is sponsored by Delta Air Lines, last spring at Tri-Cities High School in East Point in Fulton County. Only about half of Georgia’s graduating high school seniors will complete the FAFSA form, leaving millions of dollars of federal student aid on the table each year. Of those that complete the FAFSA form, 90 percent will go on to enroll in post-secondary education.

There are barriers to filling out the form, though. There’s confusion about the process, lack of awareness about money that is available and fear of the unknown.

“I think a main thing is the income and a lot of parents have the fear or phobia that, ‘If I fill this out and don’t get aid, we’re in the same predicament now,’” said Janika Floyd, a Title-1 Liaison for Tri-Cities High School. “There’s also the time consumption of sitting down and filling out the paperwork. A lot of parents — they think it will take too long, or they will be too tired after work to do it. Some of our students are independent, and they have a fear of filling out on time.”

Students often stress about the first semester of classes and then graduation, and Floyd said those first semester grades are emphasized in the FAFSA forms. She says this stress can often lead students to burn out, too.

United Way of Greater Atlanta is partnering with schools, nonprofit organizations and volunteers to host events that bring critical resources to students and their families to help make college accessible. Trained volunteers will offer sessions on-site to students and their parents to help eliminate some of the confusion that comes along with these forms.

As a Title-1 Liaison, Floyd works to assist in “leveling the playing field” for students, and she helps connect the school to the parents with different conferences and events. She said they do host parent meetings to make them aware of FAFSA assistance offered throughout the year.

“Our counselors do sit down with the students and go over the questions that they see on there with parent. We try to emphasize that they can just answer what they can,” Floyd said. “All the questions can be intimidating.”

United Way’s College Bound targets high school seniors living in areas of low child well-being and college freshmen who attend schools with low student retention rates for events that include access to FAFSA form completion support and other resources.

“I think the United Way program is amazing,” Floyd said. “The way it worked out, there would have been no excuse not to come. It was all inclusive, and I really liked that about the program.”

United Way of Greater Atlanta will host free College Bound events from October 2019 – January 2020 with the goal of increasing FAFSA completion rates by 5 percent at participating schools.

Learn more at unitedwayatlanta.org.

Dakarai Ponder was two credits away from graduating early from Tri-Cities High School in East Point in Fulton County.

But what would graduating early get him? It was late in the school year, and he didn’t know if he would have the ability to apply for financial assistance or if it would even be available for him if he did graduate early, his mother Tonya Ponder says.

That uncertainty isn’t uncommon.

It’s an issue that many students across Greater Atlanta are faced with each year. There are already barriers in place that make it difficult to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid [FAFSA]. There are barriers in filling out the form, confusion about the process, lack of awareness about money available and fear of the unknown.

United Way of Greater Atlanta has stepped in to help students and their families navigate the complicated forms required to apply for federal student aid. United Way launched a new program last spring to help students in select high schools apply for college funding by filling out the FAFSA form.

United Way partners with schools, nonprofit organizations and volunteers to host events that bring critical resources to students and their families to help make college accessible. Trained volunteers offer sessions on-site to students and their parents to help eliminate some of the confusion that comes along with these forms.

Only about half of Georgia’s graduating high school seniors will complete the FAFSA form, which means millions of dollars in federal student aid are being left on the table each year. Of those that complete the FAFSA form, 90 percent will go on to enroll in classes beyond high school.

United Way hosted a pilot event for College Bound, which is sponsored by Delta Air Lines, last spring at Tri-Cities High School.

Tonya said she and her son found out about the event through the school’s communications, and they went to the event with an open mind and a list of questions.

“We had just made the decision so late in the year to let him graduate. I have a daughter that is a senior —she’s 11 and a half months older— but with him it was just a little bit later,” Tonya says. “I wanted to speak to someone specifically about timelines, and what I should do. We sat down with a volunteer and had a conversation. We had a 1-on-1, and [Dakarai] was given undivided attention so we could get our questions in.”

Dakarai has always been intelligent and self-motivated. Tonya says he’s been taking advanced courses in school “ever since elementary school.” He’s got big plans for his future. He wants to go to Georgia Tech and earn degrees in architectural design and engineering.

He wants to own his own architectural firm, Tonya says proudly.

“I want to say that, as parents, we always push our kids to the end goal, but he started that on his own in the ‘Building Block Phase,’” Tonya says with a laugh. “He showed that he has a strong skillset, and it’s always been one of his primary goals.”

Tonya says she and her son arrived at the event at Tri-Cities after it had already begun, and other students in the room had been entered into a raffle drawing for prizes.

They had missed the chance to put their name in the drawing. Tonya was sitting at a table with volunteers when the final prize of a Dell laptop was awarded to one of her son’s classmates. Tonya clapped, but didn’t look up from the table.

But then she says her son walked over with the laptop under his arm. The winner of the laptop, a senior girl who was a friend of Dakarai’s, actually gave him the gift instead.

“The room was in tears,” Tonya says. “It was just so unexpected, and honestly it was one of the driving factors that helped him graduate early.

“He went home and busted out those online courses like it was nothing.”

The College Bound event was a great positive experience for Tonya and Dakarai.

“You could tell it was a good experience for everybody there,” Tonya says. “The atmosphere was positive, and it was high energy. It was extremely informative.

“The thing you realize is that there is a lot of information out there, and nothing is dropped into your lap. But that was one of the places that you could go and get all the information you need for a graduating senior.”

United Way of Greater Atlanta will host free College Bound events from October 2019 – January 2020 with the goal of increasing FAFSA completion rates by 5 percent at participating schools.

Learn more at unitedwayatlanta.org.

United Way of Greater Atlanta has stepped in to help students navigate the complicated forms required to apply for federal student aid — students like Ijeoma Orianwo.

Orianwo knows just how difficult it can be to apply for college funding through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid [FAFSA] for the first time.

Orianwo had college and career advisers when she was a senior and Benjamin E. Mays High School in Fulton County. She said they guided her and told her what she would need to apply and when she would need to apply.

But, Orianwo still had issues with the forms. Orianwo said when the time came for her mother to provide income data, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, an online tool that will electronically transfer federal tax returns into the FAFSA form, the tools didn’t work. She had to call and ask that the information be sent so she could input it manually.

“We had missed deadlines, and then we had to talk to the IRS,” Orianwo said. “Even then, we had to wait two weeks — business days— and then I had to send it to the schools I applied to.”

Orianwo had been given opportunities to prepare for college, she had received a scholarship through Achieve Atlanta and then she had taken all of the necessary steps to apply to college.

But there are still issues that she encountered that made the process difficult.

On top of the stress of finishing school and applying for colleges, Orianwo had added stress of completing the FAFSA form.

It’s the same issue that many of the students across Greater Atlanta are facing. There are barriers to filling out the form, confusion about the process, lack of awareness about money available and the fear of the unknown.

That’s why United Way of Greater Atlanta launched a new program last spring to help students in select high schools apply for college funding by filling out the FAFSA form.

United Way hosted a pilot event for the College Bound program, which is sponsored by Delta Air Lines, last spring at Tri-Cities High School in East Point in Fulton County. Only about half of Georgia’s graduating high school seniors will complete the FAFSA form, leaving millions of dollars of federal student aid on the table each year. Of those that complete the FAFSA form, 90 percent will go on to enroll in post-secondary education.

United Way of Greater Atlanta is partnering with schools, nonprofit organizations and volunteers to host events that bring critical resources to students and their families to help make college accessible. Trained volunteers will offer sessions on-site to students and their families to help eliminate some of the confusion that comes along with these forms.

Janika Floyd, a Title-1 Liaison for Tri-Cities High School, said during the College Bound event, she could see the students begin to realize that the process, while involved, was nothing to be afraid of.

“I did see the lightbulb start to come on,” Floyd said. “I could see the difference and they felt at ease. We offered a breakfast area, and they could sit and wait. They [volunteers] were talking to parents.

“They were excited that they could get that assistance, that it wasn’t so daunting and now they were like, ‘What’s next?’ That worked out very nicely, and the assistance did make a difference.”

Orianwo is a senior at Kennesaw State University studying psychology, with a certificate of child advocacy studies. She plans after college to go straight into a Master’s of Social Work program.

The south Atlanta native said her career plans are to work with children in foster care, juveniles and first-generation college students.

She wants to encourage young students now to apply for FAFSA as soon as they can and realize that there’s no reason to be afraid.

“Truthfully, I would just tell people to relax,” Orianwo said. “I would tell them to apply early — the earlier you apply, the more money you will receive, and if you are confused, then find a support system.

“It’s your first year, so I understand why it can be confusing, and it can be a lot. It’s just an application. If you’ve got a job or applied for schools before, then you’ve filled out an application.”

United Way of Greater Atlanta will host free College Bound events from October 2019 – January 2020 with the goal of increasing FAFSA completion rates by 5 percent at participating schools.

Learn more here.