GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Colleges across the country are already gearing up for another school year, encouraging students to file for federal aid. Grand Rapids Community College has several resources to help students understand what aid is available.

“The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is the application that students need to access federal grants, some state dollars and scholarships at different colleges. It really is the main form students should fill out to try and qualify for financial aid,” Kristi Welling, GRCC’s associate director of Enrollment Center Services, told News 8.

College students can fill out the FAFSA every year. It determines what kinds of aid or scholarships a student could qualify for based on several factors, including income, how much their family can contribute and the costs at their school.

Welling, who is also the president of the Michigan Student Financial Aid Association, says its important for all students to file for federal aid every year because they often leave a lot of money on the table. At GRCC, about 1 in 5 students have their tuition costs completely covered by a grant or scholarship connected to FAFSA.

“Sometimes (students don’t file) because it’s so complicated or they feel like it’s so complicated and they miss out on that grant opportunity,” Welling said. “We have the tuition incentive program and Michigan Reconnect and others that the student could miss out on. And sometimes, we find that students are eligible for a (federal) Pell grant and other state aid that totally covers their tuition and gives them money for books and living expenses on top of that.”

Welling is encouraging all college students, not simply GRCC students, to go through the FAFSA process, regardless of their family’s income.

“Some will say, ‘Oh, my family makes too much money.’ But I’ve been doing this for years and often times we find that that may not be the case,” Welling said. “The federal formula is really complicated as far as how they determine who is eligible. … There’s so much that goes into that formula. It’s not just income.”

The FAFSA season is wide. Students can apply for aid for the upcoming school year as late as June 30, 2023, but most apply before the school year starts.

GRCC offers three ways for students to connect with an advisor to help walk them through the FAFSA process: virtually, in-person or over the phone. Students can sign up for an appointment through the college’s website.

Welling also recommends students download the My Student Aid mobile app.

“Those questions appear one at a time, which makes it a bit easier for the student to get through the FAFSA. It’s not so daunting when you’re using the app,” Welling said.