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NIU urges swift FAFSA completion

January 13, 2016

FAFSA: the earlier the betterStudents who are eligible for Illinois MAP grants must file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) within the next few weeks to lock in their eligibility for next school year before funding runs out.

The 2016-17 FAFSA opened Jan. 1, and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission began receiving FAFSA results Jan. 2 for students who indicated the Land of Lincoln as their state of legal residence.

At that point, says Rebecca Babel, director of the NIU Office of Student Financial Aid, ISAC began counting: MAP grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

“When ISAC gets near the number of applications they think they can fund, they will give about a two-day notice and cut it off,” Babel says. “We never know the cutoff date in advance, which makes promoting a deadline tricky. Last year, the cutoff was Feb. 22. It could be earlier this year.”

Because of the very early cutoff and urgency, the Student Financial Aid Office at NIU is no longer hosting special events throughout the semester to promote FAFSA completion.

“Every day is a FAFSA event,” Babel says. “We are available to help students complete their FAFSA, or walk parents through the FAFSA on the phone, every day.”

To encourage students to complete the FAFSA with parents before returning to school, postcards were mailed last week to home addresses of all continuing, undergraduate students with Illinois residency and a financial profile in the MAP eligibility range.

Photo of a piggy bank with glassesOtherwise, Babel says, students with busy schedules might want to wait until the week of Jan. 25.

“We will be very busy helping students with spring questions and issues the first few days of the term,” she says.

Financial Aid and Admissions are partnering with other areas on campus to get the word out through reminder emails, posters, announcements and social media.

MAP provides grants, which do not need to be repaid, to Illinois residents who attend approved Illinois colleges and demonstrate financial need, based on the information provided on the FAFSA. (ISAC has a tool that helps determine if a student or family might meet eligibility guidelines.)

The grants, which range from $300 to $4,720, can be applied only toward tuition and mandatory fees. Submitting a FAFSA could also qualify students for additional federal student aid, such as Pell grants, which could provide as much as $5,730 in grant aid.

The process is available online at and takes approximately 20 minutes by providing estimated tax information and marking “will file.” Students will have to return to revise their FAFSA data after they have filed their taxes, but marking as “will file” will lock in those eligible for MAP next school year.

For more information, call (815) 753-1395 or email [email protected].