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high school senior:filling out financial aid forms
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New Year's resolution: Fill out financial aid form
By Dana Hull

Mercury News

The new year is here, and an ambitious list of resolutions is staring you in the face.

But if you're a high school senior hoping to go to college this fall, one resolution should skyrocket to the top of the list: filling out financial aid forms.

The commonly used FAFSA — or Free Application for Federal Student Aid — form for 2009-10 was posted on the federal Department of Education Web site at midnight Thursday.

The 10-page federal form is considered key to the vast majority of financial aid dollars available. The FAFSA is widely used by public and private colleges and determines a critical figure: the EFC or "expected family contribution'' — how much of a college bill a family is actually expected to pay.

Local high school guidance counselors and financial advisers urge families of all income levels to fill out the FAFSA as early as possible in January, even though they won't yet know which colleges have accepted their child.

The downturn in the economy has whacked not only family budgets but also state funding and college endowments, meaning that more students are competing for a smaller pool of scholarships and financial aid.

"The sooner you get your application completed and into the pipeline, the better,'' said Debbie Cochrane of The Institute for College Access and Success, in Berkeley.
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