Takeaway: Following the Project GRAD workshop instructions on what documentation to bring, it only took Alana and her mom about two hours to fill out the FAFSA at the workshop.

“I’m the first generation to go to college,” says Alana. “When I was little, I wanted to go to college to get a better life and afford the things my family needs.”

“My family was always advising me to not give up and keep going with my education.”

Alana got interested in becoming a nurse early in life. “I would sometimes go to the hospital with my parents, grandparents or aunts or uncles. I liked the nurses because they made patients feel better when they felt really bad,” Alana remembers.

“I decided I want to major in nursing. I want a bachelor’s of science in nursing.”

“At the beginning of my senior year, I was scared because I didn’t have money to go to college. I talked to my counselor and told him my plan was to go to a community college for two years instead because it would cost less.”

“He said I could go to a four-year university if I wanted. He gave me information about the FAFSA and how to fill it out.”

Learning how to apply for financial aid

“When I first heard about the FAFSA, I was like, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to fill it out?’ I thought it was a long process and we were going to need lots of papers,” Alana recalls. “My mom and I were lost. We thought we wouldn’t be able to do it by ourselves.”

“We found out about a FAFSA night with Project GRAD. We attended and found out we didn’t need as many papers as I thought. They told us exactly what documents we needed and explained the whole process.”

Alana remembers how relaxed she felt after the FAFSA night. “We were with people like us — families that didn’t know exactly what to do. So we weren’t shy.”

Getting money for college — and her mom’s blessing to go

It took Alana and her mom about two hours to fill out the FAFSA at a workshop with Project GRAD. “It was pretty easy because Project GRAD told us what documents we needed to bring.”

“We had to create an email account for my mom. Then there was a part where we had to connect with the IRS so my mom can show her income tax. We had to know the type of income tax you filed, which was hard because my mom and I didn’t know,” Alana remembers.

“It was confusing, but there was a lady who was helping. She helped us know what kind of tax form we had, and then we could easily do it.”

After completing the FAFSA, Alana got her Estimated Family Contribution. “It said zero, which meant my family couldn’t contribute a lot to my education. I was really excited. The grants and loans I could get were really good. My mom was really happy, too,” says Alana.

“I was in the exact same position as a lot of students: I didn’t know anything about college or the FAFSA. I was really stressed.”

“I got a scholarship that covers 90 percent of my four years at the university. The other 10 percent that I got from the FAFSA will cover the rest. I feel really blessed and glad I filled out the FAFSA.”

But Alana and her mom were having doubts about her leaving home. “At the beginning, I didn’t want to leave, and my mom didn’t want to let me go. But it’s better for me to be on campus so I have more study time. My counselor knew we were sad and decided to talk to my mom.”

“Even though my mom is sad that I’m going, she says she understands now. She says it is for my future and anything for my future is good for her too,” Alana adds.

Alana’s advice: Talk to someone who knows about this stuff

“I was in the exact same position as a lot of students: I didn’t know anything about college or the FAFSA. I was really stressed,” she says.

“But my advice is to look for help and information. Talk to your counselor or an organization like Project GRAD. They know a lot about how you can pay for college.”

“Some of my classmates didn’t fill out the FAFSA. They kind of regret it. I heard them saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I should have filled out the FAFSA back in October.’ Now they’re feeling sad because they have to fill it out by themselves.”

“If you don’t know what to do, that is fine. Look for advice from teachers, counselors or even friends. Start as soon as possible.”

Alana will be attending Sam Houston State University and studying nursing. She’s happy she’ll only be about an hour and a half away from her mom.

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