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As we all continue with the recovery and cleanup efforts from the impacts of Hurricane Irma, I want to make certain a crucial educational opportunity does not get missed among the debris piles and the deductible payments.

If you have a senior in high school, then Oct. 1 is a very important date for you and your child.

Oct. 1 is when the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application window opened.

Families across the country are already preparing to apply for federal or state aid and begin the application process for merit and need-based scholarships. I want your child to have every financial aid opportunity available. The time to apply is right now because some FAFSA financial aid works on a first-come, first-served basis.

The longer you wait, the less aid that is available for your child. The first step is creating an FSA ID for you and your child. Next, you fill out the FAFSA application, which takes roughly 30 minutes. All you will need is a completed 2016 tax return.

There are numerous reasons why this application is so important. It gives your child an opportunity to potentially receive grants, loans and work-study funds for college or career schools from the federal government. Even if you do not believe your child will qualify for aid, he or she should still apply. Why? The application could affect scholarship awards at both the school and state level. In fact, many colleges and universities actually require this application to be on file for their school-based financial aid packages.

College application deadlines vary, so even if your child has not decided where he or she will be attending when filling out the FAFSA, he or she can list any schools under consideration and make additions at a later date.

This is certainly a great deal of information to consider and Collier County Public Schools is here to help.

Hurricane Irma interrupted 12 days of school and with it many of our school-based financial aid and scholarship information nights. Therefore, this year we are taking a new approach! If you have questions and want to learn more, you can attend the first-ever CCPS live Virtual Financial Aid Information Night on Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 5 to 8 p.m.

This will be an evening where experts answer questions about FAFSA, Bright Futures, scholarships, loans and grants, and our computer labs will be open to help you get started. We will even have valuable handouts full of financial aid information for you to take home.

This event is open to the public and you can participate four different ways:

1. Your family can go to any of the following four high schools: Gulf Coast, Palmetto Ridge, Lely, or Lorenzo Walker Technical.

2. Come to the Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center School Board room.

3. Watch it live online at www.collierschools.com.

4. Watch it live on The Education Channel (Comcast Channel 99).

There is also a FAFSA resource page on the district website (www.collierschools.com/fafsa) for more in-depth information. The website contains a video tutorial on creating an FSA ID, a frequently asked questions section, and more.

From kindergarten to 12th grade, students work diligently to determine their pathways. For many, it is the college dream. Help make their dream a reality!

Seniors and their families need to start preparing their FAFSA application now. We all spent significant time preparing for Hurricane Irma, and even more time putting our community back together.

Please do not let the events of the last few weeks be a distraction that harms your child’s chances for financial aid and scholarships. We hope to see you at our financial aid night Oct. 11.

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