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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — It’s that time of year for high school students to start planning for their future – hopefully at no cost. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is now open and it’s the easiest way for students to receive loans, grants, and most importantly scholarships.

Billions of dollars are available in scholarships each year and millions of them go unclaimed simply because people don’t apply. In most cases, a FAFSA form is required to be eligible to receive scholarships, which is essentially free money you don’t have to pay back.

Although the new FAFSA form is out later than usual, it is meant to be easier to do than in the past.

The Scholarship Doctor, Dr. Rhea Watson, said the entire application process costs about 15 minutes of your time but will earn you thousands of dollars in the long run.

“There’s free money available,” Dr. Watson said. “The statistics say there’s 3 billion dollars that go unclaimed every single year.”

She has helped hundreds of students earn more than $200 million combined and attend the college of their dreams, including UNLV. Sisters Nia and Niyae Virgil have gone through the Scholarship Solutions program under Dr. Watson.

“I’ve been doing these scholarships since I was in 8th grade, and it really helped me to pay for my college without having to come out of pocket for it,” said Nia Virgil, a UNLV graduate. “I really wanted to make sure my parents weren’t burdened with that, so that was also a blessing.”

Nia’s younger sister Niyae is currently in her second year at UNLV and is also attending the university on scholarships.

“Scholarships for me have given me about two years of free college and it has made attending college easier because you don’t have to worry about the financial burden and can focus more on your classwork,” said Niyae Virgil.

Dr. Watson says the first step to securing thousands of dollars of scholarships is submitting a FAFSA application.

“If you don’t have FAFSA, now you have an incomplete scholarship application and you’re ineligible for all this available funding – $150 billion dollars in scholarships available every year,” Dr. Watson said.

The 2024–2025 FAFSA form is now available. Submitted applications will be sent to colleges and states in the first half of March.

“The fact that you can get your education for free is such a blessing that they’re giving to you basically,” Virgil said.

To submit a FAFSA application, visit this link. You can find tips on financial aid, scholarships, and resources at this link.

FAFSA Facts and Figures from the Scholarship Doctor

  • Complete the online FAFSA form

Specifically for Class of 2024, and current undergraduate and graduate students, complete the 2024-2025 FAFSA form. Anyone who is a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident is eligible to apply for and receive FAFSA. DACA recipients who have a social security number are also eligible.

A parent or spouse’s immigration status does not affect a student’s FAFSA application. However, anyone who contributes to a student financially is required to complete the FAFSA, although, they do not ask about citizenship or social security for the parent or spouse.

Everyone, regardless of their ethnicity, educational level, or economic status is eligible for scholarships. It is important — in some instances — to have a FAFSA on file for scholarships. So, complete the FAFSA and apply for scholarships.

  • Alternate Financial Aid Forms

Many colleges have alternate financial aid forms to gauge your financial need. For years, these forms have worked perfectly for non-U.S. citizens because they do not require social security numbers, but still allow students access to college funding. However, because of the delay with FAFSA, U.S. citizens, colleges and universities are using this form in wait for FAFSA. So, don’t panic or get frustrated, rather stay in communication with your financial aid counselor on campus and closely monitor any communication from FAFSA directly.

Dr. Watson encourages students and parents to stay calm but be diligent during this changing time. Four years ago, families went through something similar during COVID when students were unable to take the ACT and SAT.

Watson advises once the FAFSA application is submitted, students should immediately begin applying for as many scholarships as possible.

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