Life After High School

El Campo ISD Valedictorian Ryan Williamson addresses his peers on graduation day in May of this year. The 2020-2021 school year began a few months ago in August, but high school seniors already have their sights turned toward life after graduation as they apply for financial aid for college.

Local high school counselors are planning informational seminars to help students apply for college financial aid after the federal application opened earlier this month.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid opens annually on Oct. 1, and allows those interested in attending college to apply for grants, scholarships and loans from the federal and state governments as well as private organizations.

The FAFSA for the 2021-2022 school year is now open, with the Texas priority deadline falling on Jan. 15, 2021. The federal deadline is June 30, 2022, although most academic institutions have earlier deadlines.

Counselors for El Campo will host a FAFSA nigth at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 22 to help students and parents fill out the form. The location is yet to be determined.

“Parents and students can come, and they get really good information on what the FAFSA is, the benefits of it, why you should fill it out, even if you don’t think you’ll qualify, etc.,” ECHS Counselor Kilene Sparks said.

A similar FAFSA information night will be held at Louise High School in the upcoming weeks, but a date has not yet been set.

In previous years, both schools have hosted FAFSA information nights, featuring guests from Wharton County Junior College to provide more expertise.

To fill out a FAFSA, students need basic information like their birthdate and school, while parents add in their income tax information, if the student is a dependent.

ECHS and LHS counselors encourage all seniors to apply, even if students are unsure about their plans for next year. Many students could qualify for aid, even if they don’t expect to.

“It doesn’t hurt to apply,” LHS Counselor Traci Harvey said. “Even if later you decide not to go to school, at least you have (your FAFSA) there if you do decide to go.”

U.S. citizens need to enter their social security numbers, while others will need their Alien Registration Number. Since confidential information will be entered, it is important to make sure you are filling out the legitimate FAFSA, available at

“Make sure you go to ‘.gov’, because there’s other websites that ask for money,” Harvey said.

Even after the FAFSA nights, school counselors are available throughout the year to assist students throughout the process of applying for college.

“We each have our alphabet of students and we do senior conferences,” Sparks said. “If they haven’t done (FAFSA) we sit down with them and help them.”

About $120 billion is awarded annually to college or career school students through the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid, according to the FAFSA website.

Funding is available based on financial need, but funding is also available for military families and international students. Students can also apply for work-study programs, where part-time work goes toward paying for school, through FAFSA.

Although students have about three months before the priority deadline, applying for financial aid sooner rather than later can help students snare more funds.

“The sooner you apply to FAFSA the better,” Harvey said. “That way you’re already in there.”

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