SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – Paying for college can be a challenge, but receiving financial aid can lighten the burden on students and families.

According to Education Data Initiative, 86% of US college students benefit from some form of financial aid. But each year more than $2 billion in student grants are left unclaimed.

“I am a single parent, and my son was six months old when the COVID pandemic hit, so being able to come back to school would not have happened without financial aid,” Western Iowa Tech student Amber Pelsor said.

Every year on October 1, the free application for student aid becomes available for new and returning college students.

“I do come from a low income family and I am a first generation student, so I don’t have that kind of familial support, so to be able to go to college to better myself and set up success for my generation and the next one, that financial aid has been really beneficial,” Pelsor said.

Morningside University’s financial aid office said they’re doing what they can to make sure students apply for aid.

“Anytime a family wants us to help them, we actually fill out a FAFSA for them if they want us to. We also offer different, what we call FAFSA events, where they can come in on a Friday afternoon and we’ll do FAFSA’s for anybody who comes in,” Director of Student Financial Planning Karen Wiese said.

Although FAFSA’s deadline differs based on what school you attend, Wiese said completing it early is crucial.

“FAFSA opens the window for federal assistance, state assistance, institutional from each college assistance, but also private assistance. So some of the private scholarships that students can apply for need to know the FAFSA information because some of them are based on need,” Wiese said.

“Yes, that’s a, you know, federally funded program that we get the money in the short term, but that… keeps us from having to need assistance in the long run,” Pelsor said.

The deadline to complete FAFSA applications for Iowa State schools is December 1, but for private schools like Morningside, that deadline is extended to July 1.