Washington (CNN) - For students wondering how they’ll pay for college, First Lady Michelle Obama has a bit of advice: applying for federal student aid is easy and worth it.
“That’s my message for you and for students across the country. Fill out those forms,” Mrs. Obama said. “Don’t leave money on the table.”
Speaking in Alexandria, Virginia’s T.C. Williams High School, Mrs. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan encouraged a group of high school students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
“Through FAFSA, the Department of Education provides more than $150 billion every year in low-interest loans, in grants that you don’t have to pay back, and work study programs that can help cover your educational expenses,” Mrs. Obama said. “And I was a work study student all throughout college.”
Wednesday’s event was part of a major push by the Department of Education, which partnered with Viacom and Get Schooled, to make sure students don’t let the growing costs of higher education discourage them applying to college.
To keep students engaged, Duncan said the Department of Education has been working to simplify the once-tedious application process, cutting the average amount of time it takes to complete the forms down to less than 30 minutes. The agency is also provides information about FAFSA on Twitter and at StudentAid.gov.
According to the Department of Education, more than 14 million students receive federal student aid annually to help cover the costs of tuition, fees, books, room and board, dependent care, and more. The department says that most students are eligible for some degree of aid. Race, gender, and field of study don’t affect eligibility. And, while income is considered, it does not automatically disqualify applicants.
In addition to federal student aid, prospective students are also encouraged to look into financial aid from states, schools and non-profit organizations.
During Wednesday’s program, Mrs. Obama stopped by each table while students and their parents worked with counselors to fill out their own FAFSA applications. The program also included several Get Schooled video clips which featured encouraging works from blockbuster recording artists like Common and Kendrick Lamar.
As for the school itself, Duncan touted it as a model for other high schools due to its high counselor-to-student ratio as well as the school’s efforts to ensure all students apply to college. According to Alexandria City Public Schools Communications and Public Relations Director Kelly Alexander, the school is committed to seeing that all of their roughly 3,300 students fill out their FAFSA forms.
If the name T.C. Williams High School rings a bell, it should. The school’s work to integrate students – including the football team – in 1971 was depicted in the classic 2000 film “Remember the Titans.”
CNN”s Eddie Gross contributed to this report.