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Jennifer Garner encourages Kanawha County high school seniors to fill out the FAFSA.

Charleston native and Hollywood actress Jennifer Garner has issued a challenge to Kanawha County high school seniors: Fill out the FAFSA.

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form the state and federal governments use to determine if students pursuing higher education are eligible for financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study jobs and loans.

Garner, an alumna of George Washington High, recorded a video message for Kanawha seniors that was shared by Kanawha County Schools on its YouTube channel Friday, Jan. 29.

“Good morning, Kanawha County high school seniors!” she opens. “I know it has been a challenging school year for all of you and for all Kanawha County students. But I want to encourage you today by telling you about free money for college or career school.”

Garner goes on to explain what the FAFSA is and encourages seniors to sign up regardless of what their grades are, what their family income is or what kind of higher education they’re pursuing. She noted there’s aid available for associate degree programs, apprenticeships, technical training, and 2- and 4-year schools.

State higher education Chancellor Sarah Tucker noted Wednesday that FAFSA applications are down 25% from where they normally are this time of year, likely due to the pandemic.

In the video, Garner encourages all Kanawha students to attend the FAFSA Fair, which will be held Feb. 16-17 at the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center.

“The fair will enable every Kanawha County high school senior and your parent to receive help from a financial aid adviser during the school day and filling out the FAFSA,” Garner says. "You’ll need to register for the Feb. 16-17 FAFSA Fair, so see your school counselor for details today.”

For West Virginia students, filling out the FAFSA is required to be eligible for the Promise Scholarship, the West Virginia Higher Education Grant and the West Virginia Invests Grant, among other funding opportunities. Filing deadlines for different funds vary, but one of the earliest, the Promise Scholarship, is March 1. Information and resources can be found at the College Foundation of West Virginia website, cfwv.com, and FAFSA’s website, studentaid.gov.

Garner wraps up the video by adding that this week (Feb. 1-5) is National School Counseling Week.

“Let’s hear it for the 90 super hardworking counselors in Kanawha County!” she says. “Please remember to give them a big hug when it’s time to hug people again.”

Catherine Caudill is the Gazette-Mail's digital editor. She can be reached at catherine.caudill@hdmediallc.com.