SMHS ranks second in FAFSA completion rate

St. Mary High School students are shown changing classes on Monday. The school ranked second in FAFSA completion rate as 87.5% of its seniors last year completed the application for college financial aid, earning the school a $500 prize.

St. Mary High School ranked second in the state in terms of the completion rate of Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA, for the 2021-22 school year, and is one of eight schools statewide to earn a $500 prize for its efforts.

The numbers reflect the application completion rates for last year’s seniors.

The Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) and FAFSA teamed up to sponsor the KHEAA FAFSA Challenge, where the top four schools in FAFSA completion rate, the top four schools in completion rate increase and seven students drawn at random would each win $500.

St. Mary took second place in the FAFSA completion rate category, as 87.5% of its seniors — 7 out of 8 — completed the FAFSA application.

DuPont Manual led the state with a 90.4% completion rate, followed by Raceland-Worthington (84.8) and Western Hills (68.5).

The four schools with the highest increase in completion rate from May 3 through July 30 were Boyd County (44.8%), Dawson Springs (33), Apollo (24.5) and Oneida Baptist Institute (12.5).

The seven students chosen in a random drawing for $500 were Hemi Bell of Bowling Green, Habiba Darur of Jeffersontown, Kiersten Dotson of Belfry, Alexis Marcum of Boyd County, Maggie Mattingly of Bethlehem, Melanie Ortega of Doss and Jenna Smith of Atherton.

Peggy Culbertson, guidance counselor at St. Mary High School, said completing a FAFSA application is helpful for college-bound students to see if they qualify for financial assistance in college.

“FAFSA qualifies the student for federal financial aid as well as state and institutional awards,” she said. “Colleges use the FAFSA to determine any aid that they might want to give to students to help offset the cost of higher education.

“It’s also used to determine qualifications for the Federal Work-Study Program — on-campus employment, where students have part-time jobs while they are in school. That’s very convenient, easy to work, about 15 hours a week that gives them some extra spending money or money they can use to offset the cost.”

Culbertson called FAFSA “the one-stop shop for students to know if they qualify for financial aid.” She added that it is surprising how many students don’t take the time to apply through FAFSA to even see if they qualify for financial aid.

“A lot of students think, ‘Oh, I won’t qualify,’ ‘My parents make too much money’ or they have a lot of preconceived notions about who qualifies and who doesn’t,” she said. “A lot of times, I think it is surprising, especially with the institutional awards because each college can determine for themselves how they want to disburse that money.

“(Students) may not qualify for federal aid, but they may qualify for institutional aid or they may qualify for low-interest loans that they didn’t think that they would qualify for.”

SMHS Principal Doug Shelton was pleased his school ranked among the top FAFSA completion schools in the state.

“This is a credit to our guidance department, and especially to Ms. Culbertson, who for years has been a big advocate and willing to hold the hands of these kids as they get ready for the next step of their life,” he said. “This is just a sign of her doing her job well.”

Culbertson said St. Mary High School received information about FAFSA through informational campaigns led by FAFSA and KHEAA.

“We talked about it a lot with the seniors in class,” she said, adding a representative from West Kentucky Community and Technical College came and worked with students.

“We scheduled a FAFSA planning night at school where financial aid counselors are available to work with parents who are struggling to get the form completed or have questions.”

The 2022-23 FAFSA application campaign began on Oct. 1 and registration will run through Nov. 1. The Challenge is open to public and private high schools and their students. Public schools will be in their own group, and private schools will be in theirs. Schools will be placed in divisions based on the number of seniors in this year’s class.

Two schools in each group will each win $500: one for overall highest percentage of FAFSA completions and one for highest percentage increase in FAFSA completions during the challenge period of Oct. 1 to April 29.

More information about the KHEAA FAFSA Challenge can be found online at

Follow David B. Snow on Twitter, @SunWithSnow, or on Facebook at

Follow David B. Snow on Twitter, @SunWithSnow, or on Facebook at

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