The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga opened the doors of its University Center on Sunday to parents and students for its first College Goal Sunday.
The national program provides information to students and families about the kinds of financial aid available for college and how to receive it.
"Today's event is to assist students with whatever their goals may be," said Amber Beason, a financial aid counselor at UTC. "We just want them to be eligible for as much aid as possible, whether they go to UTC or not."
Financial aid and admissions counselors gathered in the lobby to guide parents through the federal application for student aid and to offer advice about the admissions process.
Many stressed the importance of starting early.
Funds are limited, and many grants and work-study positions are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
"The earlier you get in, the sooner you can take advantage of these great opportunities," said Jeff Rector, assistant director of financial aid.
It's important to plan ahead, too.
"Start looking at the cost now." said Jennifer Buckles, Rector's fellow assistant director of financial aid. "Some private schools can be applied for as a junior in high school."
Set financial goals, such as how much you'd like to borrow, and do your best to stick to it, Buckles said.
"Keep track of your aggregate limit so you don't borrow more than you planned," she said.
Jim and Wendy Thompson discovered their daughter was eligible for an additional $5,000.
"They've made it so easy," Wendy said. "I don't see how it could be any easier. It's unfamiliar territory, and it's not something you encounter every day. It's nice to have someone to guide you."
"We're certainly glad we made it," said Jim.
Gregory Jackson, a senior at UTC, has been through the ins and outs of financial aid four times.
"The process can be complex at first, but once you've done it once or twice, you kind of get the hang of it," he said.
"But it's really important if you're a new student coming in that you ask questions."
But federal student aid isn't just for the young.
Cynthia Long, director of the Educational Opportunity Center at UTC, helps those in the military, the homeless, children in foster care and many others receive the aid they need to attend college.
Long offers help in choosing a college, admissions, financial aid and deciding on a major. The center is a free service that assists students for all four years.
Earlier that day, Long had discovered additional financial aid which would make it possible for a single mother to go to school.
"It was worth our time to do this today," Long said.