BOSTON (AP) – The first time Jennifer Castelly looked at the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form – the dreaded FAFSA – she was bewildered.

“I didn’t understand a lot of the stuff on there,” the Framingham High School senior said. “The income part – I didn’t even know where to start.”

But Castelly, who dreams of becoming a doctor, is getting help. She is joining hundreds of other college-bound students this weekend at College Goal Sunday, where volunteers will make sure the form is filled out correctly and completely.

The Massachusetts event is part of the first wave of the 2008 events, which are also being held this weekend in Maine, Rhode Island, Oregon, Hawaii, Kentucky and Washington.

Last year, more than 28,000 prospective students attended the sessions at more than 650 sites nationwide.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of college students either get no financial aid or less than they qualify for because they fail to fill out the FAFSA form, fill it out late, or fill it out incorrectly, said Gail Holt, co-chairwoman of Massachusetts College Goal Sunday and senior associate director of student financial services at Mount Holyoke College.

The American Council on Education estimates that 1.5 million college students annually who do not file FAFSA forms would qualify for aid if they did.

The two-hour program, which takes place nationwide, is being held at 22 locations around Massachusetts. It includes a presentation, and counselors will be available at every location for individual attention.

“Every family’s financial situation is different and every family has different questions,” Holt said.

The FAFSA is required in order to be eligible for federal student aid programs, including Pell grants and Stafford loans, and most states and many private colleges use FAFSA information when determining financial aid.

“It’s a daunting form, three or four pages long with another three or four pages of instructions,” Holt said. “There are just so many common mistakes people make that could limit the aid available to them.”

Many students get help from their parents, although the FAFSA also baffles many adults. But Castelly’s mother is deceased and her father lives overseas.

“There’s not really many people out there to help me, but I thought this could help,” she said.

The honor roll student, who has applied to Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Regis College, Curry College and Simmons College, is attending today’s event with her mentor, Surekha Iyer.

“The FAFSA is overwhelming,” Iyer said. “I have a son who went to college last year, but I wanted help for Jennifer because her situation is so unique. I want to be clear about what’s the best thing to do to help her.”

Last year, about 1,600 families attended College Goal Sunday events around Massachusetts and more are expected this year. Preregistration is encouraged, but not required. Anyone attending should bring tax and income information.

About 100 families are expected at Framingham High School, where they will be allowed to use the school library’s computers to fill out and file their FAFSA forms electronically, said Manjula Karamcheti, who runs the school’s college and careers center.

“As a guidance counselor, to be able to offer a resource like this to students is huge,” she said.

College Goal Sunday started in Indiana in 1989, but has since expanded to 35 states and the District of Columbia, said Marcia Weston, the director of college access programs at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, which now manages the effort.

The program is primarily intended for low-income families and first-generation students, but organizers stress that all are welcome, regardless of income level and age. Adults contemplating a return to school, or even current college students looking for additional financial aid can come. Even families who have already completed the FAFSA can attend to make sure they have filled it out correctly, Holt said.

“People really need this help,” she said.

On the Web: College Goal Sunday,

Massachusetts College Goal Sunday,

AP-ES-01-26-08 1400EST

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