SIDNEY — The acceptance letter that Hanna Turgeon received in the mail early this month made it real.

Turgeon, a senior at Messalonskee High School, had done the hard work to prepare for college and was rewarded with admission to study nursing at the University of Maine at Fort Kent in the fall. It was time for her mother, Erica Bean, to figure out how the family could afford it.

“It’s very overwhelming when you’re faced with your child’s senior year,” Bean said. “As it is, it’s an emotional experience. All of a sudden Christmas is here and New Year’s is here and it’s time to focus on applications and financing and all that stuff.”

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid became available on Jan. 1, and experts say students and their families should complete it as soon as possible to guarantee a shot at a piece of the $150 billion pot of federal grants, loans and work-study money.

Bean had heard the application, called the FAFSA, was grueling, but she knew she had to tackle it because her daughter really needed the help to pay for college.

A divorce strained the family’s finances, and though Bean, a paralageal, has remarried, she wasn’t able to set aside any college money for her kids.

Bean knew where to go for help thanks to her sister, who works at the Finance Authority of Maine. The agency provides FAFSA guidance online, over the phone and at workshops, several of which are scheduled at high schools around the state in the next few weeks.

Equipped with her 2012 tax return, from which she made estimates for 2013, Bean met with a counselor from the Finance Authority of Maine last week.

“It was so painless with her help. I was amazed,” Bean said. “So now I have the FAFSA all completed, and all I have to do is wait for my income tax this year so I can update our financial information.”

By the end of the session, Bean received a ballpark figure of the grants and loans that Turgeon could receive. The U.S. Department of Education will forward the FAFSA information to UMFK, which will put together a financial aid package.

Many Maine students will also be eligible for state financial aid, and some private scholarships also use FAFSA information.

Bean said she’s glad to have that out of the way so she can focus on the rest of her eldest child’s senior year.

Bean said she’s thrilled that Turgeon, who is already working as a certified nursing assistant after studying at Mid-Maine Technical Center in Waterville, will be able to pursue the path she wanted.

“I feel so, so lucky that she has direction and is not still wavering, deciding what she wanted to do,” Bean said. “I’m not so happy about the five-hour distance.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645 [email protected] Twitter: @s_e_mcmillan