Financing your future
Financial aid expert shares tips for paying for your college education
By Gremlyn Bradley-Waddell
Going to college is one thing. Paying for it is quite another.
So how does one finance an education these days? It’s not exactly a simple process, but financial aid – money that helps pay for students to attend college or a career school – is a great solution for many families. In fact, Ricardo Montaño, a financial aid technician with Mesa Community College, says even if families can afford to pay out-of-pocket for their students’ education, they still often choose to apply for financial aid to cover additional expenses.
To get things started, a student first needs to be admitted to a college. The next step is to apply online for the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is available every January. The FAFSA is the application used to determine how much financial aid you will qualify for, Montaño says.
“Apply early if possible, submit all necessary paperwork and be sure to follow up with your college’s financial aid office until you see that financial aid listed on your student account,” he says, adding that “early” means by the first Friday in April, although he notes some schools have different deadlines that need to be followed.
Financial aid comes in a variety of forms and from several sources. According to studentaid.gov, the Federal Student Aid office’s website, the federal government’s offerings include:
- Grants – “These typically do not require repayment, provided the student keeps up with their end of the bargain by meeting academic requirements or passing class,” Montaño says. Grants are usually need-based, or awarded to those needing financial assistance. Some of the better-known options include the Federal Pell Grant and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or SEOG Grant. The SEOG is available on a first-come, first-serve basis, due to limited funding, so applying early is recommended. There are also additional other grants, like the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant, available to students whose parents served in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11.
- Loans – These are monies that require repayment and do accumulate interest. “Ask yourself if loans are something you have to do or something you’re choosing to do, and be sure to understand how much you will owe later,” he says.
- Work-study programs – These are on-campus jobs for students, who receive a paycheck every two weeks.
The FAFSA website also points out that, along with these three types of aid, some students may also be eligible for tax benefits, scholarships or even loan repayments courtesy of other agencies, such as National Institutes of Health.
Scholarships, of course, are monies that are considered a gift, or “free,” and do not need to be paid back. They vary between need-based and merit-based, which means they are awarded to students who meet specific criteria determined by the donor, like a certain GPA (grade point average) or ethnic background. In addition, some need-based scholarships may require a FAFSA to determine a student’s need. FastWeb is an online resource that helps match students with potential scholarships and the new Mesa Educates U Scholarship is a great opportunity being offered to Mesa residents.
Finally, state governments, private organizations, non-profit organizations and colleges and career schools themselves also are sources of grants and scholarships. The bottom line, Montaño says, is that there is a lot of financial aid out there but none of it will end up in your student account unless you apply for it. So, get started on the FAFSA and get to know the folks in your college’s financial aid office.
“Come in and talk to us,” he says.