Free money for college

Lauren Eckert / Washburn Review

There is no doubt that a college education is a useful tool in the job market…, but it’s not going to be cheap.

 

As the economy continues to struggle, colleges and universities are also feeling the sting from lack of funding. Budget cuts, lack of pay raises and tuition increases have higher education institutions feeling a little penny-pinched, not to mention the financial pressure placed on attending students’ shoulders as they struggle to pay for college.

 

What most students don’t know, however, is just how much financial aid is available to them if they just apply. Jennifer Hill, assistant director of Financial Aid encourages students to apply for financial aid even if they don’t think they qualify or are not interested in taking out student loans.

 

“Completing the application does not lock you in to anything. It just determines eligibility,” Hill said. “Students will still need to accept the award, but it’s free money. Take advantage.”

 

Financial Aid includes anything from federal programs like grants, loans and work study, state programs and academic and departmental scholarships. In 2008-09, 5,400 students received more than $61 million in financial aid, including all types of state, federal, veteran benefits, Washburn University aid and private aid.

 

Students applying for aid should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which can be found at www.fafsa.ed.gov.  As stated in the application’s name, this application is free of charge. Students should be wary of applications that ask for a fee at the end of the application, as none is required.

 

“We just want students to apply,” said Gail Palmer, director of Financial Aid at Washburn. “Students should seek out information from their departments because many departments have scholarship money available as well. It’s more than just financial aid; it’s about learning what your department can offer you.”

 

As students are applying for scholarships and other financial aid, they should keep in mind that the deadline to turn in all of these applications is rapidly approaching. The priority deadline for financial aid at Washburn is Feb. 15, although many individual departments are requesting that departmental scholarship applications be turned in at an earlier date.

 

“Just because the deadline is Feb. 15 doesn’t mean that students have to wait until then to fill out their applications,” Palmer said. “Just because we have a priority deadline doesn’t mean we don’t run out of money before that date.”

 

While federal aid, including loans and Pell grants, does not run out of money, there is no guarantee that money from state programs or scholarships will still be available. Students interested in receiving any financial aid can submit their applications any time after Jan. 1, as finalized tax information is not required to complete the form. Students may go back and edit their FAFSA after their taxes have been filed.

Palmer also reminded current students who are already receiving scholarships to fill out and submit the university scholarship renewal application that is available online, as they will receive a confirmation number to prove that it has been submitted in case there is a discrepancy later.

But most importantly, Palmer and Hill strongly recommended that students who have questions stop by the financial aid office for help.

“Talking about money can be intimidating. We’re here to simplify it as much as we can and get you through the process,” said Palmer.

Hill explained that people think the process is much more difficult than it actually is.

“We are an open office,” she said. “We have two computers available and staff available specifically to help students file.”

Students who have additional questions regarding the financial aid process or are looking for financial aid tips or scholarship information should check out www.fastweb.com or www.collegeboard.com for more information. Both sites offer additional pointers and guidance for both students and parents who are interested in learning more about the financial aid process. The sites offer college searches, where students can look up information on financial aid, deadlines, admissions, international programs and more for a specific institution.

But while utilizing outside resources can be helpful, students can always seek out answers from the financial aid office on campus and its Web site, www.washburn.edu/financial-aid.