Do you really understand how FAFSA works?
By: Christian Prevost
Millions of students apply for and receive financial aid every year, but how many students actually know all the rules and regulations that comes along with receiving student aid? When I was graduating high school I had teachers tell me and fellow students, “If you can’t afford to pay for college out of pocket, apply for FAFSA, it’s free money to receive a degree.” At the time it seemed like the greatest news in the world. Free money to go to college. That word free automatically gives you a false impression of what financial aid really is.
Financial aid is supposed to help students in low income families afford higher learning institutions. Not all students that apply for FAFSA receive a Pell grant (aka the free money) or a loan. The Pell grant is based off the amount of money either the student or student’s family made the year before the student applied for aid. That determines the student or family’s contribution towards the FAFSA, which decides how much aid the student will receive for the year. Financial aid does not always cover all the cost of attending college. Some students may notice when they first attend some colleges, their Pell grant will cover their full tuition, books, fees, then whatever money is left over is given to the student in the form of a refund check. Refund checks are used for whatever the student wants, there’s no restrictions. Some students like Tranell, a nursing major at Delgado, learned last year that her Pell grant would only cover her tuition. She thought she was receiving an amount higher than she received one fall semester, changing her plans to buy books for her classes and a new laptop with her refund.
Your college makes the decision of how much aid you will receive every semester based on how your performance has been in school, and how much they feel your need is. Students who do not receive enough financial aid from the Pell grant to cover all cost of attending college tend to apply for student loans. Student loans are fine for the fiscally-responsible student who knows to only take the amount of loans needed to pay what the Pell grant won’t cover, like the remainder of tuition, books, or even that laptop you need to be successful. It’s best to only take what you need. These are loans and they do draw interest over time. Meaning the amount you’ve taken out will be higher when it’s time to pay it back.
Many students, when they have a refund check in hand for thousands of dollars, may buy cars, clothes and other unnecessary things that don’t pertain to their success in school. One UNO student, who would like to remain nameless, took out loans totaling $50,000, to buy himself a car, and stylish shoes and clothes. Now he regrets his overindulgence in student loans. He is no longer able to receive FAFSA to pursue his degree, and has to work full time to pay off his loans and support himself.
Losing FAFSA is easier than receiving it. Students with FAFSA must maintain the Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). This is accomplished a few ways. Students must maintain a GPA of a C average (2.0 or higher) while pursuing a 2-year associates degree, or a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Failure to maintain this GPA will result in loss of financial aid. Many students don’t take classes as seriously as they should, and end up failing them. One F can take a 4.0 GPA and make it a 3.0. It’s helpful to drop a class before receiving an F or using the repeat delete method, but using these fixes can cause another major problem. That problem is Academic Pace. Academic Pace is based off the percent completion rate for degree seeking programs. That means if you have a full class load your first year and you drop half your classes, and continue to follow the same pattern the next year; that will put you at a 37.5 percent completion rate your second year. You should be at a 75 percent completion rate, so this causes a loss of FAFSA from not meeting Academic Pace. The average associates degree has a max time of 3 years to achieve and a bachelors has a max of 6 years.
Adam (not his real name), a transferring Mass Communications major at Delgado, was maintaining a GPA higher than a 2.0, but lost financial aid due to Academic Pace. “When I went to my freshmen orientation the speaker told the room, ‘if you’re in danger of failing, drop the class and receive a W instead of an F,’ but what wasn’t said was, you’ll maintain a high GPA but you’ll run into trouble with financial aid,” Adam said. His hours taken had become higher than the hours completed, giving him a lower completion rate.
Loss of FAFSA is not the end. There are ways of getting back your financial aid. You can file an appeal which is like the waiting game. You must file the appeal before the deadline then wait to see if you’re approved. This is the most common way get it back. You can also pay for classes out of pocket to raise your GPA to become eligible again, or you can change your major or school to see if that will help.
One major thing you can do is not lose it at all. Don’t take on a load that’s too much. If you’re not sure what you want to do or why you’re going to college, don’t go until you’re ready. You can wait –you’re never too old to go to college.
FAFSA deadline for Summer semester 2016 is March 18, Fall semester 2016, May 22, and Spring semester 2017, October 16. You must apply before these dates to have a chance at getting your money in time to pay for your classes.