Deadlines key to getting college financial aid
This article is in today’s edition of The Monroe Evening News
If parents hope to keep the family’s out-of-pocket expenses for college as low as possible, they need to pay close attention to the financial aid and scholarship deadlines that are coming up during the next few weeks.
That’s the message that Monroe High School counselor Nancy S. Monday gave during the annual MHS Financial Aid Night Tuesday.
“Every year you have to re-apply for financial aid,” she said. “One year, you could get full financial aid. The next year, you could get half.”
Mrs. Monday has been leading these presentations and workshops for 22 years, and the basic concepts haven’t changed much in terms of the resources and programs. Eligibility details are in a constant flux, she said.
“There are changes every year to the federal and state form and methodology,” Mrs. Monday said.
One example is on the financial aid formula assumption that single adults 23 and younger are dependent on their parents. It became difficult starting about 15 years ago for young adults to declare themselves financially independent in hopes of receiving more need-based aid. The assumption is that the students, along with their parents, are primarily responsible for college expenses.
But Mrs. Monday explained that three years ago, changes started to take effect that took into account the difficulties faced by young adults who really are on their own — or have parents refuse to provide information for the financial aid applications. While a limited numberof student loans now can be written to those students, Mrs. Monday said it remains to the student’s advantage to report the family income as then other resources become available.
Students and parents who would like help working on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can get it at the College Goal Sunday workshop from 1 to 4 p.m. Feb. 10 at Monroe County Community College’s La-Z-Boy Center.
The FAFSA itself needs to be filed by March 1 if families want the best chance at getting as many grants and scholarships as possible that rely on that data.
Those dates are in addition to the numerous community scholarship notices that are being sent to students’ e-mail accounts and posted on the high school’s Web site with application details and deadlines.
“You really have to push the students to be proactive about scholarship money,” the counselor urged the parents in the auditorium. “Getting money for college … should be your job right now.”
Another frustration she explained that that today’s families have run into is an increasing reliance on Parent PLUS loans as part of the financial aid packages.
Mrs. Monday said she knew of a local single mother who was told by the college that $7,000 in college costs would end up as a PLUS loan. Mrs. Monday said the payments on four years of $7,000 each in loans would be unaffordable for the mother. But an appointment with the college’s financial aid office to file an appeal was successful, and most of that eventually was covered by other sources that the mother did not need to pay back.
Those attending the program included Matthew Pownall, an 11th-grader, and his father, Mark Pownall, of Monroe. The family has a good start on savings with a Michigan Education Trust, but the savings is enough to pay only for two years of community college for one of the two boys.
“I’m just trying to find out what’s available and what we might qualify for,” Mr. Pownall said. “This is all new for me. My parents put me through college.”
Others in the audience included Matt Berry, a senior, with his mother, Kathy Berry of Monroe. Ms. Berry said the explanation of the financial aid formula and how it applies to more expensive colleges will be helpful information.