Junior marketing and advertising major Steve Strauser sat back in his chair at the TECH Center looking wary.
“I was getting financial aid based on my parents’ income, which pretty much stays the same every year,” Strauser said. “At the time, I was getting roughly $6,000 per semester. Well, they must have changed the standards because they sent me a letter saying I was getting nothing. There are a lot of things they don’t tell you – I didn’t know I could lose it because I took some courses online.”
Under the bulk of spring semester midterms, many students may forget to file their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which can ruin a semester or even a whole year of school.
With 75 percent of Temple students receiving federal aid, according to fafsa.ed.gov, FAFSA makes the majority of Temple educations happen. The tricky part, however, is getting the application in on time. With a state deadline of May 1, most students forget that the university’s deadline passes long before on March 1.
“If you do your application by March 1, you are eligible for the Temple grant, work-study, the Perkins Loan, the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant and several others,” said Elisabeth Reap, assistant director of Student Financial Services. “The cost of attendance minus the expected family contribution determines a student’s need.”
Every student is encouraged to file a FAFSA form because of the various details it takes into account.
“The eligibility for aid is based on a number of things, like how many people are in the household, the number of students in college,” Reap said. “Several things are considered.”
Some students almost never fill out their FAFSA because they feel they will not be eligible for any aid. However, since changing household circumstances determine the amount of aid, every student is encouraged to apply regardless of past statements.
“We always advise students to file the application,” Reap said. “If a student receives little aid but there is a change in the family, financial aid is one less thing to be concerned about.”
Although the majority of Temple students continuously receive financial aid through FAFSA and have had pleasant experiences, some have been badly hurt by the system.
“Pretty much every year when I have to file my FAFSA, it decides that I don’t have a social security number,” said senior English major Andrea Orenstein. “So, twice I have had to wait two weeks while I was not able to log on to FAFSA, and then I had to go and wait in line at the Philadelphia chapter of the Social Security Administration. In the meantime, Temple dropped all of my classes because my tuition had not been paid.”
Another student ended up in the red because of financial aid difficulties.
“I was dropping a few classes last semester when I realized I’d had some of my financial aid taken away,” said sophomore broadcast journalism major Jeff McMenamin. “Although I was still a full-time student, I had to pay $800 because I lost so much aid money. Then, Temple told me that if I did not take 15 credits this semester, I would lose it all.”
One reason that FAFSA is so difficult to successfully complete is the degree of specificity the application requires in each area. One student almost felt the repercussions from this, but luckily saved herself in time.
“The first time I tried to file my FAFSA, my parents were divorced, but I didn’t have their divorce papers, so I couldn’t file,” said sophomore marketing major Stephanie Coder. “I had to file a month late, and it took forever to get my financial aid. Luckily, I was still registered for my classes because I called Temple about it.”
In addition to demanding the specifics, FAFSA is notorious among students for being vague. Many students don’t know all of the requirements for receiving aid.
Although some students have had bad experiences with FAFSA, Student Financial Services is always available to students for help and advice. SFS knows several “tricks” students can use to guarantee them a cheaper education.
“We see more students seeking alternative loans, but they get students more into debt than if they received federal loans,” Reap said. “Students can have federal loan interest deferred while still in school. That way, they have money up front, plus they don’t have to pay until after the fact.”
While the average need-based loan for Temple students is more than $3,500, according to fafsa.ed.gov, it proves advantageous for a student to take out a federal loan to avoid accumulating debt from high interest rates.
FAFSA’s Web site is another good source for information and useful tools to help determine financial aid. In addition to the site’s helpful Frequently Asked Questions, a student can use the College Savings Calculator to determine how much they could or should be saving in order to afford their education.
SFS also reminds students always to keep an eye out for scholarships, which can be found on its Web site, while never forgetting to file for grant money. Lastly – and perhaps most importantly – SFS stresses that students must meet the deadline.
“File the application by March 1 and make sure it is signed and completed,” Reap said. “We can’t emphasize that enough.”
Carlene Majorino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the know…
FAFSA’s Web site