By LaShanda D. Maze
It is the time of year again, when students are rushing to fill out financial aid information for the next academic year. Once all the documents are turned in, many students view the process as mysterious, a little unusual and end up just hoping for the best.
One of the first steps is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If a student filled out the application last year, the government will automatically send a renewal form. The student can choose a new form or the renewal form.
Once the FAFSA is received by the processing center, the information from the application is keyed into a computer system. A formula is then used to determine the financial need of the student.
Once the information is computed, a Student Aid Report (SAR) is printed out and sent to the student. It takes four to six weeks for the SAR to reach the student. During peak months, like January, it usually takes the longest amount of time, averaging six weeks.
Bob Allen, Federal Student Aid phone information specialist, recommends that students read the instructions carefully.
“Ninety-nine percent of the problems will be eliminated [by reading instructions],” said Allen.
The second step is to complete the University of La Verne financial aid forms. This year, ULV is only requiring students to complete the Data Sheet.
In previous years the University used a verification system in which students were required to submit not only the data sheet but their parents’ tax returns if they were a dependent student and or their own if the student was independent.
This year the school has switched to random student verification. Students will now only be responsible for turning in the Data sheet and getting the FAFSA completed and turned in.
Adeline Cardenas-Clague, dean of enrollment services, says there are advantages and disadvantages with this new process. Those students who are not selected for verification have their award letters processed quicker. For those who are selected the process can become delayed.
It will take until the SAR is sent to the student that the student will become aware if any additional documents are needed. It will take even longer for the school to be alerted that particular students need to provide more information.
“It’s real important for students to read their documents more than ever. The federal government will be informing you [the student] first,” said Cardenas-Clague.
In the first few paragraphs of the SAR students, will see the lines, ‘You have been selected for a process called verification,'” said Cardenas-Clague.
The federal government will select students who show a discrepancy in their data.
Once the documents are submitted and all problems are resolved, a financial aid adviser reviews the student’s file to make sure everything is correct.
Academic progress is also reviewed and a student can be put on financial aid probation if they fall below a 2.0 grade point average, or if the ratio of units attempted and units completed are not satisfactory for the student’s class standing.
Award letter packets are then constructed. Those who were not selected for verification should receive their packets in early May.
When students open their packets, one of the first things they should be aware of, if they are traditional undergraduate students, is the direct cost. If they are living off campus, they must be aware of receiving enough to cover tuition costs.
If the student chooses to live on campus, he or she needs to make sure his or her aid covers on-campus housing. If there is a gap, the student should begin planning how they will manage that gap and plan exactly how they will pay throughout the semester.
After reviewing the document carefully with parents or a spouse, students must sign and return their copy of the award letter. Signing the award letter reserves the money for the student. If there are any loan applications the student should also fill those out right away.
Cardenas-Clague recommends that all students, “Read, read, read.”
There is material provided in the Financial Aid Office for students to read in order to further help them understand the award letter process.
Another recommendation is to meet with a financial aid adviser periodically and not just when problems arise.