A basic breakdown of financial aid

February 25, 2013

By Cecilia Jordan

The Financial Aid office in the Student Services Building is pictured here on a less busy day.

The Financial Aid office in the Student Services Building is pictured here on a less busy day.

Attending community college can be a make-it or break-it situation, especially if the prospective student is taking a full load of classes. Generally, students tend to get a cheaper version of the lower level classes needed for Bachelors Degrees and beyond. Even at a relatively affluent school like the College of Marin, tuition goes up every year, more fees are added, books get more expensive and students are faced with the daunting question of how they are going to pay for it all. For thousands of students across the country, financial aid is the only way to go.

While the process of obtaining financial aid can be like a winding road of speed bumps, students can have a great deal of their educational bill paid for.

Andrea Hunter, a financial aid specialist at the College of Marin, had some helpful advice for students navigating this intimidating branch of higher education: “Don’t count yourself out… Even if [you] have an income, [you] can qualify for a fee waiver that would help pay for your tuition… called the Board of Governors Fee Waiver.”

The Board of Governors Fee Waiver is a state grant given to California residents or students in AB540 standing with their school, if they are eligible. Students can go to the financial aid tab at www.marin.edu for help determining this.

“Be patient. It’s a long process. You should start early, and there will be paper work to fill out,” said Hunter. There are thousands of students across the country in the same financial position needing support, and schools have to process each application. Hunter recommends that students utilize their MyCOM Portal onwww.marin.edu. “It will have what information they need to complete their application, what their awards are, and their student account.”

The student alone is responsible for making sure they meet the deadlines, turn in any missed paperwork and complete the overall process. For the 2012 school year alone 4,960 students applied for and were awarded money to attend College of Marin. This is free money, available to anyone who qualifies and wants to attend higher education.

This free money from the federal government is given out as scholarships, grants and loans. Scholarships are merit-based for students who have displayed educational, athletic or community excellence. The internet is a good place to look for scholarships, but http://www.marin.edu/financial_aid/index.htm is the best place to start. Also, scholarships.com offers free service to help students look for scholarships pertaining to them. Grants are need-based.

The U.S. Department of Education offers a variety of federal grants to students attending four-year colleges or universities, community colleges, and career schools.

These range from Pell Grants for every student, to more specific grants for veterans, low-income families, or soon to be teachers. Grants and scholarships are often called “gift aid” because they are free money—financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid.

On the other hand, loans must be paid back with interest. This is usually considered a last resort for students who have been determined to be ineligible for grants or loans.

If you decide to take out a loan, make sure you understand who is making the loan and the terms and conditions of the loan. Student loans can come from the federal government or from private sources such as a bank or financial institution.”

But before all this can happen, students must fill out their FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This determines, through the previous year’s taxes, how eligible a student is to receive federal funding of any kind. Applications for the 2013-2014 school year must be received by March 2.  If students need help filling out their own FAFSA, make an appointment with the financial aid office.

Last year at about this time, full-time student Ariel Garcia, 29, did this and got her tuition for this school year paid by the Board of Governors Fee Wavier and books paid for by the CAL Grant. She says, ‘The process was really easy, just fill out the FAFSA online and you will get an answer within a couple of weeks…. The BOG Fee Wavier covers tuition and then I use grant money for books,” Garcia said.

In the next few years, it is likely that higher education cost will keep escalating, and for most people an outside source will be necessary. Even though students at College of Marin are fortunate to have reasonable prices compared to surrounding schools, why not ease the stress of how you are going to pay for your education, and see if the government will foot the bill.

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