Process of finding financial aid for college explained

Lots of people believe that financial assistance is necessary to go to college. But what exactly is financial aid, and how does it work? I decided to find out how the process really works, so I went to an insider: Sylvia Méndez, assistant director of financial aid at Monroe Community College.

Q: I’ve heard lots of students and parents say they would love to go to college but can’t afford to. How do you respond when you hear that?

Sylvia Méndez: College can be affordable, as the U.S. Department of Education offers a variety of federal grants to students who want to attend college.

Q: What exactly is financial aid, and where does the money come from? 

Sylvia Méndez: Financial aid is any grant or scholarship, loan or paid employment offered to help a student pay for college expenses. Such aid is usually provided by various sources, such as federal and state agencies, colleges, high schools, foundations and corporations. The amount of financial aid that a student receives is determined through federal, state and institutional guidelines. It can be used to cover educational expenses, including tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation.

Q: What then is a financial aid “package”?

Sylvia Méndez: A package is a collection of different types of aid from multiple sources and is based on a student’s individual or family’s financial situation. Some of those large aid packages include loans, which students must repay. So, you should carefully review the details of a package. Grants, such as a federal Pell grants, and scholarships you don’t pay back.

Q: My son is in 11th grade. When should I apply for financial aid, and how do I do it?

Sylvia Méndez: You apply for financial aid on or after Oct. 1 of his senior year. You go to www.fafsa.ed.gov. If you want an estimate of your aid eligibility, you can use the FAFSA4caster (studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/estimate), which helps families plan ahead for college.

Q: What is FAFSA? What happens when I complete the form?

Sylvia Méndez: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid form is used to apply for financial aid. Your FAFSA will be processed within seven to 10 days.

Q: Are there resources for Latinos and other students of color?

Sylvia Méndez: Colleges are always looking to diversify their campuses and to make their schools more accessible to students of all ethnicities, economic backgrounds and religious beliefs. That’s why many scholarships are restricted to minority students, including Hispanic students. There are many companies, organizations and schools offering scholarships, particularly for minority and female students. You can start researching those at www.scholarships.com.

Q: What if I get stuck during application and need help?

Sylvia Méndez: You can contact the financial aid office at the institution you are planning to attend. MCC offers workshops to the community, which are open to everyone considering college, who we hope will attend MCC!

Méndez-Rizzo is coordinator of dual enrollment at Monroe Community College.

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