Help: Getting Financial Aid

Midyear fee increases brought a deluge of phone calls and cramped lines to the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office on campus at the end of last quarter as anxious students attempted to sort out their funding for next year.

“Yeah, I’m worried about it. I need to start selling my blood!” said Patrick Lee, a first-year biological sciences major, in regards to his financial aid situation. He is considering taking out another unsubsidized loan.

Everyone wants and needs a significant amount of funding possible, and sometimes it’s a matter of avoiding all too common errors.

“Paying attention to deadlines is key,” Director of the Financial Aid Office at UCI, Christopher Shultz said.

Missing deadlines — the most common student error — puts an applicant out of the running for grants — or money students do not need to pay back later. March 2 is the deadline for the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid) form. Shultz also emphasized the importance of remembering to personally sign the form.

Even if an application is completed by deadline, errors in your application can delay or diminish your aid. Shultz recommends filling out your FAFSA online, where common errors — like blanks, for example —are caught immediately. Mistakes in your application can cost you real money; underestimating income or overestimating how many of your siblings are currently in college can mean the federal government playing a mean game of take-backs.

“Talk to your family,” Shultz urged. He has seen students who assumed their siblings would continue attending college, only to find they were set to graduate early or drop out. Because a family assumes less of a burden with fewer children in college, such a miscommunication can mean you’ll get more financial aid fall quarter than you should and a student can owe money. Parents and relatives over 24 should not be added to the roster of family members in college.

It is also important for students to check their e-mail regularly for financial aid updates. The financial aid office requires supplementary documents — federal tax returns, social security documents and immigration papers, among others — and the office communicates to applicants via e-mail. After May 1, not responding to an e-mail within two weeks means late paperwork and complications with your financial aid.

Students who are intimidated by the prospect of mounting debt should consider scholarships.

“Many students think that if you didn’t receive any scholarships coming into school, you can’t get scholarships,” Shultz said.

But this is not the case.

In fact, the Scholarships Resource Center has an online database of thousands dedicated to continuing student scholarships to help ease the burden of paying for school.

“Students are discouraged from applying for scholarships because they think [that] with the number of students [on campus], there will be too much competition,” Chou Luu, assistant director of scholarships, said.

While some scholarships have an application pool of as much as 300, many only have five applicants. Most scholarships are awarded to multiple students, without splitting up the grant money. With scholarships ranging from $500 to $10,000, it can’t hurt to apply.

The Scholarships Resource Center offers on and off-campus scholarships, and offers two workshops every week. Thick binders of scholarship listings are organized by major, hobbies, ethnicity and more, with a few dedicated to resources for graduate, international and AB540 students.

“It’s peak scholarship season,” Luu said while showcasing the online database of scholarships available on MyAid. Most applications are due March 31.

There are 40 on campus scholarships and thousands of off campus scholarships shuffling through the abundance is made easier by MyAid, an online service that picks out scholarships students may be eligible for. The site also offers a general application for scholarships that can be filled out for numerous scholarships at once.

“Many don’t follow through because they forget or run up to the deadline at the last minute,” Luu said. She recommends making a calendar with the due dates of the scholarships students are considering applying for.

dwFor more information visit the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office at 102 Aldrich Hall, or e-mail scholarships@uci.edu for an appointment with a counselor and to attend a workshop.