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Waubonsee Voices: Focus on financial aid this February

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST

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While we’re about two months into a new calendar year, it’s already time for prospective and current college students to look ahead to the upcoming 2014-15 academic year, especially if they want help paying tuition.

February is national Financial Aid Awareness Month, so in addition to working through those boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolates, students and parents should also be working their way through the financial aid application process.

The key to the process is the free application for federal student aid, or FAFSA. By completing and submitting this one free online form, families are giving themselves a chance at federal tuition assistance in the form of grants, loans and employment.

The FAFSA also is used to apply for certain state financial aid programs, including the Illinois Monetary Award Program – or MAP. MAP funds are awarded based on the date that the FAFSA is completed and submitted, so they’re usually awarded to students who submit their FAFSAs no later than early March. For this reason, many Illinois colleges, including Waubonsee Community College, recommend filing the FAFSA by March 1.

The 2014-15 FAFSA is now available at fafsa.gov. There is no cost to filing the FAFSA, and the results will be sent to as many schools as the student requests. Because most of the federal and state aid program funds are need-based, the FAFSA includes questions about the student’s and parents’ 2013 income and current assets, with the exception of home value.

While there are helpful instructions throughout the online version of the FAFSA, it can be valuable to have the help of an expert offline. That’s why Waubonsee’s Financial Aid Office hosts several FAFSA Fairs this time each year. The next scheduled event will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 27 in room 160 of our downtown Aurora Campus, 18 S. River St. Everyone is invited to this free event, where computers will be available for onsite FAFSA completion and filing.

Once the FAFSA is filed and reviewed, both the student and his/her designated schools receive the results, which include a calculated expected family contribution – or EFC. Eligibility for need-based loan and employment programs is based on the difference between the cost of attendance and the EFC.

Individual colleges and universities also will notify students of their aid eligibility at their particular institution. The student should review each school’s award package, compare the total aid with the total cost of attendance, and decide whether or not to accept the aid offer.

Students and parents need to be especially mindful of accepting any aid that needs to be paid back, such as loans. Information about interest rates, repayment plans and repayment calculators is available at direct.ed.gov.

The world of financial aid can be intimidating, but there is help available, and the possible benefits make it well worth looking into.

Learn more about state of Illinois financial aid programs at isac.org, and visit studentaid.ed.gov for information on federal programs.

Students should also read the financial aid web pages of the schools they’re interested in to learn more about the school’s application processes and available scholarships.

Waubonsee financial aid experts can be reached online at  waubonsee.edu/financialaid or by phone at 630-466-7900, ext. 5774. 

• Dr. Chuck Boudreau is director of Student Financial Aid Services at Waubonsee Community College. The “Waubonsee Voices” column runs the third Wednesday of each month in the Kane County Chronicle. Feedback and questions can be sent to editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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