FAFSA: Fast-Track financial aid

By JESSICA MONZO, Staff Writer

When you think of autumn, you may be reminded of everything pumpkin flavored, breaking a favorite sweater out of the closet again, the smell of cinnamon apple candles, hay rides, and. . . oh yes, returning to college for the fall semester. For students who have returned to college, congratulations. You have either worked hard to pay for your tuition, received assistance in paying, or completed the hardest paper race imaginable by filling out the Financial Aid application.

Why does getting approved for grants and scholarships have to be such a difficult process? Students are trying to further their education, not buy a gun (frankly, that process might be easier). Questions students may ask while dealing with the application process may be: “What is the difference between a grant and a loan? How early should one fill out the FAFSA application?” Or the biggest question, “Who can I ask to further explain this process?”

Many students may not be aware of this, but Cumberland County College has a Financial Aid office designed to help students better understand the FAFSA application process. The Financial Aid Office is staffed by six financial aid representatives that can assist any student with questions they might have regarding their aid. Among these representatives is Financial Aid director Maurice Thomas.

In a recent interview with Thomas, he explained, “Financial aid consists of grants, loans, and scholarships from the Federal Government and the State of New Jersey.” So what is the difference between a grant, loan, and scholarship?

According to Studentaid.ed.gov, “Grants and scholarships are often called “gift aid” because they are free money—financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid. Grants are often need-based, while scholarships are usually merit-based. Grants and scholarships can come from the Federal Government, your State Government, your college or career school, or a private or nonprofit organization. A loan is money a person borrows and must pay back with interest.”

Deadlines are something many college students have difficulty with–especially when it comes to finding the time to sit and start the process of filling out the FAFSA application. Thomas’s advice to students is to “Apply for financial aid early. Make sure that they submit the information when it’s requested. For this year, applications are available on Oct. 1.”

Maintaining ones financial aid status can be extreamly stressful. According to Thomas, “Approximately 80% of students on campus receive some type of financial aid.” This percentage consists of grants, loans, and scholarships combined. So what does a student have to do (or make sure they don’t do) to maintain their aid status? Thomas explains:“There’s a very small percentage of students who have what we call their aid “recalculated” and that is a student who registers for say twelve credits and there is a student withdraw before they complete those classes.

Financial aid regulations say that “if a student’s attendance is satisfactory-up to or after the 60% enrollment period- they’re entitled to %100 of the funds. So, if a student withdraws before that 60%, we then recalculate their aid based on the percentage of time they were actually in class. So that student, based on the recalculation, may owe money back to the college because we have to send it back to the federal government,” said Thomas.

“A student who fails to pass any classes- or a student who receives all FA’s- that grade is an FA, meaning a failure of attendance. So, faculty are required to put a last day of attendance when they assign the grade, so if the students receives all passing grades, we look at what the last day of attendance was because that is basically an unofficial withdraw. We calculate their aide based on the last day that they attended the class so, there is a small percentage of students who do that.

Faculty informs students of those policies at the beginning of the semester and they should be talking to a financial aid representative or at least their advisor if they’re considering withdrawing from all their classes so we can minimize that,” shared Thomas.

This information on the protocols of how to maintain financial aid is just a small sample of the knowledge and experience that Thomas and the rest of the team in the Financial Aid Office has when it comes to the financial aid process.

If students have any questions or need assistance with financial aid, they can either register for workshops on the campus website at http://www.cccnj.edu/paying-college/financial-aid, visit the Financial Aid Office (near the bookstore) and request an appointment, or call the office at (856) 691-8600, ext. 1280.

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