Ryan Chartrand

For students struggling to make ends meet, or are wondering how they’re going to be able to pay their way through next quarter, the Financial Aid Office is there to help.

The time to apply for aid is now, says Mary Ann Hinkle, Cal Poly’s Federal Family Education Loan Program Manager.

The deadline for completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for next year is March 2, and according to Hinkle, it is something all students should consider.

“There is no reason not to complete a FAFSA,” said Hinkle, who has worked in the Cal Poly Financial Aid Office for 28 years. “It’s the perfect time to be applying. There’s no excuse; it’s free to apply. You can always say no to what we offer, but you’ll never know if you don’t apply.”

Those who miss the deadline will miss certain grant aid, work study, and Perkins loan opportunities, and will not be eligible for scholarships from the school.

While a loan must be repaid, scholarship money is a student’s to keep. The school’s scholarships, which average $1,000, are from many sources. Students who complete the FAFSA on time will be considered for general scholarships and others that are specific to their major Hinkle said.

The starting point to fill out a FAFSA is online, at www.fafsa.ed.gov. If students are dependent, they must have a parent assist in the process, requiring a PIN for both. The process can be lengthy, but “well worth the time,” according to Beverly Sunseri, FFEL’s assistant loan manager.

“It’s a win-win situation for a student,” Sunseri said. “A student stands to gain a better chance at free money for college expenses in the way of grants, scholarships, work study, and subsidized Stafford Loans where the government pays the interest while the student is in school.”

As paying for college has become increasingly more difficult and complicated, it is important for students to consider all options at their disposal, as the average debt incurred by a Cal Poly graduate is $16,000, Hinkle said.

Though dependence on private loans has increased in recent years, a development Hinkle called “unfortunate,” she encouraged students to take advantage of Stafford Loans the school offers.

A Stafford Loan is a federal loan given to students as a form of financial aid, but students often turn to private loans because a Stafford Loan may not be enough.

“We never run out of Stafford Loan money or parent loan money,” Hinkle said. “The banks are willing to loan – but students qualify for certain amounts at each grade level.”

Starting July 1, sophomore students can borrow up to $4,500, juniors and seniors up to $5,500, and graduates up to $8,500. The maximum students can borrow through Stafford Loans during their college careers is $23,000.

An advantage of a Stafford Loan is that its interest rate is fixed at 6.8 percent, 4 percent less than the average private loan, where an interest rate constantly fluctuates with the market. Additionally, Hinkle said students should research outside scholarships online.

“Students shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions,” said Hinkle, called by Sunseri the school’s best financial aid counselor. “Many come in to explain special circumstances, such as parents dying or separating, or even more common situations like entering credentials or master’s programs.”

Financial aid is complicated, with many programs, rules and regulations, but the Financial Aid Office is here to make sense of things.

Counselors are available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for Wednesday, when they are closed for processing. Located in the administration building, room 212, its phone number is 756-2927.

“I love helping people find out how to get financial aid and helping students stay in school and graduate,” Hinkle said.

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