English senior Lauren Moore wasn’t sure if she would get enough units to keep her financial aid for spring quarter. She currently receives the Federal Pell Grant, Federal SEOG and the State University Grant. Moore only has upper-level classes left to take in her major, similar to many other seniors.
“I wasn’t able to get really any of the classes that I needed this quarter. I got two [classes] and to secure 12 units, the minimum for financial aid, I [had] to pick up a class I didn’t need,” she said. “It’s frustrating that essentially the government is wasting money they give to me because the school doesn’t have enough classes available for students.”
In Moore’s case, she’s right. Because she receives grants rather than just loans, she would lose aid if she took fewer units.
Currently, most of the money Moore receives helps pay for her tuition and $600 is put toward other expenses. However, she is concerned about registering for classes in the future.
“Because of me having to take extra classes and stay an extra year to graduate, I’m afraid that might affect my financial aid status for my fifth year coming up,” Moore said.
The bigger picture
Approximately 50 percent of the entire student population on campus receives financial aid in some way to help pay for tuition, fees, school supplies and other living expenses, according to Interim Director of the Financial Aid and Scholarship Office Gerrie Hatten.
Students like Moore are less likely to take a class seriously if they’re only taking it to fill units and other students who actually need the class will not be able to enroll, Moore said.
To address this situation, Moore said the university should practice better budgeting in order to help departments open more classes and help students avoid registering for unnecessary ones.
End of the line
History senior Kaylin Embrey faced a similar situation while registering for classes for Spring 2017. Embrey currently receives two different scholarships, a federal subsidized loan, a federal unsubsidized loan and the parent-plus loan to pay for her tuition and other living expenses. She only needs six units to graduate in Spring, but she registered for an additional six units of classes in order to stay a full-time student and keep her financial aid.
In addition to the remaining six units going toward her degree, Embrey is registered in bowling, first-aid CPR and an online nutrition class — all which take up valuable time.
“It’s just kind of inconvenient because I could be working more, or focused more on my senior project and classes that I do need, instead of taking these classes,” Embrey said. “I’m still excited to take bowling and that kind of thing, but it would just be a lot easier if I could only take the classes that I need, so it’s just more of an inconvenience than anything.”
Embrey works at one of the advising centers on campus and noticed that many students on campus aren’t clear about the rules and stipulations of financial aid.
“A lot of students don’t even know that there is a minimum number of units to be a full-time student, or that their financial aid could be at risk if they’re not taking enough classes,” she said.
Embry noted the importance of the university’s role in resolving class registration and financial aid on campus. She suggested solutions such as increasing awareness, providing more resources to help students and holding more sections of classes in order to make registration easier for students.
“When people can’t get enough classes and they have to worry about money as well as not graduating on time, it just adds extra stress,” Embrey said.
A pro-rated solution
Experts say that students such as Moore and Embrey who struggle to get enough units may not have to go through the hassle of signing up for extra classes. In fact, there is one condition that can help students keep their financial aid even if they can’t register for enough units.
Certain kinds of aid do not require students to be full time.
“A student who’s only receiving student loans, as long as they’re in at least six units, they’re going to get that [financial] aid,” Hatten said. “If you have a student who has a Federal Pell Grant or a Cal Grant, for that student being less than full time could drastically impact the amount of funds they receive for that quarter, even if their costs might not be that different.”
The Cal Grant and the Federal Pell Grant are pro-rated based on how many units a student is registered in. If a student is registered in between nine and 11 units, they are eligible for 75 percent of those grants.
Hatten recommended that students such as Moore and Embrey first seek financial aid advising before registering for classes, because there are different numbers of units required for different kinds of financial aid awarded to students.
Smarter not harder
Though many students may find themselves scrambling to register for enough units in situations like Moore’s or Embrey’s, Hatten doesn’t suggest registering for classes just for the sake of getting 12 units.
“You should do what’s academically correct. We don’t really want students taking courses that they don’t need,” Hatten said. “I think in these circumstances, [students] should take advantage of their academic advisors and the academic advising center.”
In addition, the financial aid office waits until the end of the add/drop period before determining financial aid eligibility. That way, students have an extra couple of days before their enrollment to determine eligibility for financial aid.
For Moore and Embrey, nothing much changes for their situations. Moore receives a Pell Grant. While she can get her loans at less than full-time, she does need 12 units to receive the full grant. Her plans for spring quarter will stay the same.
“I’d rather utilize the money given to me to take more classes to advance my education than have idle time,” she said. “I’m not getting the classes that are going toward my major, but I’m still learning.”
In Embrey’s situation, her scholarship requires her to be a full-time student, so her spring quarter will likely remain the same as well.
However, for students who anticipate registering for less than 12 units, Hatten encourages them to visit the financial aid office to make sure they’re making an informed decision before registering.
“If you’re not sure, ask us. We don’t want people to have unpleasant surprises,” Hatten said.
March 2 was the priority filing date, however students can still apply for financial aid. Cal Poly’s deadline to file a FAFSA for the 2016-17 academic year is the end of May 2017 in order to allow time for financial aid to process before the end of the academic year. Otherwise, students may not allow ample time to be considered for all different types of financial aid.
“If you’re thinking you might need some assistance, even if it’s through financing through a student loan, go ahead and complete FAFSA,” she said. “If we’re only able to offer you student loans, you can say ‘no,’ but if you decide later you might need it, FAFSA is there and we’re ready to go.”
For more information, Financial Aid staff are available on a walk-in basis in Administration (building 1) Room 212 from Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., no appointments necessary.