The last day for students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is looming, and with it, their last chance to apply for government-funded financial aid for the upcoming school year.

"Filling out the FAFSA is probably the most important thing a student can do to get the aid that they need," Lois Kelly, the director of financial aid at Cal Poly, said.

Lois Kelly, the director of financial aid at Cal Poly, said financial aid is not limited to grants and scholarships, but also includes loans, federal work study and athletic scholarships.

“There are ranges of aid that are available,” Kelly said. “Depending on need, specific individual programs are available for students.”

One major form determines if a student will receive financial aid — FAFSA.

“Most financial aid requires the FAFSA,” Kelly said. “It looks mostly at the family’s resources and if they can cover college expenses.”

Depending on the student’s financial situation, eligibility for different types of financial awards is determined.

“Pending need, grants will pay the full amount of the expenses for the student, or with things like the Cal Grant, students can get up to $5,550 toward their education,” Kelly said.

In general, the FAFSA must be filled out in order to receive financial awards for grants like the Cal Grant or Federal Pell Grant.

Darryl Williams, a business administration senior, filled out FAFSA to receive his Pell Grant. Williams, who is a member of the Cal Poly football team, also receives an athletic scholarship that pays for tuition and housing.

“The athletic scholarship pays for tuition and rent and then the Pell Grant basically helps me pay for my food and stuff like that,” Williams said.

While Williams receives grants and aid that do not have to be paid back to the school, other students like Michael Smith, a computer engineering sophomore, receive student loans from Cal Poly that will have to be paid back after he graduates.

“I’m getting loans but I’ve also received a Cal Grant as well as a grant for being of sophomore standing,” Smith said. “It covers pretty much everything for now, I will just have to pay off the loans eventually.”

Smith said some of the loans that he receives are subsidized, so no interest builds up until a year after he graduates, while others just have a really low interest rate.

By filling out FAFSA as well as the Cal Grant form when he was a senior in high school, Smith was able to receive the financial aid necessary for him to attend Cal Poly.

There are currently more than 19,000 students enrolled at Cal Poly as of Fall 2009, Kelly said, and every single student is eligible for at least one of the student loans, if nothing else.

“The student loans vary by grade level,” Kelly said. “Freshmen qualify for a different amount than grad students.”

Last year, the average cost of attending Cal Poly was $22,000 (including fees, room and board, books and supplies), Kelly said. With the costs expecting to rise as a result of the recent budget cuts, students are turning to financial aid as a way to afford the university.

However, money given to Cal Poly students for university expenses can be used at the discretion of the student.

“If you qualified to receive the financial aid, it is up to you to use and to spend it responsibly,” Kelly said. “I’m not going to check on your bookstore purchase to make sure you’re not spending it on frivolous things.”

When completing the financial aid documentation, students must sign a statement on the application agreeing to use the money for education, Kelly said.

In most cases, students at Cal Poly choose to use their financial aid wisely, with most spending going toward tuition and meals.

“I could go buy the moon if I wanted to,” Williams said. “But most of the money that I get goes to school and food.”

With the costs of housing, fees and tuition rising, Kelly encouraged students at Cal Poly to utilize the resources available at the financial aid office.

“Filling out the FAFSA is probably the most important thing a student can do to get the aid that they need,” Kelly said. “Besides that, students are welcome to come in to talk with a financial aid counselor.”

The FAFSA priority filing date for 2011 is March 2 and students who are interested in more information about financial aid are encouraged to visit the financial aid office in the Administration Building, room 212.

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