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Financial aid office: Time to apply is now

April 8, 2011

Students seeking financial aid are urged to apply as soon as possible if they want to receive the greatest amount available, said Barbara Stinson, the UW-River Falls director of financial aid.

Students could begin applying for aid for the 2011-2012 academic year starting Jan. 1, 2011, and have until June 30, 2012, to submit their applications, according to the Federal Student Aid website.

Although students can apply for aid at any time during the academic year, programs like the Wisconsin Higher Education Grant, or WHEG, can run out of funds well before the start of fall semester, Stinson said.

Grants such as WHEG and the federally funded Pell Grant provide money to students to help pay for college and do not need to be repaid.

Typically every student who qualifies for a Pell Grant will receive aid regardless of when they apply for it, but the funding for state grants like WHEG is more limited and given out on a first-come, first-serve basis, Stinson said.

Applying for financial aid at UWRF is a two-step process: Students must first complete their tax return, and then submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

“If ever there’s a reason to get your taxes done early, it’s while you’re in school,” Stinson said.

Students are allowed to use a previous tax return as an estimate to complete their FAFSA before filing their 2010 return, but it is not recommended this late in the year. Students will need to complete their taxes by April 18 anyway, so they should do that first and complete their FAFSA using accurate data, Stinson said.

The FAFSA can be filed on paper or online. If filed through the website, ap- plication processing can take as few as three days, compared to as many as 10 days for paper filing, according to the Federal Student Aid website.

One reason students may hesitate to apply for aid is the belief that they will not qualify for assistance.

But students are encouraged to apply for financial aid even if they do not expect to receive a grant, Stinson said.

“A lot of people think aid is only the gift money,” Stinson said. “But every single student, no matter how much money their parents make, qualifies at least for an unsubsidized loan.”

Unsubsidized loans provide students up to $7,500 from the federal government to be repaid at a fixed interest rate of 6.8 percent, according to the UWRF Financial Aid website.

Students may also be discouraged from applying for aid because the pro- cess seems too complicated.

Joshua Jensen, a graduating marketing and communications senior at UWRF, applied for financial aid several times during his college career. Despite his experience with the process, Jensen said that he dreaded applying each year.

“You figure out how to do it, and then you forget,” Jensen said. “You have to relearn it every year.”

Stinson said that she recognizes the process of applying for aid is not very fun, but the potential benefits are worth the effort.

“You text probably more than 20 minutes a day,” Stinson said. “You could spend that much time to do a FAFSA just to see. You never know what you might qualify for.”

The electronic FAFSA application can be found on the Federal Student Aid website at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/.