FAFSA Fridays Come to TMCC

K. Patricia Bouweraerts
Students Working Together by Computer

Every Friday of the Spring Semester, the FLAMES student peer mentors will lead free hands-on FAFSA workshops.

Online forms are sometimes a complex thing to figure out, but the Financial Literacy and Money Education by Students (FLAMES) peer mentors have begun a series of hands-on help sessions at Truckee Meadows Community College.

“FAFSA Fridays are new,” said Ohanna Turcios-Ramirez, Financial Literacy Specialist. “There are federal changes: the 2017-18 FAFSA form will now be opening October 1 instead of the usual January 1, so we’d like to get the students thinking about it earlier.”

FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a document that the federal government uses to determine eligibility for many types of financial help such as grants and scholarships.

Every Friday of the Spring Semester, the FLAMES student peer mentors will lead two free workshops:

  • FAFSA hands-on computer lab session: 2:30-3:30 p.m. in Sierra Building, room 107
  • First-time Borrowers In-person Entrance Counseling info for student loans: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4:30-6 p.m. in Sierra Building, room 107

An RSVP is requested for the First-time Borrowers Entrance Counseling, but no RSVP is needed for FAFSA sessions. Students need to know their social security number and are asked to bring a copy of their official taxes, or a copy of their parents' taxes if they’re considered a dependent student.

“Our peer mentors will help with the Federal Student Aid ID, which is new and sometimes confusing,” Turcios-Ramirez said. “The FSA ID is how students set up their account to log into the system. The FAFSA form also has many parts; it is around 10 pages long.”

Alternatively, there is a paper application, but it can delay the process. Typically most students fill out the form on the Web.

“We encourage students to apply early, because chances are greater for receiving federal grant-related money, institutionally-eligible scholarships or work-study programs,” she said. “The later they wait, the chances go up that a student won’t get the maximum potential they might otherwise receive.”

Hands-on Lab

FLAMES team members, usually two mentors, lead each session, and Turcios-Ramirez also provides staff support. They help everyone get started and then spend individual time with each attendee. Later on, students can raise their hand and ask further questions.

“We walk through the whole application, step-by-step,” she said. “Although the session is scheduled for an hour, mentors will usually stay until the last student has their questions completely answered.”

Students must also fill out the FAFSA form in order to qualify for loans.

First-time Borrowers Events

The earlier workshop each Friday is dedicated to those who are thinking about taking out a student loan to help finance their education.

Peer mentors use USA Funds' Life Skills learning modules, guiding workshop participants in preparing them to fill out loan applications. Some of the topics include how to figure out the amount of loan needed, how to calculate loan interest percentage, and what happens later if there is a problem paying it back after graduating from school due to not being employed.

David Cruz-Camacho is a Culinary Arts major set to graduate in May and has been a FLAMES mentor for almost two years.

“Six months after graduating or dropping below six credits of enrollment, students will start paying back the loan,” he said. “If they don’t have a job yet, they can work with a loan servicer. Sometimes special arrangements can be worked out for hardships.”

February is Financial Aid Awareness Month, and in April, the FLAMES will host some special events for Financial Literacy Month.

About FLAME$

FLAMES is hosting "Leap into March" with a table in front of the TMCC Cafe on Feb. 29 from 10 a.m.-Noon. Students can stop by to meet the mentors or pick up a calendar of events. Information about financial literacy topics will be available.

FLAMES peer mentors are a team of eight who have been specially trained in financial literacy, and are paid as student employees. Funds used to pay the mentors come from a grant provided by USA Funds, and the students must follow student employment policies.

For more information about FLAMES or any of their events, please call 775-673-7263.