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Your First Step to Financial Aid is... Free! Part II

Financial aid staff
Rebecca A. Eckland

If you think you can’t go to college because it’s too expensive, think again! In this two-part series, we will show you the opportunities available to you through Financial Aid that you can access for free. In Part I, we explained why you need to fill out the FAFSA. 

In Part II, we’re going to explore the kinds of Financial Aid that is available to you after you complete the FAFSA Application process. If you missed Part I, feel free to read about the FAFSA application process, and what resources are available to you through TMCC that are completely free.

Why Financial Aid Matters

Did you know that students who complete the FAFSA are 82% more likely to continue their academic and professional journeys into higher education?  Think of the FAFSA as your gateway to accessing all kinds of financial aid: student loans, grants, as well as state and institutional scholarships and other external scholarships. If you’re looking at taking a class (or more) in Fall 2020, you can expect to receive an estimate of what grants, student loans, and work-study opportunities you can use during the semester. 

Don’t let that number excite or scare you too much, though: much of what you will receive will depend on many factors, such as how many classes you take, and what other circumstances you have in your life. If you’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way, contact Financial Aid to see if you qualify for emergency-based aid.  

However, here are brief descriptions of the three most common types of financial aid that are available for you in the Fall 2020 semester.

Pell Grants 101 

If you are pursuing your first academic degree (such as a certificate, associate or a bachelor’s degree) you may qualify for a Pell Grant. These are awarded based on financial need as determined by the FAFSA application. If you are a returning student who has already earned a bachelor’s degree you can qualify for loans and work study, but unfortunately, you do not qualify for Pell grants. However, for new students, continuing students, and returning students who are degree-seeking and who have demonstrated need, a Pell Grant may help you to off-set the cost of higher education. 

“When I first started filling out the FAFSA, I would always receive a full Pell Grant, and I was able to use that money to cover all my fees—my books—everything,” said Daniella Trujilo Rosas, FLAMES Mentor. Rosas received her associate degree from TMCC and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree at UNR.  

FLAMES Mentor Mariela Ocampo received Pell Grants for TMCC’s Dental Assisting Program, but warns that students shouldn’t just think of them as “free money”: these grants must help you complete a degree program. There are requirements based on Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) that entail maintaining a certain courseload and GPA.  For more questions about these requirements, contact Financial Aid or FLAMES.

The Down-Low on Student Loans 

Before you recoil at the prospect of taking out student loans, depending on your situation, this could actually be the little “boost” of financial assistance that could make the difference between starting or stopping your academic journey. 

“When I transferred to UNR, I wasn’t getting the same amount of funding and because of the difference in expenses, I had to take out student loans,” said Rosas. However, because of her experience working at the FLAMES office, she knew how to create a financial plan that would keep her from going too deeply into debt. 

“Because I knew how much I was going to receive in grants or scholarships, I was able to take out the bare minimum of student loans to be able to complete my finances for the academic year. [In other words,] I didn’t have to take out more than I actually needed. And they were able to get me through the year. So far I don’t have that much student loan debt, which I’m happy about, but I know that it’s an option there in case I don’t receive any other funding. So, it still gives me the option of continuing my education,” she said.  
 
If you aren’t sure that student loans are the best idea, you can also schedule a one-on-one appointment with one of TMCC’s FLAMES mentors to review your options so you can make the best decision for your situation.  “Student loans aren’t as bad as they seem, as long as you know your information and you’re well-educated, which is what we are here for,” said Ocampo.

Opportunities in Work-Study 

If you think an on-campus job sounds like an amazing opportunity, be sure to check the “Work Study” box when you fill out of the FAFSA. Work-study qualifies you to work on-campus for up to 20 hours per week in one of TMCC’s many departments. There are several perks to working on campus, most notably the ability to create a work schedule that “works around” your class schedule. 

“Work-study was my first job,” said Rosas. “I started working on campus my second semester of college and it was honestly the best decision that I ever made. I’ve been working on-campus in the Financial Aid office for four years now, and just the knowledge that you gain on the different resources that are out there to help you pay for school has been so valuable.”

Working on-campus also helped Rosas in other, unexpected, ways. “It helped me open up. It made me become comfortable with people and it worked perfectly for my schedule,” she said.

Ocampo counsels FAFSA applicants to always check the “work-study” box, even if they aren’t currently interested in working on-campus. “You could lose your [current] job or your circumstances could totally change,” she said. “It’s always good to have the option of working on-campus.” 

If you’re ready to start the process of applying for Financial Aid, please see our steps to apply.

Financial Counseling

If you want to apply for Financial Aid, but feel like you need more information, contact TMCC’s FLAMES Office to see the schedule of workshops offered in the upcoming semester. The workshops are free, do not require you to RSVP, and you do not need to be a TMCC student to attend. Topics covered by these workshops include: budgeting, credit cards, identity theft, student loans, the FAFSA, banking, purchasing a car, and credit reports to name a few. 

If you’re just getting started with Financial Aid, Rosas encourages all current and returning students to check out the “Money Savvy Scholars” program. “It’s a $100 grant that we give to students if they attend three of our workshops and three individual appointments with us. Our main goal with that program is to help educate our students and in the process, they get something out of it,” said Rosas. 

In addition to offering online workshops and events on financial literacy, FLAMES can offer you one-on-one specific guidance on financial aid, including support for the FAFSA application, counseling for student loans as well as general advice on how to pay for college. Both Rosas and Ocampo encourage anyone with financial questions to reach out to the FLAMES mentors for more information.

“I know that financial aid can be an intimidating topic, but honestly, we enjoy helping students. When we’re able to see that a student is able to get to go to school because they filled out [the FAFSA] that makes our day for us because we helped them to get to that point. So, we always tell students: we want to help you, come in! We’ll help you with any question...there is no dumb question,” said Rosas.  

Bottom line: don’t let the price tag stop you from pursuing your academic and professional goals. There are plenty of solutions that enable you to move forward with your dreams. Schedule a meeting with our Financial Aid department or FLAMES advisor because the best time to make a positive change in your life is now. 

For more information about the FAFSA application process, contact TMCC’s Office of Financial Aid, Scholarships and Employment at 775-673-7072 or the Financial Literacy and Money Education by Students (FLAMES) at 775-673-7263.