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Financial Aid 101 – Six Things to Know About Financial Aid

Financial aid may seem difficult or hard to understand, but the good news is it doesn’t have to be!

Financial Aid 101 - a jar full of coins

The Community College of Aurora offers financial aid advising to help students answer tough questions about paying for college, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and get the answers they need to make important decisions about their futures.

Any student (or their parent) who wants to know more about CCA’s financial aid options should remember these six things:

1. Fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible.

Students are encouraged to fill out the FAFSA as soon as it opens on October 1. 

Even if a student doesn’t want to accept financial aid, they should fill out the FAFSA to determine if they are eligible for a Pell grant and as a condition for certain scholarships, said CCA Financial Aid Advisor Darin Wissbaum.

"Even if a student is convinced they aren't going to get anything because their parents may make a lot of money, I still have them do it because there may be scholarships that require the FAFSA to be completed — it doesn't cost anything,” Wissbaum said.

2. Take the time to fill out the FAFSA correctly and accurately.

There are about 100 questions on the FAFSA application that will require you or your parents to answer, including questions about income, assets, and property. Students have to report everything accurately that they or their parents earn. 

"Slow down. Complete your FAFSA correctly — don't get into a rush with it. Don't guess," said Deborah Hoefler, Financial Aid Advising Director.

If a student fills something out incorrectly or there is a discrepancy, the FAFSA may be flagged and the student may need to verify some information with CCA’s Financial Aid advisors.

3. If verification is needed, Financial Aid will ask for paperwork that may be sensitive for students.

FAFSA verification is a moving process — CCA's Financial Aid advisors may ask for different documents on different days so be prepared to bring documents in. That paperwork may be regarding divorce, custody, child support, and more.

"We are just verifying what the student said on their FAFSA. If everything matches, it's a slam dunk,” Hoefler said. "If there are some discrepancies, we have to get to the bottom of it. And to get to the bottom of it, we have to ask for documentation. We have to have the proof."

4. Never pay to fill out the FAFSA.

There are some companies that will charge you to fill out the FAFSA, but remember, it’s the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid. The free application can be found at FAFSA.gov.

5. It is the student's responsibility to accept the loan on their MyCCA account but there are other steps that the federal government requires.

Remember to always check MyCCA for updates about your financial aid!

Even after you accept a student loan, there are other steps that students are required to take as part of the loan, such as signing the promissory note and completing entrance counseling through the FAFSA website. Students will receive those alerts through MyCCA.

Sometimes students get hung up on that step and CCA Financial Aid cannot release the loan until those steps are completed.

And that entrance counseling is a valuable tool for students to better understand what a student loan is, both Hoefler and Wissbaum said.

"We want students to understand how loans work and that's a really good tool for them to look at and to understand they have to pay them back," Wissbaum said.

"It's an online tutorial. You're going to borrow a loan — what does that mean and what is the repayment and how much is your budget and how much are you going to make?" Hoefler said.

6. CCA’s Financial Aid office is here to help!

CCA’s Financial Aid Office can explain to students why they need to bring in documents for verification, answer questions about financial aid, look up student financial aid records, and much more.

"Students can walk in and get advice — there is always a financial aid advisor here," Hoefler said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Struggling in a class?

CCA’s Financial Aid advisors will work with students who may be struggling and look at options with students. Advisors will try to problem-solve with students and determine if it’s better for them to withdraw in a class, look at census dates, and more.

Remember — CCA’s Financial Aid office is here to help and they may have the answers you are searching for.

"Don't be afraid to come back in and ask us the same question over and over again because it's very confusing and we are here to help you," Hoefler said



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