Financial Aid Woes? Help is Here

By: Siobhan Rahilly

CHATTANOOGA (UTC/The Loop) – The financial aid office wants you to know that they are here to help.  With more students on campus than ever before coupled with a sagging economy, students are facing tougher financial challenges when it comes to paying for college.

The staff in UTC’s financial aid office is aware of how tough it can be to wade through all the paperwork and websites that students have to deal with when applying for financial aid, grants, scholarships and loans.

The FAFSA (Free Application For Student Aid), should be filled out by every incoming and current student every year that they are enrolled in college.  The FAFSA, however, uses your family’s financial information from the previous year’s tax returns.  Given the current unemployment situation in the country, students need to know that a negative change in their financial situation does not spell certain doom.

Dianne Cox, the director of financial aid at UTC urges students to be aware that if their family’s financial situation has changed because a parent has lost a job, they can come in and have their eligibility for aid reviewed.  “A student may be receiving aid based on a parent’s situation last year, which if the parent has lost a job, then that’s something that we can help a student with, going through what’s called an income adjustment to reflect that the family’s situation has changed and now the family doesn’t have the same ability to pay as they had the year before.”

However, if a student is receiving all the federal and state aid available to them, as well as taking advantage of scholarships and grants, but is still falling behind financially, there is only so much the financial aid office can do.  It is at this point that a student should consider alternative or private loans.  Cox says that this may not be what students want to hear, but that may be the main thing the financial aid office can offer at that point.

Pat Boyer is an Accounting Specialist in the bursar’s office at UTC.  Being in the office where students come to pay their tuition and collect their refunds at the beginning of every semester, she knows a thing or two about the financial process, although she reminds students that, “This is where the checks are distributed, not where the money is.”

Boyer urges students to make sure that they’ve got all their financial aid paperwork in order before the semester starts.  “Get all your ducks in a row,” Boyer says, referring to the need for diligence when it comes to submitting correct paperwork to the financial aid office.  She also recommends that students work with the financial aid office when problems arise.

Cox’s advice for students who are feeling frustrated is to make an appointment to talk with someone in the financial aid office.  “We can do that for them, and sometimes at that point, that’s just really what they need to do, just sit down and talk through it with somebody.  Because sometimes you do just feel like, maybe I’m getting an answer but still it’s just not all coming together for me.”

She also urges students to become self-advocates, and to be proactive when it comes to seeking out the answers to their financial questions, whether it’s through the financial aid office directly, or through one of the many websites designed to guide students through the financial aid process.

Students should visit these websites to find more information about financial aid, federal loans, grants, private loans and scholarships:

For a related story, please see: Students Missing Money?

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