Fill out FAFSA to find out if you qualify for financial aid

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The earlier students know their financial options, the more time they have to plan.

By Melissa Luna

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

The first step before registering for college is applying for financial aid.

Students may not realize they will need to pay for tuition and fees, textbooks, supplies and food and transportation.

Belinda Gonzales, financial aid adviser, said student financial services offers seminars on filling out the FAFSA.

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid provided by the U.S. Department of Education at www.fafsa.gov.

It allows students to pay for college through financial aid, federal grants, loans and work-study funds.

Even if the student does not qualify for financial aid, a completed FAFSA often is required for scholarships and loans.

Students can apply for scholarships through the Alamo Colleges Foundation with one application, once per academic year, at www.alamo.edu/foundation/scholarships.

The scholarships can range from $250 to $1,500 per semester.

Students also can receive Pell Grants from the Department of Education, which are awards that do not have to be repaid.

The maximum offered on Pell Grants varies by each academic school year.

The maximum for 2014-15 is $5,730.

The amount received from a Pell Grant depends of financial need, cost of attendance, enrollment status, and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.

Gonzalaes said the best thing for students to do is research before they enroll and determine an academic path, including a major and transfer plans.

Then they should apply for financial aid as soon as possible.

When students fill out the FAFSA online, they will create an account. After submitting the application, they will be able to see their status and any information needed to complete the application.

The application is then reviewed by the Department of Education. The amount of aid a student qualifies for will be sent to the college the student is attending.

Students can access the financial aid information through ACES.

The earlier students learn know if they do not qualify, the more time they have to find other ways to pay for college, she said.

Michael Ramos, a former criminal justice major, did his research before applying to this college.

He knew he wanted to work in law enforcement, so before his first semester began, he knew he did not qualify for financial aid.

He also knew that he had to pay for uniforms, duty gear, ammunition, certification classes and a psychological test.

He was working full-time and paid for his education out of pocket, which he said “came with great sacrifices.”

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