College Goal Sunday This Weekend

KSCB News - February 19, 2015 3:08 pm

For thousands of students across the United States, graduation from high school this spring means high hopes for a successful future – and college is a huge part of their goals. The main obstacle?

“Money,” said Seward County Community College/Area Technical School financial aid counselor Shannon Davis. “Students feel college is out of reach for them because of financial challenges. It’s too bad, because many time there are resources available, they just don’t know how to access them.”

Help is at hand, however. As part of the nationwide “College Goal Sunday” event, SCCC/ATS staff and volunteers will host a come-and-go, get-it-done financial aid work session this weekend. The event , set for 2-4 p.m. in the library at Liberal High School, provides help to students as they fill out the FAFSA (Federal Application for Financial Student Aid).

“Filling out the FAFSA can be intimidating for students and parents, the first time,” Davis said. The form requires various pieces of information (see list below), including income-tax figures and proof of naturalization or citizenship.

“We try to walk people through the process, and make it easier,” Davis said. “Once they understand that this is the first step to access funding, and they know that we’re going to help them figure it out, it changes everything.”

College Goal Sunday made a significant difference in the life of Thanhhi Tran, who currently attends SCCC/ATS. A first-generation student whose parents emigrated from Vietnam, Tran recalls feeling worried throughout his senior year: How would he finance a college education?

“Basically, I don’t have that much money, so I tried to think of ways to lower down the cost,” Tran said. When he heard about something called FAFSA, he was uncertain how to tackle the complicated form.

“It’s really, really difficult, and you don’t want to mess up,” he said. “I felt worried I would get fined because I didn’t understand about the taxes, and I knew I had to be really accurate.” At College Goal Sunday, Tran recalled, “they helped me figure it out.”

One year later, Tran said, “because I applied to FAFSA, I basically go to Seward for free and get a little bit back to help with books and supplies, and that’s really, really helpful.”

A full-time computer science student who works off campus, Tran recalls being shocked at how the cost of little things – paper, pens, gas to get back and forth to work and class – added up.

“I didn’t think the extra things would be so big,” he said. Financial aid provided just enough help for him to juggle the demands, keep up his grades, and plan for the future.

Tran said he will complete the FAFSA again this year, and keep studying until he earns an associate degree at SCCC/ATS. After that, he’s got a job lined up in Washington (state), where his sister and her fiancé live.

“I plan to go to work for a year at a place where they make computer chips, save my money, qualify for in-state tuition, and finish my bachelor’s degree,” Tran said.

Tran’s experience is typical at SCCC/ATS, which serves a high percentage of first-time, first-generation students. Many work at part-time jobs, live at home with their families, and don’t realize that filling out FAFSA could ease some of the strains that make college daunting.

Yesenia Perez, a sophomore at SCCC/ATS, said that she could easily have found herself in that position.

“My parents don’t really know much about college, and they don’t’ know how to help me,” said Perez. “It’s really up to me to figure out how to put all the pieces together. Filling out FAFSA was definitely worth it, and it made a long-term difference. Every year, I’ve gotten my tuition paid.” After graduation from SCCC/ATS in May, Perez will transfer to K-State and pursue her goal of becoming a speech therapist. The path is a bit smoother, she said, because she will start the last two years of college without student loan debt.

Director of Development Tammy Doll is always pleased to hear stories like this.

“I hear a lot of students say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to qualify,’ but we always encourage them to fill it out,” said Doll, whose office disburses scholarships through the SCCC/ATS Foundation. “Students who complete the FAFSA might be eligible for more help than they realize. Even if they qualify for a partial Pell Grant, which is a grant, not a loan, that helps them and it helps us know which people would benefit most from private scholarships.

“When we allocate scholarships, I sometimes discover a student who truly needs help never filled out the FAFSA – and oftentimes, it turns out they were eligible for federal aid.”

Doll also noted that FAFSA completion is one requirement for students who would like to participate in the college’s work-study program, which enables students to earn wages through part-time work on campus.

College Goal Sunday is open to students who will be first-time college freshman in the fall. It’s free, and a $500 scholarship will be awarded to one student who participates.

“The scholarship is open, so it can be used anywhere,” Davis said. “That’s the really neat thing about College Goal Sunday. Our financial aid office at SCCC/ATS helps put it on here in Liberal, but that doesn’t mean a student is locked into attending any particular college. The FAFSA is just the first step to access financial aid, no matter where a college student plans to go.”

Who is eligible for Federal Student Aid?

· Graduate from high school, a state-approved homeschool program, or complete a GED.

· Enroll or be accepted at an eligible degree or certificate program

· Be registered with Selective Services if you are a male between ages 18 and 25

· Have a valid Social Security number

· Sign statements on FAFSA to show you have not defaulted on previous aid awards, and that you will use the money for educational purposes

· Maintain satisfactory progress in college

· You must also be a U.S. citizen or U.S. national OR have a green card OR have an I-94 record as a refugee, asylum recipient, Cuban-Haitian entrant, or parolee OR have battered immigrant status OR hold a T-visa.

 

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