College students and their families are filling out their financial aid applications this month in hopes of receiving grants and low-interest student loans – a once-daunting process.
Shannon Flynn, the associate director of financial aid and scholarships at Eastern Washington University, says times have changed and most students receive financial help.
Q. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has had a terrible reputation for being difficult to complete. Has that changed?
A. Yes. The government has worked diligently to simplify the FAFSA during the past decade. At this point 99 percent of Eastern students filling out the form file electronically rather than using the paper process. This cuts down the processing time by several weeks.
Q. Is there incentive to file early?
A. Students are encouraged to file now. Filing early ensures that students will receive the best financial aid package for which they may qualify. Students who apply for admission by Feb. 15, and who have had their FAFSAs received, are given first consideration.
Q. Is there help for those who need it?
A. Absolutely. Eastern has computers available free of charge and we have staff ready to assist. Students can sit right in our office and fill out the FAFSA.
Q. How much will it cost for a student attending Eastern next school year?
A. We’re estimating about $7,200 in tuition and fees for the year. Books and supplies will cost another $1,000. Room and board generally is about $7,500. (Total about $15,700 for the year.)
Q. What should people do if their FAFSA returns an Estimated Family Contribution that is unattainable?
A. Sometimes financial circumstances change from year to year because of special circumstances such as significant reductions in family incomes. Other things that aren’t reflected in the FAFSA may be deaths, divorces or medical expenses. The important thing is to apply and realize that schools also have the ability to make adjustments and that you should contact your school and talk with them about it.
Q. Are there families who don’t apply for financial aid, wrongly believing that they would not qualify?
A. Yes. It’s a more common occurrence than we’d like to see. The FAFSA has a bad reputation, and some parents who have been through it simply don’t want to do it again.
Q. What is the interest rate on a student loan?
A. The interest rate on a subsidized direct loan is 4.5 percent. It’s 6.8 percent for an unsubsidized direct parent loan. The rates are mandated by federal law.