ESS 309: Financial Aid Q&A
We know that there are many questions concerning financial aid, so this week on the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer, our guest Joe Sell, from the Financial Aid & Scholarships Office, is here to answer your questions and bring insight about Financial Aid. You’ll hear about what to expect, what you need to double check, and what to do if something is wrong.
- CalCentral – Check your task lists to make sure that you don’t have any incomplete tasks relating to financial aid.
- Scholarships: scholarships.berkeley.edu
LAURA VOGT: Hello and welcome to The Not So Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. My name is Laura Vogt, I’m the Associate Director for Marketing and Communications for the College of Engineering and your podcast host! This week we have Joe Sell, Counseling Projects Coordinator from the Financial Aid & Scholarships Office. Hi Joe, welcome to the podcast!
JOE SELL: Hello, again, my name is Joe, so I work in the counseling unit of the financial aid and scholarships office. So I’ve been to Berkeley for about four years now. A lot of my work is the in-person advising with students. We also work in reviewing verification documents other appeals so that the processing parts of financial aid do presentations podcasts like this one so we’re kind of out in about two. But the core of it is the counseling and advising for four students who have financial aid questions and what is the best way for a student if they want to speak with a financial aid counselor. So the best first starting place would be visiting in Person County in central they’re located in 120 Sproul Hall so you can students can start by seeing an advisor through casting in central to answer any general financially questions that they might have after that if it’s something where we might have a more in-depth conversation or do some more specialized advising or counseling then students can come and meet might be myself or one of my colleagues and then count the counseling office. Otherwise students can submit a case through student central that Berkeley that you do. So there’s an online request that students can complete if they have any general questions. There’s also a phone line to to contact Cal student central. But really visiting a person’s might be the best way if you’re on campus that way we can sit down and have that conversation and go burning questions that students might have.
LV: And if a student is getting financial aid when can they expect that payout to happen to help them? Because it doesn’t just necessarily call it covered the cost of classes it also gives them money to live off.
JS: Right. Right exactly. So we begin dispersing fall financial aid or really any semester will disperse no earlier than 10 days prior to the start of the semester. So for this fall I believe instruction begins on August 28. I want to say so roughly around on the 18th or 19th we’d begin dispersing aid for the fall. So financial aid will pay to the student’s account first so it’ll pay any tuition and fees any on campus housing any other bills that are there for that semester at that point if the amount of total financial aid that disperses is greater than what’s on the student’s bill that will refund to the student through either direct deposit which can be set up in Calcutta or in Cal central or through a paper check which can be picked up at Cal student Central. So timing wise if we disperse run 10 days before usually that refund is available within three to five days once it’s process. So usually a few days before before classes start that refund should be out as long as all the students requirements and everything for financially are complete.
LV: And is there paperwork that they’re going to need to complete it? How would they know if they’re missing something?
JS: Yeah. So we have. Once we receive the FAFSA or the California Dream Act application at that point we can take a look to see if there’s any requirements to complete. Now one clue that students can actually see when they’ve completed their FAFSA at the very end of the application it’s not very obvious but there will be a little blurb that’ll say your application was selected for a process called verification. And so that’s kind of a nice way to clue off that hey we’re probably gonna have to submit some sort of documents to the financial aid office but once we have that application then we can go ahead and say hey we have to verify your your parents income or maybe some other eligibility criteria on the application that will show up in Cal central in the student portal as a task that might say financial aid verification once didn’t see that they can go ahead and follow the instructions there’s a link to click on our forms are now Web based this year. So they’re a lot easier to complete than than in prior years. Knight So electronic signatures it’s a lot easier to try to use this time around. And so there’s a link that will lead to that information so that students can begin that process. Will we release that information as soon as we get the application over the summer. So if students have already filed their application then if we’re required to submit anything they should know by this point. So I would just encourage to check the Carlson for portal and see if there are any requirements to complete.
LV: And you mentioned the FAFSA. What if a student hasn’t filled out the FAFSA yet? Is it too late?
JS: No. So even though technically the deadline for the FAFSA is March 2nd students can still submit a FAFSA after that deadline so there may be some programs that may be restricted or may not be limited to students who do file after the deadline but it’s definitely not to discourage to file because most financial aid programs are still going to be available for students if they file after the deadline. So really anytime you’re in the academic year. But of course the earlier the better that we can make sure there is an award package available if eligible before the start of the fall.
LV: Oh awesome. What happens if a student had to change their financial situation?
JS: Students can submit was called an EFC appeal. So it’s through that same Web site that verification requirements are listed that can be found on the left side of the Cal central my finances page and it’ll say verification and appeals forms and that’ll link students to where they can review the different kinds of appeals they can submit. So in your situation or your example students can submit the EFC appeal if there’s been a change in their parent’s income or a change in their own income. If there are other medical expenses or other sort of extenuating expenses that aren’t captured on the FAFSA of the tax return that’s an example where families or students can submit that appeal so we can take a second look at their more current income or their more current circumstances and see if there’s anything additional that we can offer or an adjustment to what we can’t offer. That happens a lot now especially that FAFSA that uses tax information from two years ago. So the FAFSA or the DREAM Act application will still ask for 2017 tax information or income information but it’s been two years that often has changed since then. And so students are encouraged to look at that appeal form to see if anything applies just in case there have been any changes or any other expenses that we’re not capturing. So we can see if we can offer the most accurate aid package for them.
LV: And we have some students that are are we’re hearing a lot of definitely about student loans and student loan debt and just the world in general. So we have students that are afraid to take them out. Do you have any advice for students with those types of concerns?
JS: Sure. So a couple of things about student loans the first thing I would say is that roughly about 65 percent of our undergrad students graduate without loan debt. So a lot of times when it comes to being offered student loans the concern is you know I’m going to have all of this interest in debt and everything to pay back afterwards. There are different kinds of student loans so the first that I would say are federal student loans are either federal subsidized or unsubsidized loans federal subsidized loans don’t accrue interest law students are enrolled in school so if they’re able to either pay that back before graduation or at least pay something towards that while they’re in school or something that helps that it’s going to accrue less interest after school because you’ll be paying back exactly what you borrowed if you were able to pay it off before graduation for example. So if it’s sort of a short term you know extenuating circumstances come up the subsidized loan is good for that because it’s not going to accrue interest during school and the unsubsidized loan does. But again they’re there for any other you know additional living expenses or educational expenses that are needed. The interest rates are relatively low I think for this upcoming year they’re going down to about four point something percent out of my head. But it’s you know there is a lot of other flexibility with that regarding having a six month grace period after graduation before repayment needs to happen. There are often other options for it for different repayment plans after schools. There’s a lot of flexibility there. But again while students are enrolled in school they have to make any payments on those loans. So if it’s a more short term need for example than student loans are still definitely a viable option there will always offer loans on Cal central in the order of best to to least preferable. So if students are trying to decide which loan to borrow if they do need a little bit of a loan amount they should always check with the first one that’s that’s in that list kind of chronologically because that’ll be the best loan offer to accept.
LV: Oh that’s good to know. And I know some students had the option in there to do work study. So what is work study how did they convert loans to work study is it available to everyone?
JS: So we’ll assign work study eligibility again based on the FAFSA DREAM Act application so that EFC expected family contribution that students will see after filing their application gives us the information we need to determine if they’re eligible for work study at that point if a student is eligible they’ll see it on their Cal central portal and they can go ahead and accept whatever amount of that works that they think they might use during the academic year. First my general advice would be even if you’re there kind of an inkling that you might use a work study. Definitely worth it to accept that work study offer just to make sure that those funds are available if you do find a work study job. If you don’t accept the work study job we can still offer it back later or I mean sorry accept the work study offer we can offer it back later. We can also convert that into additional loan if it’s needed on that side or if there’s a loan that students want to convert traditional work study w e can always do that too. That can be initiated on the Cal central Web site to do that conversion or students can just come ask us and we can help with that as well. But the short answer your question is that if students eligible for work study it they’ll see it posted on their Cal central award their letter and that way they’ll know if that’s that’s an option for them.
LV: And if a student is available for free offered work study how did they get a work study position?
JS :So there’ll be a link that says actually think it’ll say find a work study job right above the work study offer and that link students to our work study portal where they can begin submitting applications for work study as long as there is an accepted work study award and Cal Centro which basically just means it was offered and the student said yes I would like to possibly use work study. Then they then have access to go in and begin applying for work study jobs and once a semester starts.
LV: Is there anything the students have to worry about to stay in good standing in order to get their financial aid?
JS: Yes, so in financial aid we have what’s called satisfactory academic progress often just called SAP recipe. So SAP says there’s three different criteria that students need to make sure they’re meeting when we check at the end of every academic year. The first says that they have to have a GPA of at least 2.0 or higher cumulatively they have to complete 67 percent of the units that they attempt cumulatively. And then they also can attempt more than one hundred and eighty units for an undergraduate student which is kind of the cap for how many years they can attempt for financial aid. Those are kind of our three main SAP criteria. Now the entire SAP policy if students want to take a look at it they know what they need to do moving forward. You can just go to the finance website and just type in SAP. As AP it’ll pull up that whole policies that students know what they need to follow but in general it’s again completing 67 percent of attempted units keeping a 2.0 GPA higher and then being mindful of the 180 unit cap for undergraduate students.
LV: OK. And in a couple of weeks I think students might be possibly seeing something that’s a CFP on their CalCentral. Can you tell us what that means and if it’s something they need to be worried about?
JS: Yes CFP stands for cancellation for non-payment. It’s an office of the Registrar policy that says that students must make sure they’ve paid at least 20 percent of their tuition and fees in order to stay enrolled in their classes. So this alert will pop up at the very beginning of the semester but often it shows up before we’ve dispersed financial aid. So my first suggestion would be that if students see this message to first check and see if we’ve dispersed any aid if it’s early enough in August we probably haven’t. One thing students can do is they can add up all of the total fall financially they’re receiving. So Cal Central has a term view link that students can click on and it’ll show what they’re expected to receive each semester. My general advice add up all of those fall semester awards. So any grants or scholarships you’ve been offered. And then on top of that any loans that you’ve accepted and see if that’s greater than your tuition and fees or at least enough to meet 20 percent of your tuition and fees if that is then don’t really worry about the CNBC message as long as all of your documents are in and requirements are done like verifications and that sort of thing because then we’ll be able to disperse that aid in a timely manner to make sure it pays those fees which then makes the CFP no longer a concern. Now that being said it’s definitely still to heed that just in case that is seen and there maybe isn’t enough financial aid offer there or there are still requirements to complete if there’s still a verification it needs to be done. We want to make sure that’s done as soon as possible because that could delay the disbursement of financial aid and then that could lead to a cancellation for nonpayment scenario.
LV: Oh OK. And I should have asked us a little bit earlier on we are talking a little bit more about change in circumstance yes but is there any way for students to get emergency financial aid if the aid comes up?
JS: That’s actually what the next I want to say so I guess I’ll first speak to regarding the cancellation for non-payment is that if it’s a scenario where there’s still a verification that needs to be done or there’s some reason that the students are needing just a little more time to get that 20 percent covered. We have it’s called the emergency loan program. So emergency loans aren’t student loans. They’re they’re basically just a short term emergency fund to help with either living expenses in the short term or making sure those registration fees are covered. So if there is some reason that students are anticipating a delay in disbursement or there’s requirements that need to be completed one option is to complete the CO payable emergency loan for fees that will help cover 20 percent of the resident tuition and fees to get that cancellation for non-payment addressed. So that helps give a little more time. It does make sure that students get to keep their classes and that way they can wrap up any additional requirements. Otherwise if there are short term living expenses that students need help with. There’s also the living expense emergency loan. Students can request as well. And again it’s not a student loan it’s just basically a short term loan that would be charged to the Cal central account and then would meet need to pay back within 60 days. So that’s just the emergency loan program. There are some other programs as well. One more recently is the housing security award deposit so for students that may be having difficulty covering a security deposit for housing. We have an application that students can complete to request some additional assistance with getting a security deposit covered. So it’s a short term it’s kind of a loan scholarship in the way that you know students are not required to pay that back. We do ask that they do because that’s a self a self worth say. It’s basically the money goes right back into the fund and the student initiated fund. So we to make sure that resources are there so we can continue that program moving forward. But there’s an application process for that too if students need help with covering housing security deposit and then outside of that as well we also have the cost of attendance adjustment request so if there are other expenses outside of what are in the current budget we can always see if there’s additional loans or work study we can offer to help meet additional expenses if say for example rent is outside of our our standard budget. Say that the students were in a little bit higher than what we estimate it might be. They could submit that request to see if there’s any additional loan funding or work study funding we can offer to help meet those additional costs.
LV: Excellent. So it’s good to know that there are options out there. Well not exactly here and change course away from financial aid just a little later. Let’s talk about scholarships. So how do students find scholarships? Do you think it’s worth the time and the energy to apply for them? How many students get them?
JS: I would say it’s absolutely worth the time. Again like I mentioned earlier with 65 percent of students not graduating without loan debt a lot of that is due to scholarships that’s going out in applying for all sorts of outside scholarships that you know why I guess one website I would like to suggest is it scholarships that Berkeley that you do. The reason I suggest that when first it’s called our scholarship connections. So it has a filtering system where students can say I’m an incoming freshman I’m studying engineering I’m a U.S. citizen. They can check these different boxes and then pull up scholarships that just apply for those categories. Oh so another is for example for international students who are looking for scholarships. There’s an option for international students to check there and look for scholarships as well. And it filters out all just based on these general criteria and then gives a bunch of links to these different donors or different scholarship programs that students can go out and complete the application process. So it’s a nice landing page where compiles all this information and it’s a good searchable function that way it’s easy to find the ones that are the best fit for each student. And that’s just really one link or one Web site I would start with. Just go into the financial aid site and typing in scholarships will give you some other links to the more national databases that are out there things like the calumny Association other sorts of programs that have scholarships as well. But like you said it is there’s that process in doing the applications and reaching out and looking out for these applications. So it does take some work and some time but it’s all free money it’s money that you have to pay back after school. And so you have to pay to submit these applications you’re just investing a little bit of time and doing the application. So I would say it’s definitely worth it as the time is there, especially over the summer. Students can apply for scholarships anytime throughout their career so even if it’s not that summer before they come in as a freshman, even if it’s before sophomore junior senior year or anytime during the academic year I would say encourage students to apply at anytime whenever they can just to see what resources are out there for them.
LV: OK. I know it’s sadly was quite some time ago, but I didn’t have the resources to be able to easily look up scholarships. It’s nice to know that there’s a specific website out there that you can start with…and be able to narrow it down pretty easily it sounds like.
JS: Yeah exactly.
LV: And then again that was scholarships.berkeley.edu. And if you can get one piece of advice to his students about financial aid and scholarships, what would it be?
JS: I think the biggest piece of advice would be to ask questions. There’s a lot of things out there to learn and know about financial aid and scholarships. Really don’t be afraid to ask if there’s any question. I always say no I mean no question is a dumb question especially with financial aid there’s just a lot of pieces there. So if there’s anything that’s even remotely confusing or just you want to know more information please come ask us. We want to talk about it. We want to make it as easy of an experience as possible. Feel free to reach out to us. Again we’re we’re here in person we’re here over the phone we’re we’re here on line as well. You know just don’t be afraid to ask questions is what I would say.
LV: Thank you so much Joe for coming in and joining us. I really appreciate your time and hiking up here to my neck of the woods. And I know financial aid is such a big thing that so many students have to worry about and make sure that they’re able to pay to be here. And thank you everyone for tuning in. And if you’ve got any more questions make sure you check out the financial aid website. And we’re going to have links to everything that we talked about today on welcomengineer.berkeley.edu. We’ll be back next week with an overview of Golden Bear Orientation and why you’re gonna be excited about starting your time here at UC Berkeley. Thank you!