Chelsea Asplund/The AS Review
Every quarter a procession of students lines the second floor of Old Main, all with different stories but one similar question: Where is my money?
More than 50 percent of Western undergraduates took out loans last year, according to the Financial Aid Office.
Financial Aid Director Clara Capron said students have problems with financial aid for various reasons, and many of these problems are preventable.
She said students commonly have trouble with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a form that students must submit every year to determine their eligibility for aid.
“What we’re telling students is to fill out their FAFSAs now,” she said. “Do not wait for federal tax returns, you can make corrections later. Meet that priority deadline so it does not cost you.”
The deadline for the FAFSA this year is Feb. 15, and students are more likely to have fewer problems the sooner they turn the form in, Capron said. She added that regulatory requirements for receiving federal aid change every year, and her office has to do its best to follow them.
“We are constantly striving to meet those regulations,” she said. “There are times when the office seems overly detailed and rigorous in their data collection. The matter is really a compliance issue.”
For senior Kristina Butler, her experience with financial aid has been both rewarding and frustrating.
“One quarter my financial aid disbursement was so late that I could not start my work study position until the last two quarters of school,” she said. “That also meant that I had to pay late fees to the school for something that was entirely outside of my control.”
Butler, a general studies major, is one many students who have worked on campus in work-study positions, which are awarded through financial aid. Over 700 students held work-study positions last year, according to the Financial Aid Office.
“I know that there are virtually no other ways to work with such a large number of students, but something needs to change.” Butler said.
Capron said that financial aid staff members hold unique positions, since they are able to help students change their financial situations for the better. Capron said students are not always aware of the help that is available.
“Given sufficient resources, we can make it possible for a student to stay in school,” she said. “We have the ability to make professional judgment decisions to make exceptions to regulations to help students in unique situations.”
Those unique situations could include students who have lost their jobs, students whose parents are out of work or other personal circumstances.
“If someone finds themselves in a unique financial situation, even if it happens in mid-year, come in. We can make adjustments on documented information they provide. We are here for them and can recalculate aid based on our judgment,” she said.
This happened to Butler when she found out that her loans could not cover her living expenses.
“I went to speak to my financial adviser about not having enough money to live, despite working full time and going to school at the same time,” Butler said. “She was able to get me some extra funds that helped to pay for tuition and leave a little left over for me.”
Sophomore Alanna Francis said her biggest issue surrounding financial aid has been the lack of answers to questions regarding her loans.
“What’s frustrating is when people you talk to can’t give you a proper answer, or they give you the wrong one,” she said. “Only when I made an appointment with a head person could I receive the recommendations I needed.”
Francis said the system itself is the problem. She and many of her friends are left waiting for over a week for their aid every year. Capron had a couple of suggestions for students. She said to respond as soon as possible to requests from the Financial Aid Office for more information.
Students also need to be aware of important due dates for grants and scholarships, the majority of which will be posted by mid-February.
Capron also said that students on financial aid should consider working part time since it looks great to employers when a student works his or her way through college.
While the process of financial aid can be stressful and tedious now, Capron said students should not feel any guilt or shame in taking out loans because all of it is worth it in the end.
“Some students may think that borrowing is inherently bad, it isn’t,” Capron said. “Borrowing to fund your education will constitute a great return on your investment in the long run.”