The Free Application for Financial Student Aid, or FAFSA as it is most commonly known, is vital to helping low-income students be able to afford the expenses that come with higher education.
At Stan State, 55 percent of students are eligible for some type of aid and 73 percent of students qualify as first-generation. This means that the Financial Aid and Scholarship Office is extremely important in ensuring that over half of our students get the funds they need in order to attend our university.
Amidst a global pandemic, record numbers of unemployment, no rent forgiveness, and just one stimulus check expected to last us seven months and counting, students now depend on FAFSA more than ever. However, students have been encountering some problems with FAFSA this year.
“This year, in particular, I have heard from more students than ever that they still haven’t received their financial aid,” said Savanah Ledford (credential student, Liberal Studies).
Ledford also explained her frustration with the document processing wait time.
“I’ve been waiting three months to see what financial aid I’m eligible for. I’ve turned in all my documents...they say 6-8 weeks and it’s already been that time.”
Other students like Jessica Jimenez (senior, Child Development) also shared her frustration with the wait time, “They told me it’d take 6-8 weeks when before they used to give me a time frame of 2-4 weeks.”
Noelia Gonzales, Director of Admission and Financial Aid, explained the various reasons behind the extended processing time this year.
One of the big differences this year, compared to the previous years is that the office is closed which means that everything is done either online or on the phone. Now, students are not able to get face to face assistance like previous years.
“We can’t look at documents and check them before they are submitted anymore. We don’t have a second pair of eyes,” explained Gonzales.
Before, students could have their forms checked and someone would help them if they were missing information. This is why a lot of students are now struggling in the document processing phase. It’s not that they didn’t turn in the form, it’s that they’re filled out incorrectly.
Currently, after turning in a form, the processing time is 2-3 weeks for it to be cleared from your to-do list and then an extra 6-8 weeks for your aid to be determined.
Gonzales also explained that students are flooding their email, sending multiple emails a week, or some even daily. “We’ve had to set up an automatic response email because of the amount of emails we get.” They are getting around 500-600 emails a day.
This is a problem in the sense that replying to emails is very time-consuming and sometimes, “four different people end up replying to the same person.”
Gonzales assured us that your email or phone call will get answered. Sending multiple emails or voice messages takes up their time and deters them from processing your documents, and everyone else’s, faster.
Another reason for this extended wait time is that some students did not check their portal or email during summer, so now a lot of students are turning in late documents at the same time. A big part of this is that the university switched over from Gmail to Outlook, so some students did not get the email notification.
For students who will be applying for FAFSA next year, Gonzales suggests that you fill everything out as soon as possible to avoid any worries or stress. Applications open on October 1.
Gonzales also suggests keeping an eye out on your portal and email, especially over summer, and to remember to fill out the forms completely, particularly the Household Verification Form, which is the one students struggle with the most.
For students who are still currently turning in forms and are worried about receiving aid, Gonzales assured us that you will receive it.
Forms can be mailed, faxed, turned in online, or dropped off at the drop box in front of the office. Gonzales suggests the fastest way to turn in forms is online, on their virtual upload box which can be accessed here.
If you have any questions you can call, email, or schedule a zoom appointment with a financial advisor.
“Zoom appointments are convenient because it’s the closest we get to the face-to-face meetings that we had back then. They’re more personal. Also, they’re only 30 minutes,” explained Gonzales.
Assistance on campus is also available to students who are struggling. We have the Warrior Food Pantry open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. We also Have CalFresh that is accessible through your student portal or by clicking here.
Other programs available on campus include the Cares Program, funded by Student Affairs, which offers emergency assistance to students on campus. Another program is the Short Term Loan Program on behalf of the Financial Aid and Scholarship Office. This program is basically an advancement of your Financial Aid. They give you the money you need now and when your aid is available they just subtract whatever they have already given you from your totals for the year. No interest is deducted. It’s just an early disbursement of your own money. For more information just call the Financial Aid Office at (209) 667-3336.
As Gonzales put it, “There’s a lot of you guys and not a lot of us.”
It’s important to be patient and kind to those who work in Financial Aid. Most are working from home and working over 8-hour shifts. They have kids they have to care for. They have our best interest in mind and understand what this aid means to low-income, first-generation students.
Yelling and cursing at them won’t process your documents or get you your aid any faster. Flooding their email and calling multiple times won’t speed up the process, it’ll slow it down.
Please be kind and courteous to them, they are trying their best.