Financial Aid changes affect students

Prospective Palo Alto student inquires about financial aid.

By Diana Castro, Pulse staff writer

Choosing a major is crucial if you want to graduate on time and if you want to save money. If you don’t have a major chosen, don’t worry. Not everyone knows when he or she starts college, but don’t wait too long as the new rules for Financial Aid will affect you.

PAC sophomore Nadia Ortiz said, “I thought I heard something about the change. I received a notice in my ACES email about reaching a limit, and I went to the Financial Aid office, signed a form and got my money. I didn’t ask any questions.”

On July 1, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education put a $5,645 cap on the 2013-2014 school year. This cap is based on your financial need, your plan to attend school a full year or less, cost of attendance and whether you are a full-time or a part-time student.

The biggest change is that you now will only be able to receive financial aid for six full years.  This means that once you hit six years of support, you will no longer be eligible.

The government has kept track of all financial aid students have received. You may view the detailed information by logging onto the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), which will show you you’re “Lifetime Eligibility Used”. Once you reach 600 percent, which equals six years, the aid will end.

Students like Ortiz will now have to watch how they are using their financial aid money. She plans to attend a university in the Fall of 2014 and has realized that she will be out of aid when she finishes the upcoming Spring 2014 semester.

“I’m a mom of four kids,” she said. “How am I going to pay next year’s tuition, and I’m barely making it with my job now? I didn’t realize I only had so much aid that would help me.”

Shirley Leija, associate director of Student Financial Aid at Palo Alto, said, “We tell our students that it is key to talk to a faculty adviser and get their degree plan locked in. It is ultimately the student’s choice if they want to use all of their aid at a community college or at a university.”

Now is the time to look into scholarships, grants or loans. Visit Leticia Inocencio, senior coordinator, alumni and scholarships adviser in the Center for Academic Transitions. She will help guide you in the right direction to get you the right scholarships for your degree.

“Students don’t check their ACES emails announcing scholarships,” said Micaela “Micky” Sanchez, adviser for job placement at the Center for Academic Transitions. “There are announcements emailed to students, posted in our office and on the TV screens around campus.”

Sanchez also said that students should be resourceful and visit the PAC website to view the scholarships available before calling to schedule an appointment with Inocencio at (210) 486-3118.

Research your degree plan, visit with your faculty adviser and take the necessary classes to graduate so that you are prepared for the years ahead.