Aid offices

Jennifer Niemela

While the very words “financial aid” can strike confused fear into the hearts of freshmen and upper-classmen alike, don’t despair. The puzzle does have a solution.
The percentage of students who collect some form of aid to help finance their education has grown to almost 50 percent of the student body. And all that paperwork shuffles — sometimes fast, sometimes slow — through the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid in Frasier Hall.
The type of financial aid offered at the University falls into two categories: grants or scholarships that don’t need to be paid back; and loans, which are borrowed from the state or federal government and require a repayment schedule that starts six months after a student either graduates or drops below part-time status, which is six credits per quarter.
One of the most common misconceptions freshmen and their parents have is that they’ll be required to pay tuition when they register, said Judy Swanson, associate director of financial aid. In fact, students aren’t billed for tuition until later in the quarter, so they’ll have time to get their financial aid squared away before billing.
The first step in getting a loan or grant money is filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, referred to as a FAFSA in University-speak. This form will tell the University how much money the student is eligible for. It also tells the University whether to award the student a subsidized loan, where the government pays the interest, or an unsubsidized loan, where the student is responsible for the interest.
Another misconception students commonly have is they won’t qualify for a loan because their parents make too much money.
“Everybody can get a loan,” Swanson said.
There are loans that aren’t based on need and are available to everybody. These are generally unsubsidized loans where the student pays the interest.
When a loan is disbursed to a student, the money goes into his or her STARS account. STARS stands for Student Accounts Receivable System. This account pays a student’s tuition; any money left over is paid directly to a student for expenses like room and board or books.
It’s important for a student to report to OSFA any other scholarships or other outside aid he or she is receiving so his or her financial aid can be adjusted accordingly. If a student doesn’t report their outside contributions and the University overawards him or her, the student can be billed for the excess.
University-sponsored grants and scholarships are available through the admissions office or through the individual colleges within the University.
Financial aid counselors are available during business hours on a walk-in or call-in basis. Most students use OSFA’s phone service (624-1665) to get answers to their financial aid questions, Swanson said. She added that if a student has a more complex problem, he or she can make a half-hour appointment with a counselor.
The office also has a World Wide Web page at www.umn.edu/tc/students/finances/aid.
“We know it can be confusing,” Swanson said of financial aid. “We want students to feel comfortable and not hesitate to call and ask questions.”