By Bob Collins, Vice President of Financial Aid
Every April during Financial Literacy Month, we promote ways to learn about financial principles to help you develop and maintain financial wellness. With the pandemic creating an urgent need for immediate help, this year we’re going to focus on how to manage your financial aid during a time of crisis. Education is still the surest path to new skills and a good job, and—despite the current hardships so many students are experiencing—there is help to ensure your education can go on and you can achieve your goal of a degree without sacrificing the needs of yourselves and your families.
As the Vice President of Financial Aid for WGU and a financial aid administrator for many decades, I have made it my mission to help students and families understand their options to finance higher education in the most affordable and responsible way. To support you during this time, I am sharing three tips you can take immediately to help you understand your current financial situation and continue pursuing your education.
File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Whether you’re a current student or thinking about pursuing higher education, you must complete the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for federal student aid, state grants, and institutional aid. Completing this federal application is the first step to prepare you to make an informed decision on how to finance your education based on your personal situation.
Financial literacy is about understanding your financial resources and being able to apply them to your life. Filling out your FAFSA is a necessary step to understand the financial resources that may be available to you to finance your education. Read my blog from last year for everything you need to know to file the FAFSA.
Get to know your existing loans and options.
Often, financial literacy is simply knowing where to go for help. For students with existing federal financial aid, I encourage you to review online resources such as the Federal Student Aid website to get information on any existing federal student loans. WGU students should also consult the financial services toolbox in the student portal for personal resources to navigate the financial aid process.
During times when you may experience loss of income or unusual expenses, you may have the option of amending your FAFSA to reflect your current financial situation. Demonstrating a loss in income or unexpected expenses can free up more financial resources in the form of grants—which don’t have to be paid back—and access to federal student loans with favorable terms. Making the amendment to your FAFSA and freeing up more financial aid may be what you need to continue or start your studies during times of financial hardship. This unusual circumstance appeal must be done through a financial aid administrator, so contact your school’s financial aid department. WGU students should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to evaluate this option.
Search for free money — scholarships and grants.
Many students may have access to federal and state grants—money that doesn’t have to be paid back. You must determine your eligibility to access this grant aid, so make sure you complete the first step, filing the FAFSA.
Additionally, many colleges and universities offer scholarships to students in need to help pay tuition. WGU students who are experiencing financial hardship may be eligible for additional assistance. I encourage you to contact the financial aid office at email@example.com with a brief statement of your current situation. We’d be happy to assist you. For those of you who are evaluating going back to school, I encourage you to review our financial aid programs and scholarships that will help you access high-quality, online higher education.
Finally, there are many scholarships that are available to individuals from federal, state, and local programs, as well as private endowments. Scholarships have unique requirements based on individual profiles and needs. To search for relevant scholarships, WGU students can create a personal profile in ScholarshipUniverse, which is located on the student portal in the Financial Toolbox under the Financial Services tab. Take extra time completing your personal profile for best results. The U.S. Department of Labor also has a free scholarship search tool that is available for anyone seeking financial help for school.
The disruptions to our daily lives caused by the coronavirus pandemic may seem daunting, but as we continue to navigate the complexities of it all, know that there are resources to help you. The key takeaway during Financial Literacy Month 2020 is to get to know your available resources. Fill out the FAFSA, understand your loans and payment options, and know that there are free financial resources available to help you continue your dream of advancing your education and career.