Many Eligible Students Overlook Student Aid

Olga Ramaz

Tenny Baghdasari Chalian, a 22-year-old psychology major, who is currently taking a full load of classes, cannot imagine what it would be like to attend college without receiving financial aid.

“You can’t work full-time when you are a full-time student,” she said. “I’m here [on campus] every day, so I need financial aid to pay for gas, books and food.”

Baghdasari Chalian is just one of the many students on campus benefiting from financial aid.

But despite the fact that the financial aid office goes to great lengths to promote the various financial opportunities that are available to them, many eligible students on campus still refrain from applying for aid.

So far, 8,600 students have submitted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), according to Patricia Hurley, Financial Aid Office Director. These numbers are the same as they were last year, but Hurley expects the number of applicants to reach the 12,000 mark by the end of the semester.

Last year, approximately 9,300 students qualified for a Board of Governor’s fee waiver (BOG) and about 5,000 students received additional federal and state grants ranging from $400 to $6,000.

However, Hurley is still concerned that not enough students are applying for aid.

Financial aid is meant to ease some of the financial costs that come with attending college. The money awarded to the students can be used for tuition, books and materials, among other expenses.

Hurley believes that if students were to apply for financial aid, “eligible students may be able to reduce work hours [outside of school] to allow more time for classes and studying.”

Most importantly, Hurley said that the student will be able to “reduce the pressure of worrying about how to pay for books and other expenses.”

“You can’t afford everything with [a part-time job that pays] $7.50 an hour, so you need that extra help from somewhere,” said Baghdasari Chalian.

Two of the financial aid options available to the student are the FAFSA form and the
BOG fee waiver.

The FAFSA is a form that can be filled out annually by current and anticipating university and/or college students, and sometimes parents, to determine their eligibility for federal aid. The aid includes eligibility for grants, loans and work-study programs.

This form consists of several questions regarding the student’s finances, as well as those of the parents or legal guardian. It’s the extensive questions like these that can seem overwhelming to the students. Hurley concurs, but does not believe that the paperwork involved to fill out a FAFSA should be a deterrent when it comes to receiving aid.

“Students may think that the process is complicated and don’t take the time to really look at the FAFSA,” she said. “However, once you get into it, it is not as complicated as it looks.”

The financial aid office offers assistance on a drop-in basis for students who want help completing the FAFSA form. Workshops geared to help students fill out the FAFSA form were once offered, but due to lack of interest by the students, they were replaced by one-on-one counseling.

Yet, in spite of all the help, complaints from the student body arise when it comes to the FAFSA, especially after the form has been submitted.

“I didn’t apply [for financial aid],” said Alejandra Mejia, an 18-year-old student who is new to the campus, but familiar with the financial aid process.

Mejia’s older sister has applied for financial aid in the past but has not filled out an application this year. She said that just seeing her sister go through “all that paperwork is irritating.”

“My sister submitted [all of the paperwork] on time but they kept giving her the forms she had turned in already,” said Mejia. “She had to wait, which sucked, because she really needed the money.”

According to Dennis Schroeder, assistant director of the Financial Aid Office, once the FAFSA has been submitted, the most common complaints by the student are; time, eligibility and inconveniences.

Why does it take so long to apply and receive financial aid?

“The financial aid process can be a long process,” said Schroeder. “[That is why] starting early is always suggested.”

Why did I only get $xxx in financial aid, while my friend got more?

Although some students may think that their financial situation is similar to that of their peers, the truth of the matter is that eligibility varies and is based on the results of either the BOG fee waiver application or the FAFSA.

I turned in the form you requested last week, then you requested a new form? Why do you need more information now?

Schroeder said that the financial aid office usually does not need much follow up information for students who have already submitted their initial application. However, occasionally they will need to follow up with students who submit additional documentation “due to discrepancies or incomplete information.”

By law, the college is required to verify at least 30 percent of its financial aid applicants.

He also said that this additional follow up may extend the length of the process, but he stresses that this is often “the only way” for the financial aid office to get to the point where they are “comfortable” in awarding financial aid to any given student.

Baghdasari Chalian thinks it’s good that the financial aid office takes measures in following up on FAFSA forms. She said that this process is a good way to ensure that “the ones who really need [aid] are getting it” as well as a way to prevent aid from falling into “the wrong hands.”

The BOG fee waiver is usually the first step in receiving aid. For the most part, if a student is eligible for a BOG, they will most likely be eligible to receive federal assistance.

A BOG fee waiver is an application that waives enrollment fees, provided by the state, for students who have been California residents for more than one year. There are three BOG types; A, B and C. To be awarded a BOG A, one must be able to provide proof of TANF/Cal Works, SSI or General Relief benefits, if one is a recipient of these. To be awarded a BOG B, one must provide income and household size information by completing section B on the back of the BOG application.

All income information must be complete and accurate, in order to be eligible. Sometimes students may be required to submit tax returns and/or other verifying documents. A BOG C can be obtained by students if they are not eligible for BOG’s A or B. BOG C requires students to complete a 2007-2008 FAFSA and mailing it to the address indicated on the form. Once students receives a 2007-2008 Student Aid Report, they are asked to bring it the financial aid office along with their completed BOG, to see if they are eligible for BOG C aid.

Students can submit their BOG application and find out, on the spot, if they are eligible. The financial aid office staff can usually determine eligibility based on the students income information.

According to Hurley, most students on campus think that the BOG is the only aid they can qualify for. However, based on the family income reported on the BOG application, the Financial Aid Office knows that many students who fulfill the BOG criteria would also be eligible for additional financial aid, if only they filed a FAFSA form.

“[The] $20 per unit enrollment fee [waived by the BOG] is usually the smallest expense of attending GCC,” said Hurley. “We estimate that books, transportation and living expenses cost students and their families approximately between $4,000 and $6,000 each semester.”

In addition, Hurley said that by not filling out a FAFSA, those students who are eligible to receive aid are missing out on as much as $6,000 in grants or student loans that could help them pay for expenses they will no doubt encounter during the school year.

In spite of all the monetary assistance available, a question comes to mind, “why are more students not applying for aid?”
Baghdasari Chalian blames the “negative stigma” that surrounds applying for financial aid.

“[Some] students think that it’s something negative to receive financial aid,” she said. “It’s stupid if you think that because, you do need that extra help. I can’t imagine coming to school without receiving financial aid.”

Schroeder, however, believes that students may be hesitant to apply for aid because “students (and sometimes parents) don’t want to supply or obtain all of the information needed to complete financial aid applications.” The other reason Schroeder believes is behind student hesitance is their preconceived notion that they will not be eligible to receive aid.

“In the cases where students presume they won’t qualify, our office staff will explain that they should apply anyway,” he said. “If a student never applies, we’ll never know what they could have been eligible for.”

He added that at a community college, applying for aid may not be as critical, “but when a student transfers to a four-year college or university, applying for all or any kind of financial aid becomes important because of the increased costs.”
Both Hurley and Schroeder agree that students should apply for financial aid each year.

“Apply and apply early,” exclaimed Schroeder. “Don’t count yourself out [and] if you have any questions, come to the financial aid office. We’re here to help.”
The financial aid office is located in the San Fernando complex, room 110. Drop in hours are Monday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. To obtain more information on the financial aid office, or to download financial aid forms, visit