Steps simple to find help paying for community college

Published: July 19, 2009

The Daily Press

Applying for money to attend classes at Thomas Nelson Community College isn’t nearly as complicated as you might think, and there’s guidance available at every step, says Kathie Anderson.

Anderson’s the college’s director of financial aid, veterans’ affairs and scholarships. It’s where financial aid of all types stops and starts. Anderson outlined the steps for a prospective student coming in with no money for classes. The goal is to exhaust every possible avenue for free money.

“The first thing we try to explain to students is it’s not that difficult if they follow the instructions,” Anderson said.

The first step is filling out the FAFSA — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Once that’s been done, students are in the college’s financial aid system and will be guided step by step, with all communications coming through e-mail.

Anderson recommends that students use the online FAFSA application because doing so cuts down on errors.

The deadline for submitting the FAFSA for the spring semester is Nov. 1, but students can do so now and start the process. They may also continue to apply after the deadline, although the chances of receiving aid diminish.

A response is typically sent back to the college within four to five days, telling financial aid officials how much aid that particular student is eligible to receive.

TNCC’s office tries to find combinations of funding that will cover tuition, fees and books for a full year, Anderson said. This includes aid and grants at the federal and state level, scholarships, student loans and work-study.

If that’s not enough to cover expenses, officials will look to other avenues in an effort to discourage students from borrowing money for classes.

“If for some reason there’s no other alternative, we will give them information as to, ‘You’ve exhausted all your funds that we can award to you’ — here’s a private loan that you may want to consider, but please consider it as a last resort,” Anderson said.

Common myths, Anderson said, include that students must be full-time to be eligible for financial aid and that students in certificate programs aren’t eligible. Those in certificate programs of 16 credits or more that have been approved by the college board are eligible, as are any students taking six credits or more.

Her other advice: Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and beware of paying for services you can get for free.

“I tell students that you can use that hundred bucks for something a lot more important than applying for financial aid when there is a Web site that’s free,” Anderson said.

TNCC’s Web site links directly to the official government FAFSA Web site, other free scholarship applications and veterans’ benefits.

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Comment from Samuel Freeman II - October 31, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Hello I am a veteren who would like to increase my level of knowledge and skills I would like to take the money free route and willing to do what is necessary to acheive success at this goal. I would like to schedule a appointment to meet to discuss my options thanks for your time i look forward to your response.