East Tennessee State University Associate Director of Student Financial Aid Blake Hopson said it’s important for students to fill out their forms as early as possible to alleviate the stress of the process and receive the appropriate amount of aid needed.
Hopson said the FAFSA is “essentially the student’s gateway to all federal financial aid,” which can include federal loans, grants and work-study positions.
“For a Tennessee student who would otherwise qualify for the Tennessee HOPE or lottery scholarship, they wouldn’t be eligible for that unless they completed the FAFSA, so it’s very important for students to file that,” he said. “I think it’s important for students to understand there’s not an unlimited amount of federal and state aid. Some of those funds are on a first-come, first-serve basis. We don’t want our students to miss out on those opportunities, so we want them to fill out that FAFSA early.”
Tips for the initial application process
Hopson said students first must always be aware that Oct. 1 is the day the FAFSA opens every year. Students should have their Social Security number, federal income tax returns and W2s, bank statements and other “records of investments” on hand. Hopson said it’s also important to reach out and ask for help when needed.
“They need to use the resources available to them, such as their financial aid counselor. For instance, here at ETSU, each student has their own counselor that’s available to assist them Monday through Friday from 8 (a.m.) to 4:30 (p.m.),” he said. “For students who are first-time filers of this FAFSA and even those that are completing it as a returner, just making sure that they know they have support at the institution is also a great thing students should utilize.”
Know the difference between loans
Hopson said the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans must be considered for students filing for financial aid. While both can carry the same interest rates, he said the main difference is that a subsidized loan does not accrue interest while the student is in school, whereas an unsubsidized loan does.
“The great thing is that when students graduate, the repayment on both of those loans doesn’t start until six months after the student graduates,” he said.
Consider how much you need
Hopson said the university does what it can to “promote financial literacy,” and doesn’t recommend students accept every loan offered if they aren’t needed.
“Students should definitely take advantage of any grants and scholarships that they would qualify for first, and they should look at their remaining bill,” he said. “They should definitely take into consideration any living expenses, food expenses or any other education-related expenses they may need.
“Student loan debt is not bad debt. It’s an investment into the student’s future, but as a new student thinking about student loans, they need to be thinking about their career choice and potential salaries that they would be making after they graduate and borrowing smartly,” he said. “We don’t want students to take out the maximum amount of student loans if they know the salary they would be making 1-3 years after college would not be feasible enough to pay those loans back, so looking ahead into the future is a good tip.”
ETSU students who need additional FAFSA tips and helpful resources can visit www.etsu.edu/finaid.