Financial assistance deadline nearing

The clock is ticking for students who want to apply for federal financial assistance to help defray costs of attending college next year.

The application process for FAFSA or the (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) started at the beginning of the year, but forms may be submitted until late June for the 2004-05 school year.

However students should try to get the federal application in as quickly as possible because it opens doors for supplemental funds which are usually available on a first-come, first-served basis, said Tresa England, financial aid director of Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC).

"I call it the foundation piece," England said of the FAFSA application. "Everything builds off that one application. Students should try to file as soon as possible to take advantage of other funding."

Funds for work-study scholarships and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants are doled out to the first students who apply for FAFSA application as dollars allow, England said.

Last year, CNCC distributed half a million-dollars in federal Pell grants to students at the college's five campuses. Pell grants, unlike a loan, do not have to be paid back. They are usually administered to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor's degree or professional degree. Next year's allocation is $4,050 a year, for students who qualify.

Through state, federal and local sources the college distributed a little more than $3 million last year for tuition scholarships, England said.

Moffat County residents who take classes at Craig CNCC campus can receive scholarships to cover tuition costs thanks to a voter-approved allocation of the county's mill levy.

Despite the tuition scholarships, books and other fees associated with the attending classes at CNCC add up, said nursing student Tanyse Moya.

She spent $800 this semester on books for her classes.

"I've been thinking about trying for financial aid for next year," she said.

Moya is considering attending school in Denver to receive a bachelor's degree in nursing upon graduation this summer from CNCC.

The CNCC Foundation is another avenue to help students offset education costs with tuition scholarships, said Marilyn Bouldin director of the CNCC nursing program.

The foundation is set to award 10 nursing students who applied for the assistance with a total of $2,000 in scholarships, she said.

Bouldin said some students find it difficult to pay college costs on top of other bills, like childcare costs.

"It's hard because (many students) gave up full-time jobs to go to school," Bouldin said. "They have living expenses and have to pay bills. Over half of them don't have health insurance because they can't afford it. It's a problem."

A number of deadlines have already passed for students looking for specific scholarships for entering colleges next year. But it's a good time for high school juniors and or first-year CNCC students to try their luck at earning scholarship dollars, said Jewel Gurule, administrative assistant to student services at CNCC.

"If students are looking for money and needing it, they should start looking now," Gurule said. "Most institutions have a pot of money and they're willing to give it to whoever applies and is eligible."

Gurule often advises students to check with potential colleges about available scholarships and loans. She also suggest students launch Web searches to seek out college dollars. Scholarship deadlines wind up by December for students who wish to attend college the following fall.

"There are so many options out there," Gurule said. "I'm hoping that a lot of students look into them and apply."

Whether you plan to attend a two- or four-year university or vocational college, you may have to fill out FAFSA to get most financial aid, said Lynn Tindall, chief operating officer for CollegeInvest student loans.

CollegeInvest is a not-for-profit division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Tindall said many potential financial aid applicants make the mistake of thinking they earn too much money to qualify.

Eligibility requirements for the federal assistance are determined on a variety of factors including an applicant's number of dependents, income level and other social indicators.

"In fact, statistics show that a vast majority of people in various income brackets qualify -- including those who make more than $100,000 a year," Tindall said. "Whatever student aid you need, the FAFSA is a critical early step."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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