For many students at Whatcom Community College, the financial aid process is unfamiliar, stressful and confusing. The lines pouring out into the halls of the Laidlaw Center in the first days of the quarter show many students on the verge of either receiving funding for school or just missing it.
Student aid can take up to nine weeks to arrive. It is a process with many stages, forms to fill out and waiting periods in between.
“It’s actually really easy,” said Ira Pradmore, a representative of the financial aid office. “There are a lot of resources students need to take advantage of.” He says that if students read the directions, 90 percent of the problems would be weeded out.
Pradmore’s best advice is to start early. Students can start the first step, the FAFSA, (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as January 1 for the upcoming 2012-2013 school year and have their funding in place as early as mid-March, giving them six months of safety room and time to face other problems that may arise.
An e-mail will be sent to any student with a completed FAFSA showing the amount of aid they qualify for.
“Students think that’s the amount they have,” said Nick Eastwood, another financial aid representative, “but we still need to follow up the process on the school’s end.”
Students then need to give authorization to WCC. “Until then there’s nothing we can do with it,” says Pradmore.
The best thing to do is to go into the financial aid office and touch base with them. Eastwood says that they try to point students in the right direction to do the process on their own.
“I bugged them until they told me what I wanted to hear,” said Taras Pavlyuk, a student at Whatcom who received financial aid two days before classes began.
“Stressful is a good way to describe it,” said Pavlyuk. He filled out his FAFSA online then followed up with the financial aid office, face to face, and found them to be very helpful.
The financial aid portal on WCC’s website is a resource for students to see all aspects of what they will need to receive funding. “What we need from you,” is one such link, showing which forms are necessary for aid to process.
“We like people to read through all of it,” said Pradmore. “If you don’t follow instructions you could miss out on a quarter or two.”
Students make the common mistake of thinking they are set to go when in actuality something has gone wrong and the financial aid office has tried to contact them with the developments. Pradmore suggests when checking your e-mail for notifications, also check your spam folder, where a lot of e-mails from the financial aid office end up.
Once you have a completed FAFSA, filled out all the forms from the school’s side and waited the allotted time, the financial aid office is then able to tell students what they are truly eligible for through WCC. At this point in the process, students may then be able to request their funding.
“Once you get used to it, it’s not so hard,” said Heather Wilde, another Whatcom student. “Just do it, it’s not fun but you just have to do it.”