Financial Aid Basics for Families

COVID-19 Resources and Updates, Parent & Family Newsletter | 04/29/2020

Natalie Hester
State Organizing Director, Stand for Children Washington

PARENTS & FAMILIES NEWSLETTER 

Below is the seventh edition of our Parents & Families newsletter for the 2019-20 school year. If you'd like to receive this monthly in your email inbox, sign up here.

You can read our past newsletters here.

I hope you and your family are finding balance right now between school and play, work and parenting, or self-care and childcare. I know that for my family, the reality we’re living in has made it difficult to see beyond the immediate future. But I’m also reassured that our world is continuing forward together, and that doesn’t mean we’re staying on pause forever. 

Colleges and career training programs are still welcoming new students, and financial aid for those programs is still available. Which means that if you or your child had plans before the pandemic to continue your education, you can still continue making plans now.

Especially with the economic uncertainty so many of us are facing right now, the questions and conversations about how to afford education are ever-present. But fortunately, as a resident of Washington, you have incredible options at your fingertips.

You’re not alone in having questions or concerns about paying for college and career training. As we approach the ‘typical’ end of the school year, I’m going to spend the next three newsletters discussing the basics of Financial Aid and sharing resources that will be useful for you and your child. Here are some basics to get you started today:

Filling out your application: two simple truths

Fortunately, the initial step of seeking financial aid is also the most important: filling out your application (it’s free!). In Washington, you’ll fill out either the FAFSA or, if you are not eligible to complete the FAFSA due to immigration status, the WASFA -  if your student is undocumented, you can still receive state aid!

The first simple truth is that you won’t know what financial aid you qualify for until you fill out your application. If you or your student are concerned that they won’t be eligible to receive funding for college or career training, you can remind them (and yourself) that you won’t know for sure until you apply.

Apply Now for Financial Aid

If you need help with your application, there’s an entire organization dedicated to helping you figure it out. The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) is supported by our state government and driven by their mission to advance educational opportunities and attainment in Washington. They are available to chat via email at finaid@wsac.org or you can ask questions via their new Otterbot texting service! Otterbot is designed to help Washington high school seniors navigate financial aid for college and career education. Students can access Otterbot via text message 24 hours a day, seven days a week by texting "Hi Otter" to 360-928-7281.

The second simple truth is that it’s not too late. You can fill out your financial aid application right now and find out which state financial aid programs you qualify for. Financial aid isn’t just for those seeking a four-year degree.

For example, we are fortunate in our state to have the new, nationally-recognized Washington College Grant (formerly the State Need Grant), which is the most generous and flexible state financial aid in the country and makes education and training beyond high school affordable. More families are eligible, and more programs and types of credentials are included. And it’s not too late to apply! There is no separate application for the grant - the only way to know if you qualify is to fill out your FAFSA or WASFA.

Additionally, we also have the College Bound Scholarship. This program was created in 2007 to provide state financial aid to students from families with limited income who may not consider college a possibility due to the cost. The scholarship covers tuition, some fees, and a small book allowance.

Eligibility for the scholarship is a two-part process. Students in 7th or 8th grade whose family meets the income requirements must submit and complete an application by June 30 of the student’s 8th grade year. Then students must meet the College Bound Pledge requirements and income-eligibility as determined by the student’s financial aid application (FAFSA or WASFA) in their senior year of high school. 

Again, the most important thing to know is that it’s not too late to apply for financial aid. In addition to these two programs, there are additional federal grants, work-study programs, and scholarships available. But they all require that you fill out your application, so that’s the first step that you and your student can do today.

COVID-19 Impact on Financial Aid

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures, high schools and colleges are being flexible about everything from graduation requirements to SAT/ACT testing. Even your financial aid may be adjusted if your circumstances have changed. Washington Student Achievement Council has resources for students applying for financial aid amidst this public health crisis, available here. 

Here are three important things to know:

  • Even with the economic impact we’re facing, the Washington College Grant is guaranteed funding in the 2020-21 academic year. So you should still apply for financial aid!
  • The College Bound scholarship application deadline is currently still June 30th, which is important if you have an 8th grader right now. You can start your application here. 
  • If someone in your family has lost a job or is working less, colleges may be able to provide more financial aid. If you’ve already filed a 2020-21 FAFSA or WASFA, talk to the financial aid office at the college you will be attending about your situation. If you haven’t applied for financial aid, it’s not too late. First submit your application, then follow up with the college you plan to attend.

If you have additional questions about financial aid, please don’t hesitate to respond to this email, contact WSAC at finaid@wsac.wa.gov or call them at 888.535.0747, option 3.

Our team also recently hosted an online workshop called College Debt Management, and you can watch the recording of it on-demand here.

We’ve also just launched a Financial Aid resource page that has all of this information and more, which you can view and share here: https://stand.org/washington/action/financial-aid-washington

We’re offering free, online parent and family workshops every Thursday afternoon at 4pm. If you’d like to come to our next one, you can see the full workshop calendar here.

If you hadn’t heard it lately: you’re doing a great job. No matter how much school the kids are doing (or are not doing) or how clean the house is or how much you have it together (or don’t), your commitment to your kids is evident in all that you do. By being a part of the Stand family, you’ve already made a difference in their life. Let me know if you have any additional questions. Talk soon.

Natalie

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