Column: Bridges Project for Education

One of the last steps in the college and post-secondary application process is reviewing, interpreting and making decisions based on the financial aid award letter students will receive after gaining acceptance to a school to which they've applied. The financial aid package will be sent by the prospective school, either via mail, e-mail or through a college's online student portal. For most prospective students, cost will be a determining factor in selecting a post-secondary program.

Let's break down the financial aid package in this article, so whether you are in the process currently, or thinking about the possibility of post-secondary education, you can be prepared to make the best decisions for yourself and your education.

To receive a financial aid award offer, applicants will have already completed a 2021-2022 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The information from this application determines the types of financial aid each school offers the students they have accepted, and how much a student can expect to pay out of pocket. When a student chooses to attend a particular school, they can accept all or part of the offered aid package. Bridges encourages students to scrutinize all financial aid letters and pay particular attention to any loans that are part of it. Students must carefully consider their future ability to repay loans to which they commit.

Types of aid

Grants, work-study and scholarships are money for school that do not need to be repaid. Students with financial need may be eligible for all or part of a Federal Pell Grant. Incentive grants for New Mexico residents with financial need who choose to study within the state at eligible schools might be awarded. The Federal Work-Study Program provides financial aid to students with need in exchange for on-campus employment.

Scholarships can be based on financial need, merit or both. NM residents who graduated from NM high schools or Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) training programs, and meet certain requirements, can earn the Lottery Scholarship for use at an in-state public school. This scholarship begins in the second semester of a student's first year, as long as they maintain full-time status and a 2.5+ GPA. Learn more about the Lottery Scholarship: bridgesproject.org.

Repayment

All loans must be repaid. Loans can be:

• subsidized (for undergraduate students; interest is paid by the U.S. Department of Education while the student is enrolled.)

• unsubsidized (for undergraduate, graduate and professional students; interest accrues from the moment a person signs the lender agreement)

• or a PLUS loan (for parents of undergraduate students, as well as graduate and professional students; interest accrues as soon as one signs the lender agreement).

Learn more about the many types of financial aid, including aid for military families or international study, at studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types

Financial aid package components

Each financial aid package will include both a term and yearly breakdown of the entire price of attendance, other potential expenses, and financial aid the school is willing to disburse to cover these costs. Attendance includes tuition and fees. Students must pay for textbooks (whether paper or digital, rented or purchased) and any mandatory supplies, based on the classes they take.

Room and board costs are specific to on-campus housing and some type of meal plan. Many schools also break down the indirect living expenditures for the year, like entertainment, health insurance and transportation, but these expenses vary from one student to another and may be different than the estimated amounts.

Bridges is committed to helping clients understand their financial aid options. Our counselors work with students and their families or guardians to interpret, compare and decide on the financial aid package(s) they've received. Contact Bridges to set up an appointment at 575-758-5074 or info@bridgesproject.org.

Aimee Lynn Stearns is the Community Outreach Specialist for the Bridges Project. Bridges' mission is to expand access to college and vocational training for people of all ages, with an emphasis on students who are the first generation in their families to seek higher education. Bridges Project for Education has been providing free college counseling since 1997.

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