Once again stepping out of the College of Engineering world we are looking towards Sproul Hall and Financial Aid. This week we have asked Joe Sell on to bring us some more insight to Financial Aid – you’ll hear about what to expect, how to get it and what to do if something is wrong.
- CalCentral – Check your task lists to make sure that you don’t have any incomplete tasks relating to financial aid.
- Scholarships: scholarships.berkeley.edu
LAURA VOGT: Hello and welcome to The Not So Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. My name is Laura Vogt, I’m the Communications and Events manager for Engineering Student Services and your podcast host! This week we have Joe Sell, A Special Projects Coordinator from the Financial Aid & Scholarships Office. Hi Joe, welcome to the podcast.
JOE SELL: Hi Laura, thanks.
LV: Can you please tell us a little about yourself and what services you and your office provide for students at UC Berkeley.
JS: So again my name is Joe Sell, I’m a special projects coordinator in the Financial Aid & Scholarships Office. I’ve worked at Berkeley for about three years now, just over three years. So I work in the counseling unit of the Financial Aid Office. So we not only provide you know in person, individual advising and counseling, but we also work with reviewing all student documents, student appeals. We do outreach different departments. We do satellite office hours in different departments, as well, dispersing, packaging financial aid – Basically a little bit everything.
LV: And so what is the best way for a student if they need to speak with a financial aid counselor?
JS: So the best way in my opinion is just in person advising. So students can come to Cal Student Central, which is 120 Sproul. They’re open from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. So students can just come check in at Cal Student Central, they can meet with an adviser there. So the Cal Student Central advisors, they work not only with financial aid but they also work with the Office of the Registrar, with billing of payment services, so they really are a wealth of knowledge in all sorts of different areas. So it’s a good place to kind of get the first general questions are answered. At that point if it’s something that needs a little more of an in-depth conversation they can escalate the student to meet with a financial aid counselor on the second floor of Sproul. At that point we can then really kind of dig deep and have more of an in-depth conversation and see if we can answer any deeper questions that students might have. So they can do it in person. They can also submit an online case through students enrolled at calstudentcentral.berkeley.edu. That’s a way if they’re not on campus and the question answered they can just make a request through that way as well. All of us in the counseling unit are looking to those tickets that we’re helping those questions as well. There’s a phone line they can call. There’s all sorts of different ways to get in contact, in person is the best in my opinion.
LV: If a student is getting financial aid, when can they expect the pay out for that?
JS: The earliest we can versus 10 days prior to the start of a semester. So for example for the fall, we’re beginning disbursing on I think 13 is the earliest that we can pay which be about 10 days before the fall semester begins. Now that’s again provided that the student’s file is complete. So has any requirements that students need to complete over the summer or before the fall begins. They want to make sure they’re taken care of as soon as possible because that could possibly delay the disbursement of their financial aid.
LV: And if there’s paperwork that they need to complete, how do they know what they’re missing?
JS: All of those requirements are on CalCentral. And so really it’s down to checking CalCentral on a regular basis. We send out a lot of e-mails. So really it’s you know we encourage and check the e-mails as regularly as possible but also just keep an eye on their account central as much as possible. Once we have the students there FAFSA application at that point we can find out if there’s anything else they need to do and we can post it on CalCentral, so they know ahead of time. And that way and get that all all done wrapped up before they get here in the fall.
LV: If there’s a student that hasn’t done their FAFSA application yet is it too late to still get anything turned in?
JS: No. So the FAFSA deadline is technically March 2nd each year. Now, that being said students can still submit their FAFSA even now. So the deadline does you know make a termination with some sorts of kinds of awards. But for the most part students can still get a standard financial aid package even if they submit their FAFSA after the deadline. FAFSA actually opens in October. So it’s open pretty early toward the beginning of the year. But yeah different students can still submit their FAFSA and we can still package for aid.
LV: Oh that’s great. Many of our students choose not to take the loans because they don’t want to get out of here with a lot of debt. I know some of them have the option to do work study. What is it? How do they convert to work study and how does that work for them?
JS: Yes so the first way. If students are offered work study. So at the very beginning which are to offer work study for anybody who’s eligible and students can actually accept the work study on CalCentral and that’s kind of their first indication of whether or not they even think they’re remotely interested in pursuing work study. And that gives us an idea if they think they’re going to wonder or not. So what I would say first of all is if students are eligible they may already have a work study offer and there their work package and if they’re even thinking like slightly like maybe I’ll use it in the spring even if it’s not coming be in the fall they can still accept how much of that they think they might want to use. Now at that point if they don’t accept the work study or they only accept part of it the rest of it leaves you roll over into a loan offer. But like you said they can always come back and convert that later if they think they’ll need it. Cal Central has a link they can click on. The rules say for works that your loan or loan to work study and students can specify how much they want to convert. And then CalCentral will actually do it automatically for them. In some cases they might use additional review and it might actually refer them to come to Cal Student Central so we can take a second look at that conversion for them as well. But in general if they’re eligible they can make that request from work study to loan or loan to work study either way.
LV: And what exactly is work study for a student? What does that mean they’re going to be doing?
JS: Work study it functions like a regular job, it doesn’t have to be on campus work study jobs are off campus as well. Students get paid like a regular paycheck. The only difference is that it’s being paid out of a work study budget essentially. But again it functions like a regular job. They get job experience, they still get paid kind of any like any other position that comes out of a federal worksite budget.
LV: Oh OK. So it’s making it so they don’t take on the loan though.
LV: That is the important part of the whole thing.
JS: Yes. You don’t have to pay Word study back. Work study is not a loan. They’re earning that through their employment. So yes it’s a great way to prevent taking out extra debt that they may not need.
LV: And how can they get to work study job?
JS: So they can actually apply through…There’s a link on the on CalCentral that takes them into the work study. There is actually a portal on the financial aid website. They have to have a work study offer in order to access the portal but as long as they’ve accepted that offer in CalCentral than they actually can log in and start applying for the jobs that are work study eligible.
LV: And it’s just applying like applying for any job.
JS: Exactly the same as any other sort of job application. You know one thing we say too is that students are kind of beginning their job search. You know it’s very easy to see you know a job posting that says like we prefer certain you know experiences of certain backgrounds. That may kind of discourage a student from applying for a job. You know really you know a lot of employers may offer that sort of training they need even if they don’t have that background just yet. So it really doesn’t hurt for students apply for jobs if they’re interested in doing so.
LV: And one of the things I think might be nice about the work study jobs, especially with the students that we’ve worked with, is because you’re on a college campus doing work study we understand finals and midterms and having to get projects done. So we’re really willing and able to work around schedules.
LV: Exactly. Yeah. And one thing I always tell my kids do I know my first work-study job I was in the library and I was doing like microfilm machines and like like finding periodicals I know what that meant when I was first applying for the job. But it was a great experience and it was something I could take with me afterwards and again it helped me in providing I’m taking a bunch of additional loans while I was in school.
LV: So so now kind of going back to the financial aid aspect of it. What if somebody has a change in their circumstances one of their parents lost their job, whether it’s a death in the family or anything along those lines?
JS: Yes so we see that a lot especially now that FAFSA is using two years prior tax information income information. So right we realize that the FAFSA doesn’t always give the best picture of what the family’s current financial circumstances are. So students can submit what’s called a parent contribution appeal or student contribution appeal if it’s a student’s income that’s changed. And that really gives them the opportunity to take a second look and to say what is the family’s current financial circumstances. What is their ability to contribute. And see if we can make a different termination for them. So usually we see those for circumstances like you know parents lost their job or there’s reduced hours or wages. It could also be things like if there’s significant out-of-pocket medical expenses or something like that that’s also impacting your ability to contribute. So that form is available on CalCentral. There’s actually a link that will say upload optional forms and so students can find that parent contribution or student contribution appeal there. And really I just say to encourage to read through the form as thoroughly as possible because we do require specific documents to help document the circumstances. But yeah if the appeals complete we can begin take a look at it see if we can make a different determination for them and see if that can maybe help out and again better capture their families ability to contribute.
LV: OK. Well I’m glad that it’s not something that set in stone necessarily then.
JS: Yeah. I said you know the parent country is again for if there’s a change in parents circumstances with student contribution appeals which is used a lot for like transfer students or you since were working full time and then they quit to become a full time student they no longer have that income that was on their 2015 or 2016 tax information. So yeah it’s not set in stone so that has changed we didn’t want to see we can take a second look for them.
LV: And how do students stay in good standing for their financial aid? Is there a certain number of units that they have to take or GPA that they have to maintain?
JS: Yes so the financial aid office we have it’s called satisfactory academic progress or SAP. It’s a little bit different. It can be different than the colleges determination for their academic standing for example. So SAP requires about three different criteria. So the first is that undergraduate students have to have a 2.0 GPA or higher, graduate students have a 3.0 GPA or higher. Students have to complete 67 percent of the units that they attempt in an academic year and then cumulatively during their entire career at Berkeley. And then also undergrad students can’t attempt more than 180 units, so they can’t receive financially for kind of an infinite amount of time either. So we monitor SAP every year and that’s where we determine if students are eligible to continue receiving financial aid each year. If for some reason students are meeting SAP they have the opportunity to submit a sap appeal and that gives us the opportunity to see what the circumstances were that may have kept them from meeting those requirements. Students can provide a written statement that explains what the circumstances were. We want a good idea of what’s changed since then and then what support resources they might be using to make sure that they can meet satisfactory economic progress moving forward. If students aren’t meeting SAP than they do lose eligibility for her federal state and institutional financial aid. So that’s everything from federal grants, state grants, work study, federal loans all that’s kind of wrapped up under SAP. So again if students aren’t meeting SAP then they may want to submit an appeal so we can see what the circumstances were.
LV: OK. And what is a CNP? I don’t even know what a CNP is but I was told to ask about it.
JS: So CNP stands for cancellation for nonpayment. So CNP is an office the registrar policy. It says that if students don’t pay at least 20 percent or more of their fees by the fee payment deadline they run the risk of being canceled from their enrollment.
LV: Okay, If you’re canceled from your moment that means you’re dropped out of the classes.
JS: Basically yeah. And then so then we want to make sure that they can usually re-enroll again. We want to make sure their fees are paid. So how that intersects with the financial aid office is that a lot of students rely on financial aid to pay their tuition fees. And so we’re that kind of folds in his back to our initial piece of the conversation is making sure their file is complete as soon as possible because financially disperses in the 13th for example for them for the upcoming fall. So if everything is complete anyway and that’s well before that deadline so that at least make sure their tuition fees are paid and that we don’t have to worry about the cancellation for nonpayment message. So really just kind of comes down to that proactivity of making sure a file is complete making sure everything is there and if it’s not getting everything addressed as soon as possible or checking in with us we can make sure everything.
LV: So if you’re getting that message I the first thing to do is just to check your task list and make sure that you got everything turned in.
JS: Exactly yeah. And you know if everything looks complete and all the you know there’s no missing documents or anything there’s a word package there and CalCentral message will still be there until we begin disbursing aid. So a lot of times it might still be there beforehand or in that case it’s not as much of a concern. Everything looks complete. Not to discourage from double checking anyway just in case you’re not sure. Come in and make sure you know we can we can check for them but you know if they’re still seeing that message after we’ve been disbursing aid because something hasn’t paid yet we doesn’t get to take a look and see what’s going on to make sure that everything is complete.
LV: And is there a way that students can get emergency financial aid like say if they lost their computer it was broken or stolen or anything along those lines?
JS: So we have a total cost of attendance adjustment request. So it’s another optional form that students can find like the parent contribution of people that we talked about. It’s available until a bit later on in the semester so usually in late September, October is when we usually make it available. So the computer is one example you know students can request that we can offer additional financial aid to cover the costs of a computer once every three years. There are other different items they can request as well. So anything outside of the standard cost of attendance. So when they’re CalCentral students will see a box that shows what’s in their cost of attendance and things like living expenses, transportation, books and supplies, those sorts of things. One really good example that we see a lot is rent. So our standard budget for last year for example for students living off campus is about $999/month but students may have read that it is outside of $999/month. So what we can do in that case is then request a copy of a lease agreement for example and see if they’re paying more than what’s in their standard budget. At that point we can then try to offer additional aid to help meet those costs. Now the specific thing about it is that in most cases it’s going to be an additional loan or work study offer. So unless it’s a rare case where students Grant has been reduced by outside scholarships or something in that regard than they make it of that back but for the most part it’s the loans or work study that we will offer for any of the additional living expenses or the computer purchase or that sort of thing.
LV: But definitely make it so that they can make their ends meet while they’re here.
JS: Absolutely. Absolutely.
LV: What if students have questions about scholarships. Do you have a good database somewhere for scholarships or is it just kind of go and look randomly for a things?
JS: So students you know of course we’re always encouraging students apply for outside scholarships. And one website that I really like is scholarships.berkeley.edu. It’s just one sort of place for students to start, but it is actual database that lets students filter out by their year in school, what they’re studying, their citizenship status, all the sorts of things and give them a long list of different scholarships they can go to. And each link will take them where they can apply and what the requirements are in that sort of thing. So it’s a really great database. They’re always updating and adding new scholarships so you know one misconception is that the only time to apply for scholarships is before you begin your freshman year. That’s not really true. Students can apply for scholarships their entire time during their undergraduate career. And I just I always encourage to keep checking back there because they’re going to always be adding scholarships back.
LV: So if you could give one piece of advice to students about financial aid, what’s your one piece of advice that you want them to take away?
JS: I think my number one piece of advice would be really take an active role in their financial aid. So what I say that I mean you know checking e-mails like we mentioned, checking CalCentral and asking a lot of questions. So don’t be afraid to ask questions if something’s not clear. There’s really no kind of you know bad question really because it can be a little complex. And so we want to make sure that if there is any question has been addressed but again really being proactive making sure everything is done ahead of time and again asking questions if anything is unclear. Want to make sure we can help out with them.
LV: Well thank you so much for joining us today and we’re giving us all this information. I know students are constantly asking me questions about financial aid and I don’t know. So I’m so glad that you came and were able to give us some answers.
JS: Yeah, of course. Thanks for having me.
LV: And thank you everyone for tuning in today and if you’ve got any more questions make sure you check out our website. We’re going to have links for all the websites that we talked about today and maybe some extra hint if we come across them. And thank you for tuning into the Not So Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. I’ll talk to you next week, bye.