Latino College Students And Financial Aid: What You Should Know


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Bill Sarno

Enrolling in college and applying for financial aid can be a tedious and intimidating process beset with a lot of deadlines and forms to fill in.
For families sending a child to an American college for the first time, and where English may not be the primary language of the household, this endeavor can  appear especially daunting.
Fortunately, for parents and students more comfortable communicating in Spanish, there is some accommodation within the college financing system. The most important is that the key component in the aid process, the Free Application for Student Aid, better known as FAFSA, is available online in both English and Spanish.
However, in any language, keeping track of the timetable for various steps in the process is  crucial.
Case in point, is that while many colleges  set Nov. 1 as their so-called priority deadline for aid applications for students planning to enroll in the spring semester, some use  Dec. 1.
Students who meet the priority deadline at the school they want to attend generally have first call on any funds available, although some money may be available for late filers.
Capital Community College in Hartford set Dec. 1 as its “priority” date, establishing a benchmark so that financial awards will be in place “timely” for enrollment for the spring semester,” said Margaret A. Malaspina, Director of Financial Assistance.
The number of students who enroll for the spring semester varies, but with transfers included, this group can be substantial, although a small fraction of those starting in the fall. A larger state college, such as Central Connecticut State University in New Britain may greet several hundred new students in January.
Capital Community College draws many students to its downtown campus from nearby Latino communities and a large percentage of these students will require some financial support,  Malaspina said.
Capital Community College takes a proactive approach in working with Spanish-speaking applicants. Every Friday, the college holds workshops to help students complete the FAFSA form. The primary staff representative at these sessions will be bilingual, Malaspina said. In addition, some of the brochures her office provides are in both English and Spanish.
The community college still encourages students to apply even after Dec. 1, but with the caveat that “they run the risk of not getting funding or not as much as they could have.”  Moreover, if enrollees do not have an aid plan in place when they go to register for classes, they would have to make a personal payment, she said.
Limited flexibility also exists at Central Connecticut State University which is among the institutions using Nov. 1 as its priority deadline for the spring term.  The New Britain school will continue to process applications after that date, said Larry Hall, the director of admissions, but what awards are made will depend on whether there are funds left after the on-time requests are processed.
At the University of Connecticut in Storrs, most admissions are for the fall semester and aid applications must be submitted by March 1.
However, anyone entering for the spring semester, which begins Jan. 20, should submit  their  FAFSA before the end of December to ensure it will be processed on time, according to the financial aid office.
The aid process can be complicated by several factors. Many students decide to come to college close to the beginning of the semester. In the case of the spring term, some may not make this decision until after the holidays. Even though many would be aid eligible, the money might not be there.
There also is a  misconception is that if you just complete the application you will automatically get the money, Malaspina said.
Capital Community College makes a strong effort to find aid for all its eligible students.  If the FAFSA submission is too late for federal programs, such as the Pell grants, this information will be used to determine eligibility for state and institutional aid, which again is limited and distributed on a first-come basis.
Financial aid administrators recommend that incoming students not procrastinate in finding out what the application schedule is for a particular school. Even among the state’s community colleges, deadlines can vary, Malaspina said.
For anyone seeking information about admission or financial aid at Capital Community, their first stop should be the college’s Welcome Center, which is located on the second floor of the college at 950 Main St. There they will find a lot of useful information, she noted.