By Jennifer Davis
As Financial Aid Administrators, we are often asked, “What do I need to know?” or “What questions should I be asking?” The truth is most families are asking all the right questions. Financial Aid can often be intimidating
and overwhelming, but these top five things to know can help answer those questions and ease some of those worries.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step to determining your federal and state aid eligibility. You will file it every year, beginning October 1st, and it’s always based off the prior-prior year’s income. While
the FAFSA is not required, every aid administrator will highly encourage their students to file it, as it could open them up to other aid opportunities they may not even have realized. And contrary to popular belief, the FAFSA isn’t as hard
and scary as some might think. The Department of Education works hard to evaluate the application to eliminate unnecessary questions and confusion. A helpful hint would be to make sure to use the Data Retrieval Tool, which transfers all of your tax
information directly from the IRS. This eases the burden of looking up line items on those tax returns and minimizes the possibly of further documentation you may have to provide to your financial aid office later.
When you file a FAFSA, 30% of students are selected for a process called verification. This is basically an audit of the information you reported on the FAFSA. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong
or will not be eligible for aid. The Financial Aid Office will just need to clear you through this process before they can offer any federal or state aid. So, the important thing to remember is to stay on top of any paperwork or required documents
your Financial Aid Office may need. Be sure to check those emails!
Financial Aid Package
Your school will send you a comprehensive financial aid package each year. This will include any institutional aid, federal aid, or state aid that your student may qualify for. You will see aid based on your student’s merit, their financial need
(if you filed the FAFSA), and other aid such as loans and Federal Work-Study. At Bellarmine, first-year students can expect their comprehensive packages to come in the mail starting in December. The booklet is extremely helpful and outlines all you
need to know about your costs and financial aid offer for your student’s first year. Returning student packages come out a little later and will typically receive their aid packages for the following year at the end of the Spring semester.
There are millions of outside scholarship opportunities for students to tap in to. We encourage students to check with any organizations or clubs they are involved in, as well as their employers (both student and parents’). First-year students should
check with their high school guidance counselor, as they generally receive a lot of information on the local scholarships in the community. There are also numerous scholarship search engines to apply through. A common one is fastweb.com, which allows
students to create a profile about themselves and the search sends scholarships to the student based on that profile. This saves you time shuffling through all these scholarships that you may not qualify for. The most important thing to remember when
searching for scholarships is you never want to pay. Bellarmine also has a listing of all outside scholarships that are reported to our office. You can find that listing here- https://www.bellarmine.edu/financial-aid/costsolutions/
Don’t forget to sell yourself on those scholarship applications and keep your grades up to renew any continuing scholarships that might require a certain GPA.
We recognize that times can be hard on a lot of families and your current financial picture may not look the same or even close to what it was two years ago. Whether it be loss of income, excessive medical expenses, a divorce or separation, or the death
of a parent, the Financial Aid Office is willing and able to help. Financial Aid Administrators have authority to make professional judgments on a case-by-case basis for families who have special circumstances. It’s important to share this information
with the Financial Aid Office, so that your FAFSA can be evaluated for potential adjustments based on your special circumstance, that could result in additional aid eligibility. If you are paying private tuition for a younger child in elementary or
secondary school, Bellarmine also adjusts FAFSA income to account for this. Please reach out to our office if this relates to your family situation.
Jennifer Davis is the Assistant Director of Financial Aid at Bellarmine University. She’s been in the Financial Aid Office since 2007. She graduated from Campbellsville University with a major in Business Administration and minor in Psychology.
She earned her Master of Education in Higher Education Leadership and Social Justice from Bellarmine University in May 2021.