As FAFSA priority deadlines pass, students urge others to apply for financial aid

Carolina Astrain By Carolina Astrain

March 16, 2013 at midnight
Updated March 15, 2013 at 10:16 p.m.

Toni Marek, 34, started at Victoria College about three years ago.

Back then, she was raising a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old as a single mother doing her best to make ends meet.

She was able to afford her return to the classroom through grants awarded to her through the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, said the young mother.

"It isn't some sort of welfare government aid," Marek said. "The FAFSA is literally free money waiting to be put back into the system."

Students across the country are still working on completing their 2013-14 fall semester FAFSA applications. As they rush to meet their respective college and university deadlines, students who haven't applied should be aware of funds available to them, said Marek.

There are four types of grants a student can receive in Texas: federal, state, institutional and private grants.

Under the Federal Pell Grant Program, incoming students can receive up to thousands of dollars depending on their income, their parents' income and assets if they're dependents, household size and number of family members attending college.

From the Pell grant, Marek said she's received up to $5,000 for as much as 12 credit hours at Victoria College.

Now Marek, into her third year at Victoria College, has become the president of the college's Phi Theta Kappa chapter, a student honor organization.

"I've seen a lot of single mothers out there that don't know what to do," Marek said. "People need to be aware of what they can do to afford school."

Marek said she first entered the college doors thinking she'd become a nurse but has since put her focus toward a career in communications.

"There are no excuses for not getting it done," Marek said.

LaShon Battles, 48, a financial aid coordinator at the University of Houston-Victoria, said like Marek, she was a late collegiate bloomer.

Battles was a single mother of two when she started taking courses at UHV in 2005.

Like Marek, the single mother said she would not have been able to return without the financial aid assistance.

"Every situation is unique," Battles said. "But people should not give up on the possibility of going to school."

Prospective students can fill out their FAFSA applications at UHV's financial aid office, and it usually takes 30 to 45 minutes, said Battles.

"Applying early is the key," Battles said. "A lot of students that come in here don't realize that schools have priority deadlines for grants."

Usually, Battles said, grant money is distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

UHV also has an online financial aid calculator to help students see what they put toward a fall, spring or summer semester, said Battles.

"It's a lot easier now because we have the IRS data retrieval tool that can transfer your tax information into your FAFSA," Battles said. "So you no longer have to look and say, 'Oh what did I do with my tax return?'"



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