How Does Financial Aid Really Work?

11943267226_18cbe8371d_bThe staggering costs associated with attending college is enough to discourage any high school graduate or anyone who began a 4 year program, but never completed it. Tuition has increased across the country. But for the student who is willing to put a little time into finding free money to pay tuition and related costs, the effort is well worth it.

I speak from personal experience about my search for financial aid to pay for three degrees. Today, I am a Financial Aid Advisor at Albany State University, but 14 years ago, I was a Dougherty High School graduate from Albany, Georgia wondering how my dream to complete college would be funded. My mother and father constantly reinforced the importance of getting a degree for financial independence, but had little or no resources to help me after working to make ends meet for our family home. I got serious about planning my future. With their encouragement during times I needed it most coupled with determination, I secured funds to complete four degrees.

So far, I have secured an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration from Darton College, a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources at Georgia SouthWestern State University, and a Master’s in Public Administration with a concentration in Human Resources at Albany State University. I am currently working on a second Master’s in Business Administration at Albany State University and I am set to graduate this year on December 14th.

I am also a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated and other campus organizations. I completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (better known as FAFSA) and was qualified by the Department of Education to receive financial aid such as Pell and SEOG grants, and work study to pay for the 2 year and 4 year degree. I was also awarded institutional scholarships and aid based on information I provided on the FAFSA. Tuition assistance offered through a program at my job helped pay for the completion of two master’s degrees.

I am now helping students navigate the maze of financial aid. Most times, problems arise when they file the FAFSA at the last minute. The FAFSA is available every year after January 1st. I encourage students to begin applying for aid at the beginning of the year and then load their parent’s tax information on the application filing. I always recommend that students look for scholarships in their junior year of high school to jumpstart their research.

I am truly thankful for the opportunities afforded me to further my education. I am now able to speak to students because I’ve walked in their shoes. A sense of fulfillment fills me as I watch them stroll the  stage at graduation knowing I had a hand in opening the doors to a new chapter in their life.

Information:

Denata Williams

Financial Aid Advisor  MBA, MPA

Albany State University Office of Financial Aid

Phone: (229) 430-4648

Fax: (229) 430-3936

This post was provided by Denata Williams, a financial aid advisor at Albany State University, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on January 18th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Simon Cunningham

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