The biggest mistake I made my freshman year was not researching and applying to any scholarships or FAFSA. It is a common misconception that FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is not worth applying to if you know you won’t qualify for federal aid. Admittedly, I fell into this mindset before coming to college. I knew my parents’ income, I knew where we stood financially and I figured, ‘Why bother?’ I adopted the same lackadaisical outlook when it came to applying to other scholarships, too.
According to Diane Todd Sprague, the executive director of the Office of Financial Aid, only 58 percent of UT undergraduate students received some form of financial aid in 2017, including aid offered at the federal, state and institutional level. That may seem like a lot, but it also means 42 percent of undergrads went without any form of financial aid. This could very well mean 42 percent of students and their families are financially comfortable enough to pay for tuition and other expenses while at UT without any outside funding — but that number feels too high. Some students within that 42 percent could likely benefit from some financial help — they’re just not applying.
UT does have resources to help students find what they need. All students, regardless of income, should make an effort to explore, find and apply to sources of financial aid. Almost everyone can afford to save some money.
At UT, students can receive funding in different ways. The types of aid available to students are split up into five general categories: grants, scholarships, loans, work-study and emergency loans. For many scholarships, a student must have a FAFSA application on file in order to apply. Even if you think you won’t qualify for anything, the application is free and the time it takes you to fill it out could save you and your family a decent sum of money.
In terms of scholarships, there are close to 300 administered by UT’s Office of Financial Aid, according to Sprague. That number doesn’t even factor in scholarships available at the college and departmental level, or scholarships available through entities not associated with the University.
On its Financial Aid website, UT offers the information students need to find the grants, scholarships, loans, work-study and emergency loans that could help them pay for college. The problem may not be that the financial resources themselves are inadequate, but rather that not enough students are applying.
One of my advisers mentioned that usually almost every year, scholarships within her department won’t receive any student applications, often resulting in leftover funds that rollover to the next academic year.
Regardless of whether it’s due to lack of knowledge or simply lack of effort, students can do more to help themselves by exploring the vast number of financial aid options available to them. Everyone can benefit from saving.
Caldwell is a Latin American studies and journalism sophomore from College Station.