What to know about financial aid and scholarship opportunities at ECC – Observer

Nat Leon, Engagement Editor

The entrance to the Elgin Community College Financial Aid Office.

If you’re a student, you’ve probably worked on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or researched scholarship opportunities. Elgin Community College has several services that offer assistance when navigating these resources.

Maria Tovar, ECC Financial Aid Counselor, explains that FAFSA is an application that students fill out to determine which scholarships and student loans they qualify for. A grant is need-based funding for students that does not need to be repaid, while a loan is funding that must be repaid with interest.

“For loans, it’s better to get federal loans than loans from any bank, because banks are going to have higher interest rates,” Tovar said.

The FAFSA application must be completed annually. It opens every October and closes just before the start of the school year. Applications can be completed on Studentaid.gov.

“The sooner the student completes the FAFSA the better just because there is state funding and the state soon runs out of funding,” Tovar said.

Once a student completes the FAFSA form, ECC will receive the request. The school may request additional documents and will perform a verification process before awarding students what they need. This process is different for each school.

For students who need assistance with their application, ECC provides assistance at the Financial Aid Office, Building B-156. There are computers in the office where students can work on their forms while getting help from people at the front desk.

Students must arrive at least one hour before office closes and bring their tax return information. If more specific individual help is needed, students should make an appointment.

Tovar encourages students to ask for help.

“Don’t be shy, I know sometimes you don’t want to talk to someone at the front desk and explain your whole life to someone who is there,” Tovar said. “You can always ask an advisor and say your situation is specific.”

ECC also offers scholarships for which students can apply.

Nancy Gutierrez, scholarship and work specialist at ECC, manages all internal and private scholarships.

“Just because you don’t qualify for the FAFSA doesn’t mean you don’t have financial need, so these scholarships help supplement that financial need so students have more flexibility with payments,” Gutierrez said.

Students can complete the Foundation Application, which is a single application that applies to over 200 scholarships. Application is open year-round, beginning each new school year cycle in January and ending in December. The app can be found here.

The scholarship committee evaluates applications to determine which scholarships students are eligible for, which saves students from having to complete individual applications for each scholarship.

“We have a ton of different scholarships for everything from graphic design to nursing to truck driving,” Gutierrez said. “Every little thing you could think of, we have a scholarship for most.”

Gutierrez expresses that the process is not rigorous and requires only one letter of support. A letter of support differs from a letter of recommendation because it can be from anyone, not just a professor or employer.

Students will typically find out about scholarships awarded to them for the academic year in the fall semester.

“Even if you don’t think you qualify, apply; there’s a lot of money that’s not being used because nobody’s applying,” Gutierrez said.

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