There’s more to Student Financial Services than just tuition assistance

Rory Mather | Contributing Reporter

Most people know that the Office of Student of Financial Services (SFS) is where students go to help finance tuition, room and board. However, many don’t realize just how much SFS can give students or how their processes work. The aim of this article is to help give students a holistic overview of how to take advantage of everything SFS offers.

What this article covers:
Who is SFS?
What can SFS Give You?
How to Apply for Financial Aid
What do I do in a Financial Emergency?
How to Find a Job (Even if You Do Not Qualify for Work Study)

Who is SFS?

“Student Financial Services is responsible for all aid to undergraduate students and plays a role in institution-wide financial aid compliance,” Assistant Vice Provost and Director of Student Financial Services Mike Runiewicz said.

The Student Financial Services office is located on the lower level of the Sumers Welcome Center on the East End of campus.

Each student is assigned an SFS counselor who should be the first person that students should speak to about their financial questions.

“One of the things that we think a lot about, and frankly worry about, are students having to share their stories over and over and over,” Runiewicz said. “By matching students with the same person all four years, we get to know each other and we’re not having to start from scratch every time you come into Student Financial Services.”

Students can find the name and contact information of their SFS counselor by signing into the My FA Access Portal on the financial aid website.

What can SFS give you?

“[SFS] is committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated need for our students, all the way up to the cost of attendance,” Runiewicz said.

According to the SFS website, cost of attendance includes tuition, the student activity fee, student health and wellness fee, room and board, books and supplies, travel to and from home and miscellaneous expenses defined as clothing, personal essentials, recreation, etc.

Some of these items are clear-cut, but others are vague on purpose to reflect the variation in cost for different student backgrounds such as school division and hometown. However, here are a few details that can help students understand what SFS can and cannot cover within each category:

Tuition

Undergraduate students are generally eligible to receive eight semesters of financial aid. Students who need additional semesters to complete their degree or are enrolled in combined-degree programs can potentially receive additional funding.

If a student takes a leave of absence during the semester, that semester is counted as one of the eight semesters of financial aid. When deciding the amount of tuition refunded to the students, SFS allows the student’s academic dean to determine the amount.

In both situations, it is advised that students reach out to their SFS counselor to talk about their specific situation, potential steps and how to finance their education.

Room and Board

When calculating a student’s financial aid package, SFS uses the cost of a modern double and silver meal plan as an estimation of the cost of room and board, which is part of the total cost of attendance. Financial aid for room and board is the same regardless of where a student lives.

Although living off-campus can potentially be cheaper, initial costs such as purchasing furniture and kitchen supplies can be an obstacle. SFS will consider those costs if students reach out to their SFS counselor.

For students studying abroad, SFS states that their financial aid package will be applied to the cost of study abroad at an identical rate to being on campus. University scholarships will also be applied as long as the student is enrolled in a University-sponsored program.

Because many study abroad programs have room and board costs lower than the cost of a modern double and silver meal plan, the student’s financial aid package should be more than sufficient, according to most. However, some cities such as London and Copenhagen have higher living costs, and the cost of traveling to and from home can also be a large financial obstacle. In those cases, students should reach out to their SFS counselors to have their financial aid package considered for an adjustment.

Everything Categorized as “Other”

Beyond tuition, room and board and fees, SFS also includes a number of other items as part of the cost of attendance. These terms are intentionally vague in order to include the variation in costs for students based on their unique circumstances. However, here are a few things that are included in this category:

The amount of aid allocated towards books and supplies is based on an annual survey that SFS distributes to students. This cost is averaged across all students, regardless of academic division. Students with higher supply costs can reach out to their SFS counselor to have their financial aid package considered for an adjustment. For example, a Sam Fox student could petition for increased aid to reflect the cost of a computer, Adobe Design software and class fees that do not apply to other students.

Travel costs between home and campus are also estimated from the SFS student survey. Students who live geographically far away from campus or require multiple modes of transportation can reach out to their SFS counselor.

The SFS website also includes a miscellaneous category. Examples that SFS gives for this category include clothing, recreation, personal items and any other non-educational item a student may need.

“This can include going to Starbucks, or going to the movies [or] going out to eat at restaurants,” Runiewicz said. “When students cannot waive out of the Wash. U.-required health insurance, that is something we can sometimes help with.”

“Before I came to Wash. U., one of my biggest concerns was affording health insurance. With two emails, I was able to receive additional aid for Wash. U.’s student health insurance,” senior Ashlee Chung said.

Loans

Beyond grants, scholarships and federal work study, all of which do not have to be repaid, a student’s financial aid package could also include loans.

Students can receive five main types of loans including a federal direct subsidized loan, federal direct unsubsidized loan, PLUS loan, Partners in Education with Parents (PEP) program loans and private loans.

Federal Direct Subsidized Loans are available for students who have demonstrated financial need. These are the best types of loans, as students do not have to pay interest during school and for six months after graduation.

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to students regardless of need, and students are responsible for repaying interest that begins to accumulate as soon as the loan is taken out.

PLUS Loans are specialized federal loans for graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students that are not need-based.

The PEP program is a loan program financed and managed by the University and offered based on the student’s parents’ credit score.

Private loans are offered by private banks based on the student’s credit score and often require a cosigner. These loans tend to have higher interest rates than government loans. SFS recommends that students pursue all options for federal student aid before considering a private loan.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

Important Deadlines:

Every student who is re-applying for financial aid needs to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The University has two deadlines and students who want to be considered early must submit their FAFSA by Dec. 15. They will receive a decision on their financial aid package by Jan. 31.

All other students must submit their FAFSA by March 31. They will receive a decision on their package by the week of commencement, May 12-15.

Students who are applying for the first time also need to submit the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile) or the Family Financial Profile (FFP). The CSS Profile is used by nearly 400 colleges and scholarship programs and has a $16 fee for each college, while the FFP is free but Washington University-specific.

What you Need:

Parental income tax information is required to submit the FAFSA, using the information from two years prior. For example, a student applying for financial aid for the 2020-2021 school year needs their parents’ income tax statements for 2018.

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool is the most accurate way to input financial information, streamlining the application process for SFS.

Who Qualifies for Financial Aid?

“Every student who thinks they need financial aid should apply,” Runiewicz said.

Students from families with an income of $75,000 annually or less will have their full need met with grants, scholarships and federal work study. Loans will not be included in their financial aid package.

In 2019, Andrew D. Martin announced the Washington University Pledge, which will provide a free undergraduate education to incoming, full-time Missouri and southern Illinois students who are Pell Grant eligible or from families with annual incomes of $75,000 or less. The pledge covers the full cost of a Washington University education, including tuition, room, board and fees. A map of the areas included in the pledge can be found on the SFS website.

What do I do in a Financial Emergency?

Ifa student’s family has a material change to their financial situation, students can petition SFS to adjust their financial aid package. Some examples include parental loss of employment, significant changes to income, medical expenses, marital separation/divorce and death of a parent.

Students with special financial circumstances should set up a meeting with their SFS counselor and submit the Financial Aid Special Circumstances Form, which can be found on the SFS website.

Students will need to provide supporting financial documentation with the form. For example, when submitting an appeal because of a parent’s significant drop in income, a student would need to provide the latest income tax return if it has been submitted or estimates of projected income for the upcoming year.

Once the form is submitted, it is reviewed by a weekly committee within SFS.

“Throughout the entire year, we are meeting on a weekly basis to make sure we are all staying in the loop with what are our current students experiencing right now, what are students are thinking about, worrying about, and answering those requests,” Runiewicz said.

“If we made an adjustment to your financial aid award in the past, make sure you let us know if those adjustments still exist,” Runiewicz said. “We have [to] update those every year to ensure that the student maintains that same level of support.”

How to Find a Job (Even if You Do Not Qualify for Work Study)

Students who qualify for Federal Work-Study need to submit the Federal Work-Study application through the My FA Access Portal on the financial aid website.

“Students select particular areas of interest and we are matching those students with availability jobs in those areas. You don’t really get to pick, but we do our best to match students with their areas of interest,” Runiewicz said. “Many employers that accept work-study students actually have spots available for non-work study students too.”

Students who do not qualify for Federal Work-Study can contact their SFS counselor to start the job-search process.

When using work-study funds, SFS works with the employer to decide how much of the student’s income is subsidized by federal funds, usually ranging around 40-60%.

If a student that qualifies for work-study has independently found a campus job, whether they can apply their work-study funds can depend on the employer. Because the work-study program is a federal program, it requires employers to submit paperwork and timesheets. Students should contact their SFS counselor to determine whether work-study funds can be used.

According to Runiewicz, any student that has questions about their financial aid package should connect with their SFS counselor.

“Just reach out and ask. The worst thing that we can say is that we can’t make an adjustment to your package,” Runiewicz said.

“Although my experience is different from others, I think I can attest to the fact that it really only took an email or two to help me afford a Wash. U. education,” Chung said.

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