SFA students benefiting from financial aid despite looming payback

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - The old saying money doesn't grow on trees rings true in this day and age for a college education, and finding the money to budget tuition, plus books and room and board can sometimes be an overwhelming feat for several college students.

Jessica Guevara, a senior taking pre-medical studies at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, is a first-generation college student. Her parents immigrated to Houston from El Salvador where their highest education was the ninth grade.

"The income in my household isn't very big, so I needed financial aid to pay for school pretty much. My parents financially can't afford college," Guevara said.

Guevara's mother works as a housekeeper for a Houston hospital and her father drives clients to and from locations for a customer service company.

Guevara says her dream is to be a doctor and work in missionaries in El Salvador, and without financial aid, she wouldn't be able to fulfill her goals.

"I wouldn't be able to go to school without my loans so I don't mind having to pay it back, you know? I wanted to pursue an education and that's the only way to go about it," Guevara said.

Junior accounting major Trevion Thomas says his mom makes a good income to raise their family, but with his little brother, finances can be tight.

"She does support both of us outside of the school situation so she's not able to pay for my college so I would say kind of solely I do depend on financial aid. I'm able to be out here without her having to worry about my tuition being paid because financial aid does," Thomas said.

Thomas says when he first applied to SFASU he wasn't sure what he would be eligible for, and because he isn't 24 years old, he claimed himself as a dependent reporting his and his parent's financial income.

"I still require my mother's financial information [that] goes onto my FAFSA so I would say solely it does benefit me a lot," Thomas said.

Unlike Thomas, senior education major Bree Zachary has claimed herself as an independent because her mom is incarcerated and her grandmother, who she lives with, doesn't make enough money.

"I have full Pell, since my EFC (expected family contribution) is zero, since I'm the only one in my household, and that's not at $6,000 but it's at $6,000 for the year. Then there is grant money and then also I apply for scholarships at SFA," Zachary said.

In order to claim independent status, you must be 24 years old by Dec. 31 of the school year for which you are applying financial aid, working towards a master's or doctorate degree, married, separated or divorced, have dependent children, serving active duty, or be a veteran of the U.S. armed forces.

Zachary says as soon as she met with a school counselor her freshman year, she got her FAFSA in on time, which gave her the opportunity to accept the Be On Time Loan.

"It is for four years, or how many hours is in your major and if you have at a least a 3.0 when you graduate you can get all that forgiven. So, then that helps me so that I don't have to be in debt with my loans. And also I have grant money because if you do get your FAFSA in on time before March 1st, you're eligible for grant money and since the government is low with money right now and you can get it in fast—than you can get possible grant money if you're eligible," Zachary said.

Zachary says at SFA, financial aid for tuition is budgeted to $22,994 and that is a budget you can get up to as to how much financial aid you can be awarded. She says if you are a dependent, you can get $5,500 in a subsidized loan and $2,000 in an unsubsidized loan for the year.

A subsidized loan means the government pays for the interest rate while you are in school and the unsubsidized loan means the government does not.

Thomas says his loans won't be forgiven like Zachary's but he doesn't mind the loans he will have to pay off.

"The government assistance is helping me pay for this education and what I'll get out of it is a great degree so I look at it like I'm still winning in the end only because I know that if I do come out to get the certifications that I do want to achieve that I'll be able to pay off my loans," Thomas said.

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