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Financial aid checkup: 4 questions framed by the pandemic

Will McGinley, BW Director of Financial AidThe COVID-19 pandemic has added uncertainty to so many facets of life, including family finances.

We sat down with Will McGinley, director of financial aid at BW, to walk us through a summer financial aid checkup for students and families through the lens of the pandemic.

McGinley, who says he has a passion for financial literacy, offered answers to four key questions about maximizing financial aid.

1. How has the pandemic changed the calculus of financial aid for families?

There are certainly more families dealing with the loss of income or a change in employment status, but even in the best of times, circumstances can change over a student's four years in college.

Piggy bankThat's why I highly encourage families to be proactive when trying to understand and track ALL of the financial aid resources available. The more they grasp that information, the better they can handle the inevitable changes that may occur as their eligibility evolves.

In addition to the regular types of financial aid, like federal, state, and institutional grants and scholarships, there are other forms of assistance that can benefit students and their families.

Federal CARES Act funding is an example of new support for college students that was added during the pandemic, along with special unemployment insurance benefits that don't normally include students.

Don't forget about the tax benefits that can be achieved through investing in a state's 529 plan.

2. What steps can families take to maximize every penny of available aid as their personal finance picture evolves?

We give our BW families four vital pieces of advice:

  1. File the FAFSA every year to receive full eligibility for financial aid.

  2. Bookmark studentaid.gov and our BW financial aid homepage as ongoing resources. The federal site tracks all of your federal aid and gives you a centralized location for more information on that aid. Our BW website is just that - a website dedicated to the aid processed here at BW.

  3. Get comfortable with the BW MyRecords portal (password protected for BW students). It's a great place to track your aid history at BW as well as get a real-time look at the current status of your financial aid.

  4. Don't be afraid to reach out and get support from the experts in the BW Financial Aid Office. Financial aid can be complicated; we know that. We're here to help answer your questions while offering as much guidance as we can to assist in your financial success here at BW.

3. What if family finances change after the FAFSA is filed?

If your family has experienced a financial hardship due to the pandemic (or other reason) since completing your FAFSA or your hardship is not accurately reflected on your FAFSA, you can apply for a "special circumstance review" on the BW website.

The form is pretty straight forward, but the U.S. Department of Education does require some additional documentation to validate the circumstances of the appeal. Once that is provided, we can check to see if the newly-modified FAFSA opens the door to additional aid eligibility.

4. Is it possible to find new outside scholarship support as a sophomore, junior or senior?

Yes! Students and families should continue to explore outside scholarships even after the first year. Do your research; there are all types of scholarships available with new opportunities being added every year. Your eligibility will change over time, too.

BW's Financial Aid Office maintains a page that lists various scholarship search engines and some area scholarships, but don't stop there! This is one thing I wish I would have focused on more when I was going to school and is something I will encourage my kids to pursue continuously throughout their college careers.

Many students leave scholarship money on the table because they never apply, and even small awards can add up. Invest some of your quarantine time this summer discovering and applying for new awards.

The bottom line

McGinley says students and families can maximize support by proactively updating and accessing the latest resources available while avoiding the "set it and forget it" approach to college financial aid.

BW Financial Aid offers an extensive list of frequently asked questions at bw.edu/financial-aid/faq/ or they can be reached by email at finaid@bw.edu or phone at (440) 826-2108.

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