Recently, Freedom Ticket interviewed Cheryl Maplethorpe, director of the Financial Aid Division for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, about applying for financial aid and concerns that ex-offenders may have during the application process.
How does someone apply for financial aid?
Federal, state, institutional and private funders use the online federal Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) as the application for need-based financial aid. You start the process by going to www.fafsa.ed.gov
. Do not go to www.fafsa.com. They will charge you money to complete the free form.
Apply for a personal identification number (PIN) so you can “sign” the application. You will put down your name as it appears on your social security card (For example, if your card says your name is Patrick but you have always used the name Pat, put Patrick down for your name), your address and your birth date. The website will give you a PIN to use to “sign” your completed application when you are done.
The 2009-2010 FAFSA application will ask you about money you made in the 2008 tax year. Beginning January 2010 the new FAFSA 2010-2011 will be available and ask about money you made in tax year 2009. If your income has changed because you were laid off or your income was interrupted for some other reason, you should tell the financial aid office of the college you will be attending. The financial aid administrator can use professional judgment to alter the income that will be used in the calculation.
What types of financial aid are available for ex-offenders?
State and federal financial aid is not influenced by whether or not a person is an ex-offender. The financial aid is calculated based on your income and assets. The only “crime” question deals with being convicted of possession or selling drugs while you were receiving federal financial aid in college.
Other things that will affect the eligibility:
• If the applicant is in default on an educational loan, they can’t get additional financial aid until the loan is brought out of default. The applicant should contact the lender for instructions.
• For the Minnesota State Grant Program the student can’t get an award if they are behind on child support payments. The student must contact the county to make arrangements to correct that problem.
Does a felony or a drug conviction prevent someone from applying for financial aid?
The financial aid process does not care about felony or crime convictions other than a question about being convicted of possession of selling drugs while receiving federal financial aid. The wording of the “drug” question changes every year. On the 2009-2010 FAFSA it is asked in two parts. The first question asks if you have ever been in college. If you answer “No”, you will not see the question about being convicted of selling or possessing drugs while receiving financial aid in college.
Even if you must answer “Yes” to being convicted, there may still be other ways you may be eligible for federal financial aid. Be sure to talk to the financial aid administrator at the campus you plan to attend.
The college admission application may ask questions about past convictions which may affect whether or not the college will let you enroll. The college is most concerned about the safety of the other students and not so much concerned about what you did. So if it was something you did a long time ago or if it was a property crime and not a personal violence crime, the offense may not prevent you from being enrolled in the college
Any suggestions for someone who is applying for financial aid for the first time?
When you start your FAFSA application the computer will ask you to create a password. Be sure to write down the password and your personal identification number (PIN) because you will use them each time you apply for financial aid.
Complete your FAFSA by the college deadline to receive institutional awards. If your taxes are not complete, you can submit your FAFSA with estimated tax data. Once your taxes are complete you can make corrections if necessary. It is better to meet the college deadline than to be perfectly correct with all your data.
If you need advice, call the financial aid office of the college you plan to attend. They can help you figure out what you should put down.
Where can I find more information about applying for financial aid?
You can find a lot of information at our web site www.getreadyforcollege.org
. Click on the far-left orange picture titled “PAYING FOR COLLEGE.” This booklet can be ordered for free from our agency website or your counselor may already have a copy to give you. You can also call the financial aid office of the college you plan to attend. Try to apply early so you can get your questions answered ahead of time. As you can imagine, the busiest time for the financial aid office is just before the fall term begins so their phone lines may be very busy at that time. Good luck in your educational endeavors!
For more information about financial aid, visit these websites: