We know that applying for financial aid brings up some pretty big questions. Here are answers to some common ones. As always, please contact our office if you need help.
Am I eligible for financial aid?
While each aid program has special requirements, the following are the basic criteria required for eligibility. In order to be eligible to receive financial aid, you must:
- Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-U.S. citizen (federal regulations and College policy limit the types of financial assistance available to non-U.S. citizens)
- Have a valid Social Security Number (unless you’re from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau)
- Register with Selective Service if you are male and 18 to 25 years of age (go to sss.gov for more information)
- Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate or pass an exam approved by the U.S. Department of Education
- Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program at a school that participates in the federal student aid programs
- Not have a drug conviction for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, loans, or work-study)
- Not owe a refund on a federal grant or be in default on a federal student loan
- Demonstrate financial need (except for unsubsidized Federal Direct Loans, PLUS loans or private alternative loans).
How do I apply for Saint Mary’s aid?
You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year to be considered for any financial aid. Saint Mary’s Priority deadline is Feb. 15 for new students and March 2 for continuing students. You (and your parent) will be asked to use a Personal Identification Number (PIN) before completing this online form. Make sure to have your (if you filed) and your parents’ previous year tax information ready. If you do not have the prior year's tax return available, make your best guess or refer to your prior year’s return.
How is my financial aid calculated?
SMC’s need based aid is based on our cost of attendance (COA) for the year, which includes tuition, student activity fee, room, and board, books/supplies, personal, and transportation expenses. The expected family contribution (EFC) is calculated by the FAFSA and is subtracted from the COA to calculate the financial need (COA-EFC=financial need). We will offer institutional, state, and federal grants based on a percentage of the financial need calculated; loans and Federal Work Study will be offered on top of the grants. Based on availability of funding, we are unable to cover the full financial need with grant funding, thus a change in EFC will not change an award dollar for dollar.
Can I get the same amount of financial aid if I am a part time student?
In order to be eligible for institutional aid a student must be enrolled as a full time student. State and federal regulations do allow students to receive a prorated grant amount if they are part time, but in order to maximize on all scholarship and grants students need to be full time. Loans are available for students that are enrolled at least half time.
How do I know if I qualify for a merit award?
The Admission counselors who review your file for admission to the college will determine, based on your high school GPA, test scores and rigor of your high school curriculum along with any special talents, whether you are eligible for a Saint Mary’s merit scholarship. You will be notified in your acceptance letter and in your financial aid award letter if you are selected.
If I take a leave of absence or withdraw from school and want to return to SMC, will my financial aid change?
In order for students to be eligible to take a Leave of Absence, they must be in good standing with the Registrar’s Office. A student can take a Leave of Absence for no more than 2 consecutive semesters at which point their financial aid will still be fully available to them if the FAFSA reflects financial need. If a student decides to withdraw instead of taking a Leave of Absence and returns no later than 2 consecutive semesters from leaving, they will be available to receive their financial aid award they had before withdrawing, if FAFSA reflects financial need. Students who take a leave of absence longer than 2 consecutive semesters will not be eligible for SMC aid once they return; instead they will receive financial aid based only on availability of funding, federal and/or state.
My family’s financial situation greatly improved this past year. Will this impact my Saint Mary’s award?
Saint Mary’s Need-Based scholarships are based on a percentage of need as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If a family’s financial situation changes substantially for the better we will re-evaluate the student’s need. For example, if the family’s number of students in college is reduced from 2 to 1 they will have greater resources for the remaining student in college. If a family’s income increases substantially, due to new employment as an example, this may also impact a student’s scholarship. We want to give our scholarships to students with the greatest need and we will always be happy to discuss and review the changes and how it impacts students’ need-based awards. The Pell Grant and the Cal Grant are based on the students’ Estimated Financial Contribution and the student’s eligibility is evaluated each year for those funds. Merit Scholarships are based on merit and will remain the same amount each year.
I was selected for Verification. What is this and what do I do?
The U.S. Department of Education requires all institutions disbursing federal financial aid funds to verify the accuracy of the information students and their families submit as a basis for awarding aid. Each year, the Department of Education selects a percentage of students receiving federal student aid funds to verify some of the information on which their awards were based. If selected for verification, as notified on your Student Aid Report (SAR) when your FAFSA was processed, we will send you the necessary forms with instructions and request you (if you filed a tax return) and your parents’ to use the IRS Date Retrieval Tool on FAFSA or order an IRS Tax Return Transcript, and verify information such as household size and number of family members enrolled in college. We reserve the right to request similar information for verification purposes for any student awarded aid. Information collected may result in changes to your financial aid award. Failure to comply with the request for this information will result in the cancellation of your financial aid funds.
My financial aid is contingent on receipt of additional documents or information as noted on the cover letter. Does this mean my financial award could change?
It is possible that your financial awards could change. If we need to reevaluate your financial information such as income, assets and household size this could affect your eligibility for Saint Mary’s aid as well as state and federal aid. If you have estimated your family’s tax return on the FAFSA, please update it as soon as possible once you have filed your tax return.
I received a significantly better financial aid award from another college. Will Saint Mary’s match the other college’s award?
Saint Mary’s does not match financial aid awards in response to merit-based awards from other colleges. With exception of athletic aid and merit awards determined by the Admissions Office, Saint Mary’s scholarships are based solely on demonstrated financial need. If another college has offered a need-based award significantly better than that of Saint Mary’s, it may be that the other college has received new or updated information on your family’s financial situation — data we may not have yet. In such cases, we can check our system for the latest FAFSA update.
If there have been changes in my parent’s circumstances such as a significant reduction in income, changes in health, or other extenuating circumstances since we filed the FAFSA, can Saint Mary’s take this into consideration?
You and your family can request Saint Mary’s to consider revising your financial aid package by submitting an appeal letter along with documentation to our office. If you have already submitted an appeal letter and it has been reviewed, your award letter will indicate that your appeal was taken into consideration when we put your package together. Normal response time during April is 2 to 3 weeks. We realize you must make your enrollment decision by May 1, and we make every effort to respond to your request promptly. In the meantime, you may have to make your decision to attend Saint Mary’s based on the awards you have already been offered. Certainly, if there are changes later in the year you can submit an appeal at that time. We cannot guarantee that Saint Mary’s funds will be available.
How do I apply for the Direct Student Loans?
Once you have received an award letter from us listed with the Direct Loans for which you are eligible, you will accept these loans as instructions indicate on the award letter. We will send you an email with instructions on completing an “Entrance Counseling” and Master Promissory Note online at StudentLoans.gov. You will need to have your FAFSA PIN ready and the names, phone numbers and addresses of three people for references.
What can we do if my parents are unable to meet the Net Cost?
There are a number of financing options available for families. We strongly encourage students to search for outside scholarships to reduce the need for loans. Please check out our links to scholarship websites. Families can also look at taking out a Federal PLUS Loan (parent loan). The PLUS loan is funded by the federal government. Loan approval is subject to credit criteria established by the U.S. Department of Education. A credit report will be obtained from a national credit bureau once you apply. Generally, parent borrowers must not have an adverse credit history. The interest rate is a fixed 6.41%. Parents can borrow up to the Cost of Attendance minus any other aid. Additionally, students can take out a private education loan. Co-signers are encouraged, since the interest rate is set based on the credit score of the applicant(s). The loans are deferred while the student is in school and interest accrues during this time.
How do my parents apply for a PLUS?
To apply for a PLUS loan your parent will need to go to StudentLoans. Gov, sign in with their FAFSA PIN (parent’s PIN) to complete the Direct PLUS Loan application which includes a Master Promissory Note. Parents will be notified usually within 36 hours of approval or denial.
What options are there if my parent is denied the Federal Direct PLUS Loan?
If your parent is denied the Federal Direct PLUS Loan s/he can submit an appeal directly to the Direct Loan Department; or re-apply for the loan using an endorser (co-signer); or You (the student) are eligible to borrow an additional unsubsidized Federal Direct Loan ($4,000 for freshmen and sophomores; $5,000 for juniors and seniors). The Financial Aid Office must receive a written request from you (the student) if you would like to borrow the additional unsubsidized Federal Direct Loan.
How do I apply for a private educational loan?
Please review page 6 of the “Understanding Your Award Letter” booklet for information on student private loans. To review a list of private lenders used by our students, go to elmselect.com, select your state (California) and Saint Mary’s College of California. Compare lenders and ask questions to make the best choice. You can choose any lender regardless of whether they are on our list or not.
I’m expecting to receive outside scholarships. How will this affect my financial aid award from Saint Mary’s?
Saint Mary’s works very hard at ensuring that students keep all of their aid intact. We cooperate with California Student Aid Commission’s award coordination program by reporting all gift aid to Cal Grant recipients. When necessary, Saint Mary’s aid is reduced to conform to the commission's estimate of financial need. If a student is “overawarded” in financial aid, the financial aid will be adjusted by reducing awards in the following order:
1. Federal subsidized/unsubsidized Direct Loans and /or Perkins Loans
2. Federal Work Study
3. Saint Mary’s Scholarships
4. Federal SEOG
5. Saint Mary’s College athletic grants
6. Scholarships from state or private sources
How can I find a job on-campus or off-campus?
Saint Mary’s Career Development Center maintains a database of jobs on and off campus. You can log into their website for a current listing of these jobs. You will use your GaelXpress ID and password to access this listing. Most employers will be hiring at the beginning of the fall term but the job database is updated with new listings throughout the year.
How does Work Study work?
Students who are awarded Federal Work Study must accept the award on their offer letter. We will send you a Work Study Contract. You can look for work study positions on the Career Center website under “Part Time Jobs.” You will need to log in with your GaelXpress ID and password. Once you find a job and are offered the position, the department will sign your contract which allows you to work. You will receive a paycheck for the hours worked bi-monthly.
I was not awarded Federal Work Study. How can I get this award?
Students are awarded Federal Work Study based on need. Not every student will receive this award. If you are not awarded work study you can still work on campus. Please check the listings for “Non-Work Study” jobs on the Career Center website.
How do I or my parents make payments to the college?
The College offers a variety of payment options through the Business Office.
I was offered a Cal Grant but I do not see it listed on my award letter from Saint Mary’s. What can I do?
Send us a copy of the Cal Grant offer from the California Student Aid Commission. This will allow us to update your award package.
Will the Cal Grant impact my other awards?
In short, yes. However the overall dollar amount of your award package will not change because we simply reduce your SMC award by the amount of your Cal Grant.
What is Satisfactory Academic Progress and how does it affect my financial aid?
Federal regulations require us to monitor undergraduate and graduate students’ academic progress to ensure that they are maintaining a required cumulative GPA and finishing their degree within an allotted timeframe. Aid can be withheld if a student does not make satisfactory progress.
Undergraduate students have their own set of Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements.
All graduate students must meet the standards of Satisfactory Academic Progress set by each academic department. The Financial Aid Office is notified by the academic departments if a student is not making progress toward their degree. Aid can be withheld if a student does not make progress.
What if my family’s circumstances change in future years?
Saint Mary’s will do it’s best to reevaluate your situation and see if you qualify for state or federal aid first. We have limited resources for currently enrolled students and priority is given to seniors and juniors.
I am a continuing student and just got my award letter. The Pell Grant amount is different from last year. What happened?
Students’ Pell Grant is determined each year based on the family's income, assets, and household size. The Pell Grant is prorated each year based on the Student’s Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).
What can I do to find more financial aid?
We strongly encourage all students to look for outside scholarships. It requires an on-going search for these scholarships not just a one-time search. We have provided links to several website to help students at Scholarship Websites That Work. Additionally, we have a Private Scholarship site that provides scholarships that Saint Mary’s has been informed of for our students. This site is updated each month with new scholarships and current deadlines. Also check out Brain Track for scholarships based on careers.
It is also a good idea to look in “your own backyard.” Check with your local service organizations like Kiwanis, Rotary Club, Lions and PEO. If your parents belong to professional associations or unions ask to see if they have scholarships. These organizations may not advertise the scholarship, but base it on word of mouth.
I have never lived on my own before. How do I learn to manage my money?
Saint Mary’s has collaborated with CashCourse.org, a website funded by the National Endowment for Financial Education, an independent, nonprofit foundation committed to educating college students and recent graduates on a broad range of financial topics, including budgeting, credit card usage, setting financial goals and income taxes.
Can I file my financial aid application as "Independent"?
According to federal regulations, you must be able to answer "YES" to one of the following questions to be considered "Independent" for financial aid purposes during the 2011-12 academic year:
- Are you 24 years old?
- Are you working on a master's or doctorate degree or graduate certificate?
- Are you married as of the date you complete the FAFSA?
- Do you have children who receive more than half their support from you?
- Do you have dependents other than your spouse or children who live with you and who receive more than half their support from you?
- Did you have no living parents (biological or adoptive) when you were age 13, even if you are now adopted?
- Are you or were you in foster care or a ward or dependent of the court at any time when you were 13 or older (even if you are not anymore)?
- Are you an emancipated minor or are in legal guardianship as determined by the court in your state of legal residence?
- Are you a self-supporting unaccompanied youth who is homeless or at risk of homelessness?
- Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, or have you attended a service academy and were released under a condition other than dishonorable?
- Are you currently servicing on active duty (other than training) in the U.S. Armed Forces?
If you do not meet any of these conditions, you are considered a dependent. Undergraduates cannot declare themselves independent of their parents due to family disagreement, living arrangements, or parental unwillingness to contribute to the price of attendance. If you have further questions, please contact our office.
I need another semester/year to graduate beyond my fourth year. What kind of aid is available?
It is Saint Mary’s College of California policy that students who matriculate as freshmen are only eligible for four years of Saint Mary’s aid. Those who transfer in have the number of years remaining that will equal four years. So if a sophomore transfers in he/she will have three years of eligibility a junior will have two years of eligibility. Cal Grant are only available for a maximum of four years. Therefore students who continue on after four years will only be considered for federal aid (Pell Grants and student loans).