Raise your hand if you don’t know how you’ll pay for college. We see that hand!
College is a big step. While San Jacinto College offers an affordable education, you might not be able to pay for everything out of pocket.
If navigating financial aid is holding you back, we can help. Here to guide you in the process are Robert Merino, dean of financial aid, and Tammy McAdams, San Jacinto College Foundation coordinator of advancement.
Learn how to apply for financial aid and snag Foundation scholarships.
FINANCIAL AID 101
Q: What is financial aid, and how do I apply for it?
Robert Merino: Financial aid helps students and their families cover education expenses like tuition, course materials, transportation, and more. It includes grants, scholarships, federal or private loans, work-study, and paid internships.
You apply by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA).
You’ll complete the FAFSA if you are:
- A U.S. citizen
- A permanent U.S. resident with an alien registration card
- A conditional permanent U.S. resident with visa type I-551C
- An eligible non-citizen with an arrival/departure record showing you are a refugee, parolee (minimum one year), Cuban-Haitian entrant, or granted asylum.
You’ll complete the TASFA if you’re a Texas resident who is not eligible to complete the FAFSA.
Q: I hear the FAFSA is complicated. Has it gotten easier to complete?
RM: The FAFSA keeps evolving every year. Since the application moved online, the questions have become dynamic. This means some questions are skipped if you or your parents meet certain criteria.
Q: What documents do I need to complete the FAFSA?
RM: You need:
- Your Social Security number or alien registration number (if you’re not a U.S. citizen)
- Your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned (you may be able to transfer your tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool)
- If applicable: Bank statements, investment records, and untaxed income records
- An FSA ID to sign electronically
- If a dependent: Most of the above information for your parent(s) too
Q: What is expected family contribution (EFC), and what if I’m paying my own way through school?
RM: The EFC comes from a formula applied to FAFSA data. It estimates what your family can contribute toward your education expenses and determines how much financial aid you may receive. A low number allows you to receive the most aid.
If your EFC is high but your family can’t help you, still complete the FAFSA. Our Foundation offers merit-based scholarships that require a FAFSA on file, and our financial aid administrators can adjust the FAFSA income criteria if your household income has changed.
Q: If I’ve completed the FAFSA or TASFA, how will I find out the aid I’m receiving?
RM: You may have to submit verification documents first. Then the College sends you a financial aid offer letter via email. This tells you how much you will receive as a full-time student. However, you don’t have to enroll full time to receive aid. The actual amount depends on your enrollment.
Q: What kind of aid can I get?
Check out these resources to lower your college expenses!
- www.fafsa.ed.gov: Fill out the FAFSA.
- www.collegeforalltexans.com: Learn about TASFA and financial aid in Texas.
- www.sanjac.edu/grants: We’ve compiled scholarships and other aid on one page to make it easy for you!
- www.sanjac.edu/admissions-aid/payments/paying-college: Learn about installment payment plans and Open Books courses that use free or low-cost digital materials.
- www.sanjac.edu/connect-virtually: Have questions? We’ve got answers. Meet with us in person or virtually for help!
RM: The most common aid San Jac students receive is grants (like Pell). Pell eligibility is based on the EFC. Those with an EFC between zero and $5,846 qualify. As the EFC approaches $5,846, the Pell amount decreases.
Student loans must be repaid when you graduate or drop from at least half-time status.
Work-study allows you to earn aid by working an approved position on or off campus. You must enroll at least half time and have financial aid need.
Exemptions and waivers are paid to students who meet certain conditions. Examples include being deaf or blind, the child of a disabled firefighter or police officer, part of the foster care system, and/or a child or spouse of a deceased or disabled veteran.
Q: I feel overwhelmed. Can you help me?
RM: Yes! We have experienced financial aid advisors standing by to help you with everything. Our campuses are open for walk-in assistance. You may also schedule a virtual appointment at www.sanjac.edu/connect-virtually.
Q: How do I find the general scholarship application? When does this open?
Tammy McAdams: First, make sure you’ve applied to San Jac, claimed your SOS account, and completed the FAFSA or TASFA. You will need an SOS login to apply for Foundation scholarships.
Next, visit sjcd.academicworks.com. There are two application cycles:
- Primary (apply Feb. 15 - June 30): Most scholarships offered by the College and Foundation are awarded annually for the academic year (fall/spring).
- Secondary (apply Aug. 31 - Nov. 14 -- extended deadline!): Smaller general and departmental scholarships are available for the spring semester only.
For a greater chance of receiving a scholarship, apply during the primary cycle. This allows you to plan your finances for the full academic year since most scholarships are for two semesters.
Q: What do I need to fill out the application?
TM: Gather these documents and information:
- High school transcript (if you’ve never attended college) or college transcript(s)
- One letter of recommendation (some scholarships may require this)
- List of accomplishments, awards, activities, employment, volunteer work, hobbies, etc.
Q: How will I know which specific scholarships I’m eligible for? Do I apply separately for these?
TM: There are two types of scholarship opportunities:
- Auto-match: Once you submit the general application, you are automatically matched to scholarship opportunities for which you qualify. No further action required!
- Apply-to: You may have to answer supplemental questions to be considered for these scholarships. You’ll see these opportunities after you submit the general application. Read the criteria first to ensure you qualify.
Q: I’ve heard scholarships are hard to get. Should I even try?
TM: Yes, apply! The Foundation works hard to raise scholarship funds to help students achieve their goals. AcademicWorks is a one-stop shop to give you the most comprehensive access to San Jac’s generous scholarship offerings. Complete one application, and you will be considered for many. The application is completely online, making it easy to apply!
Q: What’s your best piece of advice for me to stand out?
TM: Write great short essay responses. Sing your own praises. Think carefully about each question and share things about yourself that you can’t show anywhere else in the application. This is one time when you need to brag.
Talk about recognition and awards you've received. Emphasize activities that show your talents and passions and demonstrate your leadership, initiative, persistence through adversity, and community service. Have someone else check your grammar and spelling but do your own writing.