Students and Parents: Federal Aid Deadline is Fast Approaching

MERCED, CA— Even if students don't think they qualify, they should file their Free Application for Federal Student Aid by March 2.

That's the advice UC Merced's financial aid officials offer to all students, regardless of income.

In fact, UC Merced has new grant and scholarship programs this year that allows additional grant or scholarship money for first-year students with annual family incomes of up to $80,000. The funding comes from the University of California Office of the President, and expands the numbers and amounts of such grants over what UC Merced has been able to offer in the past two years.

These new programs provide fee coverage for students who meet eligibility criteria - but only if they apply by March 2.

"Unfortunately, money goes unclaimed every year because students don't bother to file the forms that could get them free cash for college," said Diana Ralls, UC Merced's director of financial aid.

But a visit to the Financial Aid Websitewill pay off, because all the information students need to file forms online is there, from the FAFSA to CalGrants, Pell Grants and scholarships.

There's also a section about the Cash for College workshops, sponsored by the California Commission for Student Aid, held at nearly every area high school on various dates. UC Merced's Financial Aid Web site has information for parents, new students, transfer and graduate students, grants, scholarships, loans and work-study programs.

"But you can't get money if you don't apply," Ralls said. "That's the most important part." There's also a section of frequently asked questions on the Web site, dealing with such topics as when and how to apply, grades, eligibility, admissions, family contributions and transferring financial aid from one school to another.

Ralls said if people still have questions after checking out the Web site, they should call the UC Merced Financial Aid Office at (209) 228-4243 or e-mail finaid@ucmerced.edu.

The state of California also has financial aid information.

There's a section for students and parents, and details about grades, new laws and changes to the financial aid rules, tips for applying and even a section on whether an offer is a scam or a scholarship.

Even though students have until March 2, it's better not to wait to file the FAFSA, because it is the starting point for all financial aid options.

"Starting now will help parents and students sort through all the information that's coming at them," Ralls said. "We're here to help make college accessible to everyone."

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