What to know about financial aid and scholarship opportunities at ECC

Nat Leon, Engagement Editor

The entrance of Elgin Community College’s Financial Aid Office.

If you are a student, you have probably been working on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or seeking scholarship opportunities. Elgin Community College has several services that offer help while navigating these resources. 

Maria Tovar, ECC’s financial aid advisor, explains that FAFSA is an application that students complete in order to determine what grants and student loans they qualify for. A grant is need-based funding provided to students which does not need to be paid back, while a loan is funding that must be paid back with interest. 

“For loans, it’s better to get federal loans compared to loans coming from any banks because banks are going to have higher interest rates,” Tovar said. 

 The FAFSA application must be filled out yearly. It opens every October and closes right before the school year begins. Applications can be filled out at Studentaid.gov.

“The sooner that the student completes the FAFSA the better just because there is state funding and the state does run out of funding soon,” Tovar said. 

Once a student has filled out the FAFSA form, ECC will receive the application. The school may ask for additional documents and will complete a verification process before awarding students what they need. This process is different for each school. 

For students who need assistance with their application, ECC provides help in the Financial Aid office, Building B-156. There are computers in the office where students can work on their forms while getting help from the people at the front desk. 

Students should go at least one hour before the office closes, and bring their tax return information. If more specific one-on-one help is necessary, students should schedule an appointment. 

Tovar encourages students to ask for help.

“Don’t be shy, I know sometimes you don’t want to talk to someone at the front desk and explain your whole life to someone that’s there,”  Tovar said. “You can always ask for an advisor and say your situation is specific.”

ECC also has scholarships that students can apply for. 

Nancy Gutierrez, ECC’s scholarship & work study specialist, manages all internal and private scholarships. 

“Just because you don’t qualify for FAFSA doesn’t mean that you don’t have financial need, so these scholarships help supplement that financial need so that students have more flexibility when it comes to payments,” Gutierrez said. 

Students can fill out the Foundation Application, which is a single application that applies to over 200 scholarships. The application is open all year long, starting each new school year cycle in January and ending in December. The application can be found on here

The scholarship committee evaluates the applications to determine what scholarships students are eligible to receive, which prevents students from having to fill out individual applications for each scholarship. 

“We have a ton of different scholarships for everything, so anything from graphic design to nursing to truck driving,” Gutierrez said. “Every little thing you could think of, we have a scholarship for, mostly.”

Gutierrez expresses that the process is not rigorous and only requires one letter of support. A letter of support differs from a letter of recommendation because it can come from any person, not just a professor or employer. 

Students will generally find out which scholarships they are awarded for the academic year in the Fall semester.

“Even if you do not think you’re going to qualify, apply; there is a lot of money out there that goes unused because no one is applying,” Gutierrez said.