Valley high school and college students can get answers to questions about financial assistance and help with filling out an application at the annual Financial Aid Fair hosted by The University of Texas-Pan American Wednesday, Feb. 18, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the University Ballroom.
"We want to make parents and students aware that the time to apply for financial aid is now," said Arnold Trejo, director of the Financial Aid Office at UT Pan American. "We want to help everyone that we can.
"We do this fair annually because we want to get the word out on types of financial aid programs," he said. "We recognize that the student aid process is a complex and lengthy process, and we invite area high school students as well as our students here on campus."
Students and their parents will be assisted with the application process and can get answers to questions on different types of financial aid, including grants, loans and work-study.
Volunteers with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program will also be at the fair to assist students and their parents in filling out income tax forms, which are required for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
"We'll also have financial aid counselors who will help students and their parents on a one-to-one basis for those who might have unusual circumstances," Trejo said.
Thirteen Valley high schools, including schools in PSJA, Valley View, Harlingen, Donna, Weslaco, Roma, Rio Grande City, Edinburg, Rowe in McAllen and the South Texas Teacher Academy in Edinburg have already made arrangements to have their students attend the Financial Aid Fair, which will have a Mardi Gras theme this year.
The fair will also feature snacks, door prizes, including backpacks and t-shirts, and scholarship drawings. Last year's Financial Aid Fair drew 2,500 participants.
"We chose a Mardi Gras theme because while our emphasis is to help students get the financial aid application process completed, we also want to make it something festive and fun," said Russell Moreland, assistant director of financial aid at UT Pan American.
For high school students and their parents interested in attending UT Pan American, the university's Office of Student Recruitment and Orientation will be giving tours of the campus to people who attend the Financial Aid Fair.
The fair coincides with Financial Aid Awareness Month, February. Financial aid administrators statewide are encouraging students to apply early for financial aid.
"Some grants and even work-study jobs are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis," Trejo said. "The sooner you apply in the award year, the stronger are your chances of getting a very satisfactory package.
"We strongly encourage students and their parents to mail the FAFSA or file the electronic FAFSA no later than Feb. 28," he said. "The institutional deadline is April 15, and students should file the application with the U.S. Department of Education by mail or electronically by Feb. 28 to give us time to process it and offer a reasonable financial aid award."
Trejo urges students to take advantage of the university's Financial Aid Express workshops, at which students can file the FAFSA electronically.
"If you file a hard copy, it takes anywhere from four to six weeks to get a response back from the U.S. Department of Education. If you file an electronic application, we could have an answer in from five to seven working days," he said. "It's a remarkable improvement in turnaround time and it improves the accuracy of the information given to us, so students don't have to resubmit corrections."
In addition to the fair, the university's Financial Aid Office also conducts workshops throughout the Valley for high school counselors to advise them on the financial aid application process and holds Financial Aid Nights at area high schools.
"We go out to the community and offer our services, and we also bring it to the institution. Whoever is in need of our services, we'll certainly be there," Trejo said.
For more information about the Financial Aid Fair, Financial Aid Express workshops or general information about financial aid, call the UT Pan American Financial Aid Office at 381-2502.