Courtney Weaver sits down with Jasmine Gonlin from the Mountaineer Hub (https://mountaineerhub.wvu.edu/) to talk about financial wellbeing, and most importantly – the FAFSA! They chat about why all students should fill it out, where they can complete it, and who they can ask for help if they aren’t sure of what to do. To fill out your FAFSA, visit: https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa 

Transcription: 

Welcome everyone to Wellbeing Wednesdays. My name is Courtney Weaver. I am the host. I'm also the director of WellWVU here at West Virginia University. And today I am joined by Jasmine Gonlin. She is the student service manager at the Mountaineer Hub, which I must say help is like, one of my favorite words. Um, but we want to welcome Jasmine. How you doing today? I'm doing great. Courtney. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah. Thank you so much for coming on. So to start us off, why don't you tell us all a little bit about what you do here at the university? Okay. Sure. Um, So, like you said, my name is Jasmine Gonlin.

I'm a student service manager at the Mountaineer hub. For those who might be unfamiliar with office, the hub is the student connection to financial aid, but work-study scholarships, student accounts. And, uh, academic information housed within the office of the university registrar. So in addition to my primary duties with the Mountaineer Hub, I also serve on the, uh, university's financial wellbeing priority action team.

Let's this fall to help the WVU community achieve financial wellbeing. Okay. And so that actually brings us to the topic of today's podcast, which is financial wellbeing. So Jasmine, how would you define that? Well, I believe that the well-being wheel refers to financial wellbeing as learning to effectively manage your money and seek out resources that would support your financial goals, which is true.

And that's a great definition, but I think that even simpler than that, it's about freedom. So am I free to do the things that I don't want to do? Um, financially. If I want to, can I purchase all of the groceries that I want to, or can I afford a college education, um, these types of education or these types of questions easily, um, help to define what financial wellbeing is to that individual.

So, I'm sure you've talked about this. Many of times that wellbeing looks different for different folks. So the financial wellbeing would also be different. Um, you know, depending on which, uh, stage of life that you might be at, or depending on how the year might be going for you. Right. And I love that we've included financial wellbeing as part of the well-being wheel, just because one of the constant sources of stress for so many people are, is money.

Uh, and it's like, do I have enough to get by? And how can I earn more? Make more. Um, so I think it's, it's cool that we talked about it here. And so we've had a few other people, um, from the priority action teams on, on the show and each, each group has its own set of goals. And so what are some of the goals of the financial wellbeing priority action team?

Yeah. Yeah. So we, we did build our goals based on the wellbeing, wheels, definition of financial wellbeing. Um, but more specifically, we're trying to assist folks in two key areas and that's managing money and seeking out resources. So regarding managing money. We have four, I'll say sub goals, basically, which include providing support to each student, receiving financial aid by connecting them with Mountaineer hub services, at least once per academic year.

Um, including financial literacy topics in WVU E one 91, those freshmen seminar courses. I increase the proportion of employees to meet with a financial services advisor to plan whether it be for day-to-day expenses, life events, or long-term saving goals. Everyone needs a financial plan, and then also providing opportunities for students and employees to establish credit or improve existing credit scores.

And. Are specific goals related to seeking out resources include increasing the proportion of students who say they can easily access resources to support their personal budgeting and cash management goals and increasing the proportion of employees who access WVU talent and culture programs, services, and discounts there.

So we believe that by focusing on these areas, we can strategically promote and enhance financial wellbeing within WVU in the surrounding community. Okay. Well, it sounds like a great plan and we'll anxiously wait, it's being, I guess, put into action with COVID is kind of put a halt on, on several things, but hopefully I can get moving.

And so what are the areas that your office, um, helps students with is with the FAFSA, right? Jasmine? Yes. The FAFSA. Now this is something that perhaps almost every college student has heard of before, but maybe some folks have no idea what it is, um, or haven't ever filled it out before. Um, but it is available now for the next academic year.

That's correct? Yes. Yes. Yes. Open October 1st. And the priority deadline is March 1st. Okay. And so why is it important to fill out the FAFSA as a college student? So I'm sure you can imagine. We get this question all the time. Courtney, there are a lot of questions on the FAFSA. Why should I fill this out?

Um, well, completing the facet is how students apply for federal state. State aid, but some States do have separate financial aid applications as well. Um, there are also certain scholarships that require students have a valid FAFSA on file. Um, specifically the West Virginia promise scholarship. For example, they require that a student complete a FAFSA, at least for that first year, um, in order to qualify for the promise scholarship.

In addition to that, though, um, as a response to the payment, the pandemic this year, you may have heard of a federal act called coronavirus aid relief and economic security act where the cares act included in this were. Funds specifically directed to colleges and universities that had a certain amount that needed to be directly distributed to students.

This was done in the form of cash grants. So these funds did not apply directly to the student's bill. They were applied as cash grants directly to students at a time when many students really needed it to be eligible to receive those cares act. Grant funds, though. A student would have to submit the application within the timeframe and had a ballot pass on file.

So both undergraduate and graduate students were eligible, but you do have, you would have had to have a fast on file. So to add a little bit of significance to that for you, kind of what that means, um, for the spring semester, that grant. Was a thousand dollars for students who were Pell grant eligible and $750 for student who did not have federal Pell grant eligibility.

We also awarded those funds, um, in the summer for students who were enrolled in completed the application, they would have also needed to have a ballot FAFSA on file. So just by submitting your FAFSA for this year, specifically, you could have had. You know, a few thousand dollars in gift aid as a response to the pandemic.

So I think everyone should submit their fast. Everyone should do it. Um, yeah. You, you mentioned a few things while you were explaining that, like the West Virginia promise scholarship, like what is that you have to, excuse me. Cause I'm not from West Virginia. So maybe a little bit what that is. So the promise scholarship is an award that is, um, given to West Virginia residents with certain sat or act scores.

So it is a merit based scholarship, but you do have to submit your FAFSA that first year in order to qualify. Oh, so good to know. Thank you for educating and non-resident. So if a student wants to fill out their FAFSA, should they be the one to do it? Should their family members, should their parents like who should be filling this out?

Yes. So definitely the student should fill out their FAFSA and I would encourage. I would encourage the students to do this with their parent, because for dependent students, you will need that parent's information. You're going to need their tax information to help, um, complete your FAFSA. But in regards to who should fill out the FAFSA, I think everyone should.

But honestly, if you're, um, the 2021, 2022 FAFSA. We'll cover the fall of 2021 semester spring 2022 and summer 2022. So if you're planning to enroll in courses, whether they be undergraduate, graduate or professional courses at any point in time during that timeframe, I would highly encourage you to submit the FAFSA.

Um, going back to the families. If you are a dependent student, you will need that parent information. The student and the parent would need to have their own FSA ID. That's how they would sign the FAFSA. Um, if you're an independent student, you should just be able to put your information or potentially your spouse's income information.

Okay. And w well, actually this is something that I don't know off the top of my head, and maybe you do, but what does FAFSA actually stand for? Yes, um, fastest is so the first word in facet is free and I always did that to folks because you should never pay for financial aid, never pay for an application for financial aid.

Okay. The first word is free and a stands for free application for federal student aid. There we go. Okay. And so filling it out, like, just because someone fills it out, doesn't mean that they're going to take out a loan or apply for a scholarship, correct. All filling out the baths that basically says that you are interested in receiving financial aid from an institution.

The other thing is when you. Are, um, offered financial aid. That's simply what it is. It's an offer. So you have to actually go in for WVU students. You have to go into your star account and accept those loans. If you did want them. After a certain point in the semester in the fall semester, we actually canceled loans.

Because the rate changes. So if you don't accept your loans, nothing will happen. Like you won't loan debt or anything like that, even if you submitted your FAFSA. Okay. So that's good to know too, because sometimes when you fill out forms, I'll sometimes you don't know what happens after it's completed. Um, so, all right.

And so Jasmine, where can fill it out, did they do it online? They can do it online. They can do it. There's an app. Uh, whatever's most convenient. Yeah. There's an app for that. Whatever's most convenient for you. So online, it's just FAFSA, F a F S a.gov, and you can complete it. You can also download, um, the federal student aid app, um, to your mobile device and complete that.

Okay. Yeah. We'll make sure to put the web address in the description of this week's podcast so that people can, can find it easily. Uh, and so what if a student needs help filling it out? Where can they go? So there are tons of options if you need facet help. So of course you can always contact us at the Mountaineer hub.

Um, our phone number is (304) 293-1988. And you can give us a call. We can help you. We also have a small, but growing. Team of peer educators who are trained student staff that can help other students through, um, FAFSA and financial aid processes. Also the, uh, West Virginia residents can call the West Virginia higher education policy commission.

They have been offering virtual FAFSA filing assistance during the pandemic. Um, and at the beginning of September, they launched a series of financial aid webinars for students and families preparing for college as part of. Uh, their statewide financial aid workshop series. So you can give them a call where you can even call a federal student aid directly and they can help you complete that FAFSA.

Wow. So, so many options folks need help, which is really good. Um, so FAFSA like sort of opens a lot of different gateways for students. It could be scholarships, but it could also be. That pesky beast known as the, as a student loan. Um, I am very familiar with those because I have quite a few of them, myself.

So Jasmine, what's your advice for students who are worried about taking out those student loans and then eventually having to repay them? Yeah, definitely. So if you are worried about student loan debt, I will just say that is a valid concern. You do want to be smart about your finances, if, and when you do decide to borrow only take what you need.

You know, we put out. Um, billing estimators. We put out cost estimators on our website to help you with making sure that you're staying within your cost of attendance, that you're only borrowing exactly what you need. Um, one way that the federal government actually helps students to reduce their overall debt load is by having an annual cap on what certain grade levels can borrow.

So, for example, first-time freshmen can only take out $5,500 in federal student loans. Anything above that would have to be through private or, um, a parent could take out a plus on, on their path. So that's one way. Um, there are also plenty of loan interest calculators to determine how much you would end up paying on that debt for the course of the loan.

So if you can make small payments while you're in school to reduce the overall debt load and prevent large amounts of interest from accruing, um, something else that not everyone knows is you can actually return your loan or you can return a portion of your loan. If it's more than what you need. So it's a master after we, um, first financial aid, many students do receive a refund from financial aid to help cover some of the indirect costs, such as books and supplies, room and board expenses, things like that.

So if you found that your refund is more than enough to cover those costs, you can send back the unused portion of your loan and reduce that principal. Nice. I don't think I knew that either. Shoot. I had so much leftover once I wasn't a student here. Oh man. Um, and I know, so speaking from my own, I guess, personal experiences that once you do start the repayment process, there are lots of plans out there that will work with like the amount of income that you're making it, whatever post-graduation job that you have so that the.

Well payment itself, doesn't it doesn't necessarily have to be incredibly overwhelming, which I've appreciated as I've moved through the repayment process. Um, so there's that too. All right. So we always end our podcast with like wellbeing, snapshot of sort of what we're talking about in current times.

And I think it feels like we've been doing this for 10 years about Kobe, but really it's just been about eight months, um, of. Of COVID talk, but in your opinion, what has been the impact of COVID on students' financial wellbeing? Um, so I think we've seen kind of two different avenues. We've seen some instances where students.

Are actually impacted in a positive way from COVID in that some of their travel has been canceled, so they're saving money or some of their events that, um, they were planning to go to have been canceled. So they're saving money from that end. Um, we've also seen obviously a very negative impact on students' finances.

Where, um, it may be harder for students to, to obtain jobs or maybe their family's financial circumstances have changed as a result of the pandemic. So I think that it's been drastic. How has the impact been? It's been, uh, it's been drastic, but for. Individuals who might find themselves in either of those camps.

It's been an opportunity to kind of reassess what's going on with finances. So you have an opportunity to reevaluate your budget or create a budget if you don't have one, um, it's really. Allowed folks, and it's allowed families a time to have those discussions. I think that what you're finding is more students are involved in discussions about finances now, post COVID, whether those be positive or negative.

Um, so I think in terms of the overall wellbeing, it's, it's just been an opportunity for us to grow a little bit. All right. Well, Jasmine, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to chat with us over here at wellbeing, Wednesdays. We appreciate everyone tuning in. Apparently we have a broader listener base than I originally thought, which is really exciting.

So welcome to everyone who just started listening, but they go for your time and we'll catch you next time on Wellbeing Wednesday.