The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UMW updates students on financial aid and scholarships

5 min read
A lady working and using her computer behind the "Financial Aid" sign.

Mary Washington priority filling deadline for the FAFSA is March 1. | Abbey Magnet, The Weekly Ringer


Staff Writer

On Feb. 21, Director of Financial Aid Timothy Saulnier spoke at the FAFSA Financial Aid and Scholarship Update for Current Students Webinar where he discussed scholarships and financial aid available for students to apply for, as well as the changes that have been made to the FAFSA. 

Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid each year to be considered for need-based institutional scholarships at UMW. For the 2024-25 academic year, the FAFSA opened on Dec. 31, 2023, and the priority filing deadline is March 1. The FAFSA opened two months later than initially scheduled due to changes to the application and users experiencing technical issues.

Consistent with the previous version of the FAFSA, dependent students and their parents must create an FSA ID, which is an electronic signature used to log in and complete the FAFSA as well as to gain access to related U.S. Department of Education websites. 

The FAFSA collects demographic and financial aid information from students to determine the Student Aid Index—formerly known as the Expected Family Contribution—which represents how much a student and their family can contribute towards the cost of university education.

According to Saulnier, a student’s financial need is determined by subtracting the amount from the Student Aid Index from the cost of attendance.

Additionally, as part of the changes that were made to the FAFSA, parents are now called ‘contributors.’

“All contributors must provide financial information,” said Saulnier. “‘Contributor’ is a new word this year that is essentially parent one [and] parent two, so you would list these contributors and an email will be sent to them.” 

About other changes, Saulnier said, “Students are now able to list up to 20 colleges or universities—previously it was 10. Applicants can now use the direct data exchange from the IRS, so previously the information was transferred over and then you could verify the information submitted; now it comes directly from the IRS.”

The new FAFSA changed how students with divorced or separated parents should claim a contributor as well. 

“Previously, the student who lived with a parent more than 50% of the time, that was a parent that was supposed to be utilized,” Saulnier said. “Now what’s happening is the parent in a separation situation or divorce situation—the parent who’s providing the most support is supposed to be on the FAFSA, and that may not necessarily be the one that the student is living with.” 

Junior English major Lena Vellojos said that completing the FAFSA her freshman year was stressful, especially due to the confusion caused by having divorced parents. This year, she filed the new version of the FAFSA and found that the changes helped expedite the process.

“With the new system where [the IRS] asked permission and then they just take it and copy and paste it, we finished it in, like, I want to say half an hour compared to the two-hour ordeal it was before,” she said.

According to Vellojos, the process is now easier, but having completed the form before put her at an advantage. 

She continued, “I definitely say it is slightly easier, especially if you have experience with filling it out. If it’s the first time, you’re obviously going to have some type of trouble.” 

However, even though the process was faster, Vellojos also had some technical difficulties while filling out the FAFSA.

“There were some parts where we were getting error messages, and we had to clear our browser history or just refresh the screen,” she said. “Thankfully, it saved our progress so we didn’t have to start all over again.” 

Furthermore, a new addition has been added to the FAFSA called “Unusual Circumstances,” which are conditions that justify an institution making an adjustment to a student’s dependency status. 

“In this scenario, the student does not provide parental data on the FAFSA and they are considered provisionally independent, so this is another change from the past,” Saulnier said. “So going forward, these students will actually receive a valid SAI, or student aid index number, and in previous years they would have not received an EFC.” 

In addition to filing the FAFSA, students can also apply for scholarships through the UMW scholarship application, which opens on Feb. 1. While the general deadline is May 15, some departments have earlier deadlines, which is outlined on the scholarship application website

Federal student aid programs such as the Federal Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant assist students who need supplemental financial support. To qualify, students must file the FAFSA. 

According to Saulnier, UMW awards about $4 million in Pell Grants and has $100,000 allocated for the FSEOG. 

“Just know that anyone who is eligible for the Pell Grant is also eligible for the FSEOG grant,” he said. “Those same students are all eligible for that.”

Students may also be eligible for federal direct student loans, which are either subsidized or unsubsidized.

“The subsidized loan is need-based. It does not accrue interest for students in school,” said Saulnier. “The unsubsidized loan is not need-based and would accrue interest while a student is in school.” 

Sophomore computer science major Mackenzie Swain receives scholarships and has also taken out loans to pay for her university education.

“I have scholarships through the school, and I also have gotten scholarships through the FAFSA for residency in Virginia and living on campus and stuff like that,” Swain said. “I get federal loans from the government, but I am dependent on getting those to find out how much I need to borrow [in] private loans.”

In addition to her financial aid and scholarships, Swain also has an on-campus job as a computer science teaching assistant, which has helped her financially.

“I’m a TA for one of my professors, so having that sort of extra income to help buy textbooks or groceries and stuff like that has been definitely a comfort and a cushion,” Swain said.

For students who may want to make corrections to their FAFSA, they will have to wait until mid-March, according to Saulnier.

“They are in the process of still working on the back end of the FAFSA—basically the section where they send all the information to the schools,” Saulnier said. “So as a result, if you made a mistake on the FAFSA and you need to make a correction, you are unable to do that at this time. You won’t be able to do it until they reprocess all the FAFSAs, so we anticipate students will be able to do that around mid-March.”