Navigating financial aid at USM

Navigating financial aid at USM

Tonieria Robinson, an interdisiplinary studies senior from Hattiesburg, talks to a financial aid counselor on Tuesday at the Financial Aid Office in Kennard-Washington Hall. April Garon/Printz

Tonieria Robinson, an interdisciplinary studies senior from Hattiesburg, talks to a financial aid counselor on Tuesday at the Financial Aid Office in Kennard-Washington Hall.
April Garon/Printz

It’s a new semester and students are dealing with the stress of new surroundings, new classes and new roommates. David Williamson, director of financial aid, wants to make sure students don’t stress over the financial aid process.

“You have enough to stress out about when you come back to campus,” Williamson said. “The key is to have everything done before you leave school the previous semester.”

Sifting through the many financial aid options available can be intimidating, but the financial aid website lists frequently asked questions and provides download links for necessary forms.

Hannah Bolton, financial aid counselor for communications, expressed the importance of staying plugged in to SOAR and campus email accounts.

“The majority of our communications are done electronically,” Bolton said. “Checking your SOAR account and campus email frequently can save a trip to the office.”

When checking SOAR, Williamson said two important things to check are the “to-do list” and whether the student has a prior balance from the previous semester.

“If they have a balance carrying over that prevents them from completing the next semester’s process because their classes were dropped,” Williamson said. “Check the to-do list that details what we are asking for and fill out the paperwork completely.”

Once students have completed the FAFSA application, paid prior balances and completed paperwork, Bolton said they can continue to check their SOAR and campus email for updates, and contact the office for any questions or concerns they may have.

“They can email or call to check with us to make sure we have everything in their file,” Bolton said.  “If they want to stop by and meet with a counselor personally they can do so as well.”

Applying early for financial aid is important to improve the chances of getting limited and competitive funding such as the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Work-Study and Perkins loans.

If students didn’t get their financial aid taken care of early, they can still get the necessary information to the office to receive funds. But Williamson said students need to be patient when working with the financial aid counselors.

“They need to be prepared to wait,” Williamson said. “There are a bunch of students and we can’t process them all overnight.”

“We try to do our best and caught up prior to the semester that way we can handle the volume, but they need to be prepared,” he added.

Refunds are issued two weeks after classes start. Bolton said if students have concerns about their refund, they should check with the Business Services office in Forrest County Hall.

Williamson also advised students to check their account and make sure all fees are paid before spending their refund. He also urged students use their refund for necessities only.

“Students need to have a budget lined up of what their living expenses are going to be monthly and allocate some of their refund towards that and put some of it in a happy day fund for spending on having fun,” Williamson said. “Establish two different places to deposit so that you don’t get them mixed up.

He also addressed the recent emails sent out by the Financial Aid office regarding phishing scams.

“No legitimate source or reputable university would request a student’s bank account information by phone, and students are advised to treat such calls as phishing attempts,” Williamson said. “Be very wary of anything of that nature.”

Williamson said the number one thing to remember is that the counselors at the Financial Aid office are there for the students and are on their side.

“Students need to realize we are here for them— we wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for the students,” Williamson said. “We try to do the best we can to process their aid so they won’t be stressed out about money.”

For more information, visit their website www.usm.edu/financial-aid or call 601.266.4774.

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