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How to get free money toward your education

Cougie (Christina Sholars, financial aid specialist) waits to assist students in the financial aid office. Photo by Leah Monson

An array of scholarships and grants are available through the Cuesta College Financial Aid Department, and all aim to alleviate the financial burden of paying for college tuition and educational expenses.

For students who live off part-time wages, take classes full-time, or receive little to no financial assistance from their parents, this awarded money can make a significant impact on the completion of a degree. 

“Almost everyone, regardless of income, qualifies for some financial assistance,” said Michelle Evans, interim director of financial aid at Cuesta College. 

The Financial Aid Department operates by this idea, and it is a testament to the amount of financial support that is available to any student who needs it.

Scholarships and grants are both designed to award free money to students, but a key difference separates the two. According to Cuesta College’s list of financial aid opportunities, scholarships are competitive and are awarded based on academic performance, whereas grants are awarded to students who are in need of financial assistance.

The idea of filling out multiple applications can be daunting and tedious, but the Cuesta College scholarship potentially eliminates that stressor. The process requires students to fill out one application, which is then sent out to over 150 scholarships. These scholarships cater to all types of students, and the money awarded is anywhere between $200 and $3,000. This money can be used towards tuition, books, gas, food, housing, and any other necessities for the school year.

The deadline for the Cuesta College scholarship application has already passed for the spring semester, but the application opens up for the next academic year on Oct. 1. 

A new scholarship was recently added to the Cuesta College website, and aims to award 22 students with $500 and one with $1,000. The California Community Colleges Student Financial Aid Administrators Association (CCCSFAAA) Scholarship application deadline is March 31. 

A number of grants are available for students to apply for, and the amount of money varies based on the type of grant. The Pell Grant Program and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) both award money based on need rather than predetermined amounts. Others, like the California Chafee Grants for Foster Youth and the Student Success Completion Grant, award specific amounts. 

Evans encourages all students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application in conjunction with scholarship and grant applications, as it elevates the chances of being selected. 

A full list of the scholarships and grants available, as well as their applications, requirements and due dates can be found on the Cuesta College website or at the Financial Aid office. Any further questions can be answered at the Financial Aid office, which is located in room 3126 at the main campus and in room 1100 at the North County Campus. 

For students who are unable to come in for assistance, Cougie the chatbot is available 24/7 on the bottom right of the Financial Aid page. 

Cougie the chatbot is an automated service that answers financial aid related questions, and is available in English and Spanish. Cougie offers informational links and videos, and directs students to email the Financial Aid Department for any questions he is unable to answer.