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Experts offer tips for college-bound students at Salmon River

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FORT COVINGTON - Representatives from the SUNY Potsdam financial aid department and the education departments of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and Mohawk Council of Akwesasne met with Salmon River high school seniors and their families this week, walking them through the process of applying for government financial aid, which they said can be lengthy and complicated. Also discussed were options available specifically for Mohawks.

Most of their presentation centered around one idea: Incoming college students need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) correctly and on time or they will not get federal and/or state student aid.

Sue Jones, a SUNY Potsdam financial aid advisor, delved into how the federal government determines eligibility under programs such as the Pell grant and how New York state doles out its Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). She explained that one factor of several that both the state and federal government look at what is known as expected family contribution (EFC).

She briefly mentioned that a student who turns 22 years of age during a semester will qualify for more federal and state grants and subsidized, or interest-free, loans than will their younger peers. She further explained that when a student reaches age 24, they are eligible for even greater amounts of government grants and subsidized loans because the person is considered to have complete financial independence from their parents.

It is common for undergraduate students of that age who meet income guidelines to have their schooling largely financed by government grants and subsidized loans, with the rest of their tuition being covered by low-interest unsubsidized loans, which eliminates the need for costly private borrowing.

Both locally and nationwide, many students are finding themselves financially crippled by tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in college debt because they are forced to take out high-interest private loans and/or are stuck with a higher amount of government unsubsidized loans.

Ms. Jones also noted that students can find alternative means of procuring college money through scholarships offered through churches, civic organizations or certain employers. She added that when filling out the FAFSA it is important to go to www.fafsa.gov, not www.fafsa.com. The latter website will charge money to fill out the form; the former is free.

Norma Sunday, Akwesasne Mohawk Post-Secondary Program administrator, and Rod Cook, director of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Higher Education Program, talked with about half of the crowd after JMs. ones finished speaking about what options are available to students who are enrolled members of both the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.

Ms. Sunday said her office is able to grant between $500 and $7,000 per semester to qualifying students ranging from first year through doctoral levels. She said Mohawk students going to American colleges and universities often use her program as their primary source of funding. But, they must maintain a 2.0 grade point average, which is 70 percent.

Mr. Cook said his program can potentially award up to $1,000 in grant funding, including New York state Indian Aid and monies from a trust fund awarded to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe as the result of a lawsuit against Reynolds Metals in 1996.

But both said their aid packages begin with the same document as everyone else: the FAFSA, which Cook called “the mother of all applications.”

The FAFSA can be found at www.fafsa.gov. For help finding financial aid, it is recommended that student and their parents speak with a guidance counselor or the financial aid office at the college or university to which the student is considering applying or has been accepted.

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