Calculus. For most folks the subject is a total mystery that would require a lot of help to solve. Melissa Flores, a freshman taking Calculus at the University of Texas at Tyler, has no problem with it. The challenge was figuring out how to pay for it.
"I would go to school, and I'd ask people, 'How do you do this,' or I'd Google things, and I'd be like, 'How do I do this,'" Flores said.
Her research on paying for college led her to one form, the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Without it, Melissa learned, financial aid was not going to happen.
"It was good to have something to start from," Flores said. "Because then you knew they were going to evaluate, and see if you're eligible to get grants and things, so it was kind of a good starting point."
The same is true for Melissa's peer and fellow UT Tyler student, Ben Cox. Ben didn't start college until four years after high school, but that form was his first step.
"When I filled out my FAFSA to apply for financial aid, it was as an independent," Cox said. "So you didn't have to have the background of your parents, or their financial statements to include in that."
Ben is a senior and getting ready to graduate. Melissa, who's just starting out, was able to qualify for several scholarships thanks to filling out the FAFSA. And all that free money means she doesn't have to work and go to school.
"It's really hard to go to school and have a job," Flores said. "Especially as a chemistry major, you don't want to have a job...you just don't!"
A feeling of comfort, that goes hand-in-hand with the feeling she gets knowing that she navigated financial aid, mostly on her own.
"It really helps me feel like I accomplished something," Flores said. "Because a lot of people, they're like, 'My parents are making me take this or this.' I'm like, 'I knew I have to take it.'"
"I'm less terrified."
Ben says he knows that feeling, and that he's already trying to help other members of his family feel it too.
"They come to me, and say, 'What do I have to do,'" Cox said. "And I say, 'This is where you start, you have to do this, before you get started on anything else, because you have to know what's available to you from the FAFSA.'"
In the 2012-2013 school year, 43 percent of the UT Tyler student body received academic scholarships, and more than $8.5 million in grant money was disbursed to undergraduate students there.
Friday, August 22 2014 3:11 PM EDT2014-08-22 19:11:37 GMT
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