Tiffany Tyrrell is the director of financial aid at our Tulsa campus. Tiffany has worked in financial aid for almost 14 years, including 16 months with us. Prior to joining Tulsa Welding School, she spent 12½ years building her experience as a senior financial aid advisor at a college in Colorado, her home state.
Can you outline what your financial aid team does for students?
Our job is to inform students to make sure they understand what financial aid does and how it’s going to help them come to school. We outline what loans they’re eligible for by helping them complete the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the form used for federal and state grants and loans.
If they have previous schooling, we verify if they’re eligible for financial aid by making sure they’re not in default and they’re not in a crossing-over loan period. Our job is to make sure they’re packaged and ready to come to school, so when they start, they can focus on nothing but the program. [You can find out more about financial aid at https://www.tws.edu/tuition-planning/financial-aid/]
What’s your main responsibility as director?
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I manage my team of three. I sign off on the verifications and on scholarships. In busy periods, I also work with the students. I handle any expedited calls or any parents who need additional attention. I’m just here to make sure everything goes smoothly and that everybody is in compliance and satisfied!
You mentioned scholarships. Talk a little more about that.
We have different types of scholarships available for enrolled, independent students: a foundation scholarship, a women’s scholarship, a Native American scholarship and quite a few others. For example, in Tulsa at the moment, we have a relocation scholarship, but availability depends on when they enroll and eligibility. [Learn more about available scholarships at https://www.tws.edu/tuition-planning/financial-aid/scholarships/]
Is financial aid a long process? It sounds a little daunting.
It does sound a little scary, but it’s really not. We’re here to help, advise and guide them, to ease their mind, make sure that they’re comfortable, make sure they understand what they’re signing up for and the whole process. We can get everything done in two days. All students complete and electronically sign their FAFSA with their FSAID [Federal Student Aid ID], and once that’s processed, it’s probably 90 minutes with us to finish everything.
When does a prospective student first meet your team?
They meet us the very first time they come to the school to talk about getting enrolled. They meet with admissions first, they’ll do a campus tour, then come to the financial aid department. We’ll talk them through the financial aid process. We talk about FAFSA and loans and ask if they’ve been to school before. If they have, we look them up to make sure they’re not in default, that they’re not in a crossing-over loan period, all to ensure that they’re eligible to come to school.
What happens next?
If they decide they want to enroll, once they pay their application fee, the admissions rep will bring them back to us and we start the process. We’ll get them started with their FAFSA, help them apply for an FSAID so they can electronically sign everything, then we make an appointment for a couple of days later, which is when we spend 90 minutes or so with them to finish everything up.
What are some typical questions that students ask of you and your team?
“Are they going to able to get money back?” – They often think that being eligible for a loan means they’ll get the money themselves. I explain that the loan goes to the school to pay their tuition. They generally don’t have a credit on their account that would give them money back, unless their parents are approved for a Parents PLUS loan or they take out an alternative loan, such as Sallie Mae.
“Are you sure I’m that I’m going to be approved?” – We explain that we’ll help them through the financial aid process, go through everything they’re eligible for. Financial aid is for those who qualify.
“Am I going to have a payment while I’m in school?” – The answer to that is about 90% of our students have a $60 a month payment while at school, unless they have the Plus loan or are a VA student, or have an alternative loan such as Sallie Mae.
Once they have gone through the process, what access do students have to your department?
Our doors are always open, so if they have questions, we are here. We’re available Monday through Thursday until 8pm, and here on Friday. Either in school or once they graduate, we’re here for them.
What happens at graduation?
We have a graduation meeting. My team goes down to the classroom and goes over their exit. There is exit paperwork to do. We make sure they are in good standing, that there isn’t an additional balance with the school. They have a printout of what their government loans are, which they start paying six months after they leave. If they also have the Tuition Options loan, which is the loan they pay $60 a month for while in school, then we go over all that with them, including their remaining out-of-school payments and loan term.
What advice do you have for students who may be considering attending TWS?
I’d say that financial aid is nothing to be scared of, so don’t let that put you off. We’re here to make sure you truly understand what the process is and how it works. We make financial aid awesome!
What’s your favorite student story from your time at the Tulsa campus?
We had a student with a lot of obstacles. When he first started the system, we showed he was in default, and he had a UEH code (Unusual Enrollment History). He was in track and football in his previous schools, so he had moved around to five different schools.
We first got the default corrected. It was like $3! I was just going to pay it, but it was a paperwork nightmare and took a while! Then we had to deal with the UEH. When you get a UEH code, that means you have to get all your transcripts from the other colleges. He finally got four out of the five, but the registrar’s office at the fifth just refused. We were trying to come up with a workaround when he was able to contact a track coach that knew of him. The coach finally got us the transcript.
Was he in class, or was this before classes started?
He’d started class, but he was diligent. He came to see us every day asking what he needed to do today. I didn’t keep him from class because he was so diligent. I think he missed maybe two days. We didn’t want him to fail his class because he had followed through and did all he could. He just graduated last month!
Finally, what can students do to help you help them?
If we ask for anything, please do it! Just follow through! As that example shows, as long as someone follows through and tries to help us help them, we’ll do anything we can to work with them.