Editor’s note: Non-traditional students sometimes face a set of unique challenges when they embark on the journey to obtain a college degree. Amanda Collins, a graduate of both Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) and Missouri State University-Springfield, knows those challenges well. In her column “My Non-Traditional Path to Success” on this page, she is sharing her story and providing insights into the higher education processes for others like her who are considering a return to the classroom. Collins works part time on several projects in the MSU-WP university communications office.
My non-traditional path to success: The admissions process and financial aid
My husband and I agreed that pursuing a degree in teaching would be a good contingency plan for me and our children should something happen to him. I mentioned in my last column, a dear friend from high school became the sole income earner for herself and her six children. Since that ordeal, she has obtained her high school equivalency, LPN degree and RN license. I’m so happy for her! According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for an RN in Missouri is $65,900.
Before enrolling in college, I worked as a licensed massage therapist (LMT) for 11 years, and through that time I fostered close relationships with many endearing individuals, including Willene Pratt. Mrs. Pratt is a retired teacher and convinced me my decision to enroll in college was the right choice.
Mrs. Pratt and I often talked about her time as a teacher and raising her children. When I admitted to her that I was contemplating becoming a substitute teacher, she wholeheartedly supported my decision. One of the reasons she became a teacher was to ensure she could care for her own family if her husband was no longer able to earn an income, and that resonated with me.
To help me, Mrs. Pratt gave me a scholarship application from the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) of Missouri. Mrs. Pratt is a member of the Women’s Library Club in West Plains, which is affiliated with GFWC. According to GFWC of Missouri, the state is divided into nine districts with a total of 63 women’s clubs, . Each state federation is part of the international GFWC which was founded in 1890 and is “dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service.”
What are scholarships?
Unlike student loans, scholarships and grants are considered gift money and do not need to be paid back. Candidates must meet certain criteria to earn this type of funding which can vary depending on the award, such as financial status, racial and cultural backgrounds, degree majors, grade point averages, and area of residence. Education Data Initiative (EDI) indicates private sources award over $7.4 billion in scholarship money annually. EDI is a small team of researchers with a mission to organize data about the U.S. education system in an accessible, thorough format.
I filled out the GFWC scholarship application and submitted it to the university’s business office, but before I could qualify, I needed to enroll in college. This was easier than I anticipated! I filled out a paper application, which is now available online for those who wish to digitally apply or download a copy. I also received a small checklist of requirements, like requesting my high school transcripts to be sent to MSU-WP. Transferring my transcripts was as simple as a phone call to my high school’s office.
Federal Student Aid
Finally, I needed to fill out my Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) through the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) site. This is a free process that can be a little intimidating at first, but a staff member in the business office helped me set up my FAFSA account and walked me through the process. According to EDI, most federal student aid is need-based and includes grants, loans and work-study programs. FSA uses the applicant’s FAFSA data to determine the amount awarded to each student. “Missouri ranks 25th in total financial aid dollars, spending 0.29% of its domestic product,” EDI researchers said. Additionally, recipients are 40% more likely to be women than men. Eligibility requirements can be found at StudentAid.gov.
Because filling out the FAFSA requires a lot of information, gathering necessary documents ahead of time can aid the application process. A comprehensive document list can be found at StudentAid.gov, but primarily applicants need their social security number, driver’s license number, federal tax information, among other documents.
Thankfully, my spouse and I e-file our tax information which streamlined the process. The first time filling out FAFSA can be tedious, but subsequent years are easier since the secure FSA website keeps track of data from previous years. Overall, it was worth it because the amount of aid I qualified for covered every semester until I earned my bachelor’s degree. Ultimately, the GFWC chose to award a more deserving applicant that year, but I did end up earning multiple scholarships in subsequent years, including the GFWC scholarship!
In Amanda’s next column, she will discuss registration, orientation and testing for course placement.
To learn more about the MSU-WP admissions process, visit WP.MissouriState.edu/Admissions. Visit our Programs of Study web page at WP.MissouriState.edu/Academics/Programs to discover what’s available at MSU-WP.