BY Jennifer L. Berghom and Vicky Brito
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley welcomed students and their families to its Brownsville and Edinburg campuses Saturday to make sure their college application experience was a super one.
UTRGV joined RGV Focus and other Valley institutions of higher education to host Super Saturday, an event dedicated to assisting families in applying for financial aid to pay for college.
About 1,000 current and prospective students and their families visited the Main Building at The Tower in Brownsville and the Student Services Building in Edinburg, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., to get one-on-one help filling out college applications, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA), and other forms needed for the college application process.
“Super Saturday helps us promote to our community, including current UTRGV students and future students who are about to graduate from high school. It’s an opportunity to apply for financial aid before the priority deadline of March 15,” said Daniel Yarritu, UTRGV’s associate director of Financial Aid Operations and Community Liaison based at the Brownsville Campus.
SERVING THE COMMUNITY
Because many current and future UTRGV students are first-generation college attendees, the university wants to ensure that they and their families get as much help as they need to make the college-going process as smooth as possible, said Jael Garcia, UTRGV’s associate director of Financial Aid Operations and Community Liaison based at the Edinburg Campus.
“We know that in our area, for a lot of our students and their families, financial aid plays a very important role in them being able to attend college,” Garcia said. “We have this Super Saturday event to be able to provide that help. They don’t have to do it alone. They can come and we will help them.”
At the Edinburg Campus, VITA offered free tax preparation services for families and applicants. Child care and activities for children were also offered at the Edinburg event. Both locations offered campus tours.
Esther Rodriguez, project manager for RGV Focus, said 86 percent of K-12 students in the Valley come from economically disadvantaged households, so the costs of attending college can serve as a barrier to higher education.
Through Super Saturday, families not only receive support in applying for financial aid, they also have an opportunity to see what college is like, she said.
“It’s a good introduction of what higher ed is,” Rodriguez said. “We find that, for many parents, this will be the first time they set foot on a college campus. We’re trying to change that. We’re trying to get them to understand what the college experience entails and how they can support their students.”
A QUICK PROCESS
Families who took advantage of the financial aid help marveled at how quick the process was and how friendly and patient the staff was.
Donna resident Irene Cazares and her son, Joshua, a senior at The Science Academy of South Texas (SciTech) in Mercedes, said they thought the process would be much longer.
“I thought it was actually fast, easy and very friendly,” said Irene Cazares, who attended UT Pan American. “It’s not as long as it used to be.”
Joshua Cazares said he is considering UTRGV, as well as schools in the San Antonio and Houston areas, but he is leaning toward attending UTRGV.
“A lot of my friends are also coming to UTRGV, so it’s going to be pretty fun,” he said.
McAllen residents Manny and Daniela Bazaldua also remarked on how simple the process was. The couple moved back to the Valley from the Houston area recently for work and to continue their education. Manny is seeking a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and Daniela is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in theater design.
“It was really simple,” Daniela Bazaldua said. “When I had to do it the first time, it was really a hassle because I didn’t know what to do. But here, everybody just helped me out. If I had any questions, everything was answered when I asked.”
Her husband said he appreciated the staff’s patience.
“They walked through everything with me,” he said. “It was really great, since I’ve never done anything like this before.”
STILL TIME TO APPLY
Those who cannot make the March 15 priority deadline can still apply for financial aid, organizers said. At UTRGV, current and prospective students can access the computer lab at its U Central locations on the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses during the week.
Yarritu said the UTRGV code used for the FAFSA is 003599, which is still listed as UT Pan American, but the US Department of Education is working on getting it updated to list the code under UTRGV.
“In addition, we also want to remind students that the UTB code 030646 is still active on the FAFSA, but those wanting to attend UTRGV Brownsville must use 003599, and this could be confusing for our students. So, through this event, we wanted to answer any questions they may have,” Yarritu said.
This is the third year the university has opened its doors to the community for Super Saturday. UTRGV’s legacy institutions UT Pan American and UT Brownsville participated in the previous two events.
Before that, the universities offered a similar financial aid and college application drive: College Goal Sunday, a nonprofit program that provides free support and information to families applying for financial assistance to pay for higher education.