Some UCLA students with exceptional financial need said they were surprised to receive additional financial aid through emergency relief grants they did not apply for.
The university began releasing grants from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund in spring 2020. HEERF money was made available to UCLA following the federal passing of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in March 2020 and was supplemented by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, passed in December of 2020. HEERF grants have been allocated to students for expenses related to the interruption of campus operations due to COVID-19.
UCLA Financial Aid and Scholarships released funding in three subsequent batches. In total, UCLA has received about $93.2 million, which they disbursed roughly helped directly to students in the form of emergency financial aid grants.
Students did not need to apply for the funds, as the university made awards based on students’ Expected Family Contribution.
Christopher Buchanan, a first-year philosophy student, said he never specifically applied for HEERF funds, adding that he found out about receiving the grant through a friend who suggested he check his BruinBill.
“When I saw it, I was actually really excited,” he said. “One of my friends was the first person to mention it to me … finding out about it was just a surprise, a pleasant surprise.”
Similarly, Lily Zello, a first-year computational and systems biology student, said that she was surprised when she received an email from the financial aid office about the HEERF grant.
“I was excited,” Zello said. “I was definitely a little confused at first because I hadn’t heard of it before.”
UCLA’s Financial Aid and Scholarships office determined grant allocation with information from the 2020-2021 FAFSA or DREAM Act applications, said UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez in an emailed statement.
The UCLA HEERF emergency grants committee followed federal guidance when deciding which students received emergency grant recommendations, Vazquez said.
He added that the committee considered a student’s Expected Financial Contribution being $14,070 or less when making decisions for HEERF2 grants. Vazquez said undergraduate students in this bracket were awarded $300 to $1,700, and graduate or professional students received $300 to $2,000 in emergency grant funds.
HEERF3 emergency grant decisions were also made using similar criteria, Vazquez said. He added that HEERF3 awards were larger awards distributed based on a students’ EFC for the fall 2021 quarter.
According to the UCLA HEERF3 webpage, these emergency funds were allocated to students based on the information provided on their 2021-2022 FAFSA or DREAM Act application. UCLA also considered graduate students’ federal and state loans for HEERF3 grants.
Vazquez said UCLA Financial Aid and Scholarships has distributed $82.3 million in federal emergency grants to UCLA students from spring 2020 to Dec. 1, adding that these awards have been in addition to other financial aid programs students are eligible for.
Zello also said that since she did not have to directly apply for the funds, receiving the HEERF2 grant required much less time than applying for other sources of financial aid.
“I applied to some (scholarships) through the undergraduate scholarship portal, and a lot of those required like essays and letters of (recommendation) or resumes, and those definitely took a longer time,” Zello said. “Grants are nicer because it’s all through FAFSA.”
However, FAFSA and DREAM Act applications are only available for domestic and undocumented students, respectively.
According to the UCLA HEERF3 website, international students do not apply for need-based financial aid using FAFSA or DREAM Act applications. As a result, they do not meet the criterion for direct HEERF grants. However, the website added that the university is working to identify emergency funding that international students can apply for on an appeal basis.
Vazquez said that UCLA encourages domestic and undocumented students in financial crisis to contact UCLA Financial Aid and Scholarships to learn about appeal options, and that international students facing financial crisis can contact the Economic Crisis Response Team for financial support.
Zello added that it would be helpful if the university provided more information about how to apply for scholarships and grants.
“I receive a lot of stuff in my email about different programs that the school offers or different clubs,” Zello said. “It would be really nice to get the same sort of communication … about deadlines for scholarships, or even just scholarships that you can apply to.”