Beginning Monday, June 28, applicants for the popular TOPS scholarship program can discover if they have qualified for an award by calling the administering agencys toll free service number or by using a computer to access the agencys Internet website. Students who are advised by these automated inquiry services that their applications are still in process should not be alarmed. Before the administering agency can render a decision on a students eligibility for TOPS, the agency must have received the students application (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA) and confirmed the students American College Test (ACT) score, high school cumulative grade point average and the academic courses completed in high school. Once all of these data elements have been entered into the agencys computerized awards system, an award decision is automatically rendered and the student notified by formal letter and via the agencys automated telephone and computer inquiry systems which were announced today. Processing of applications is continuous and award notifications are automatically posted to these systems, permitting students to make inquiries as frequently as they wish, up to 24 hours a day.
According to Jack Guinn, Executive Director of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA), the agency that administers TOPS, the processing of applications has been temporarily delayed to incorporate program changes which will be enacted during the legislative session ending June 21. "We had planned to announce award decisions in early June," Guinn said, "however, it became obvious that the legislature would enact program changes which would have to be incorporated into the process before award decisions could be finalized".
To check if an award decision has been made, an applicant may use either of LOSFAs new award notification systems, telephone or computer, both of which will become operational on Monday, June 28. On this inaugural date, only those 1999 high school graduates who filed their applications by the priority deadline of April 15, 1999, are likely to receive a final award decision.
Students who wish to know if an award decision has been made but who dont have access to a computer should call LOSFAs automated telephone inquiry system at 1-800-259-5626 (381-7262 in the Baton Rouge area). From the menu options first presented by the operator, press "2", which will take callers to the menu for scholarship, grant, and savings programs. By pressing option "2" again, callers will be instructed to enter their Social Security Number (SSN) and date of birth followed by the pound (#) sign. An automated voice will then respond with the award decision or will advise the applicant that the application is still being processed. The caller will then be given the option to speak to a Customer Services Representative for more detailed information.
Because an applicants file is visually displayed on the agencys website, students with computer access to the Internet are encouraged to use that medium whenever possible to make inquiries. To access their files, applicants must connect to LOSFAs World Wide Web site at http://www.osfa.state.la.us and click on the "TOPS Eligibility Sign On" option. To sign on, the system will require applicants to enter their SSN and date of birth and then click on "Look Up." The applicants encrypted file will be displayed on a screen titled "TOPS Eligibility Results". Below this title, the students award decision will be shown as either "Eligible" or "Ineligible." If the student is eligible, the TOPS award that the student has qualified to receive will be shown at the bottom of the screen. If the student is shown as ineligible, messages at the bottom of the screen will identify those reasons why eligibility has been denied.
The center of the screen will display all of the data relating to the student that was used in determining eligibility for a TOPS award including, among other items, high school and college course credits, grade point average and data from the application and the American College Testing Service.
If the applicant believes any of the data displayed on the screen to be inaccurate or if some items are blank, the student should call LOSFAs Customer Services Representatives at 1-800-259-5626, extension 1012. In the Baton Rouge area, the number to call is 922-1012. Callers will be assisted between 7:45 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Students who submitted their applications after the priority deadline of April 15 and those prior recipients of TOPS awards who are awaiting confirmation that their awards have been renewed, are likely to be informed their files are in process. Award decisions will not be posted for these students until mid-July at the earliest, following receipt of their applications or, in the case of renewal applicants, receipt of their college grades.
High school graduates of 1999 who have not applied for TOPS are reminded that the FAFSA must be received by July 1, 1999. Application forms may be obtained from any university financial aid office or may be completed electronically online at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Last year, LOSFA received in excess of 139,000 telephone calls during the week following production of its first TOPS award decisions, with nearly 60,000 calls attempted in a single day. Officials expect the automated systems being made available this year to ease the burden on the agencys customer services staff and enable more personal assistance contacts to be made with shorter waits. To enhance LOSFAs ability to offer personalized, problem solving assistance to applicants, the agency has doubled the number of incoming telephone lines as well as the number of personnel dedicated to answering them.