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Archive | January, 2012

Tips for Getting a Share of the $227 Billion in Student Aid

Tips for Getting a Share of the $227 Billion in Student Aid

The following is a guest article submitted by Mary Fallon from Student Aid Services.

Accuracy Counts

Federal aid applications are rejected by the federal government for errors from miscalculating adjusted gross income to not signing the form. Calculation mistakes can reduce an aid award even if an aid application isn’t rejected. For example, taxable income isn’t adjusted gross income. If parents have tapped into retirement funds, it should be added to either untaxed income or adjusted gross income, not both, or the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will increase, and aid eligibility will decrease.

First-Come, First-Served

Those who file as close to January 1 as possible are in the best position to get all the aid they are eligible to receive. Using income estimates is allowed – even encouraged – and a student won’t lose their place in the virtual line by later updating the application with final income amounts.

Beat Deadlines

Most colleges and states have their own deadlines. The earliest deadline for the 2012-13 FAFSA is in four weeks – Feb 1, 2012. The longer a student waits, the more students get ahead of them.

Not All Assets Count

A primary residence, retirement plans, small family-owned businesses, and the cash value of life insurance don’t count as assets on the FAFSA. Some of the most common and costly mistakes are made by incorrectly reporting assets.

Dependency Surprises

Just because a student financially supports themselves, doesn’t mean they are independent under FAFSA rules. Many students are considered dependent until age 24 requiring parents’ income on their FAFSA. However, for children of divorced parents only the income of the parent with whom the child lived with the most during the past 12 months is counted.

Job Loss Relief

If a member of a household has had their job eliminated, a student may be eligible for more aid. Look for the ‘dislocated worker’ question and see if the family meets one of the four criteria. Dislocated workers’ assets are counted differently than others – typically helping reduce an EFC, which increases aid eligibility.

Double Check

Transposing numbers and mistyping are very common mistakes. Double check everything. There are hundreds of ways to make a mistake on a FAFSA. Having a professional check the answers can help ensure a student gets the most aid possible. Answer the FAFSA truthfully, accurately and completely.

Professional Help

While most high school counselors don’t have time or in-depth FAFSA knowledge to assist students, some communities host FAFSA-preparation events each winter. College financial aid officials may provide guidance to their students. Help from fee-based FAFSA preparation services is allowed, too. Some experts, such as Student Financial Aid Services, provide free or discounted services to low-income students and provide assistance in multiple languages.

Early Estimates in Minutes

Waiting for the spring arrival of aid award letters to learn a student’s aid eligibility and a college’s affordability is agony. Why wait? Check colleges’ Net Price Calculators (NPC) for an estimate of a full-time, first-time student’s aid eligibility and net price.  Advanced NPCs also estimate out-of-pocket cost and the total cost of a degree. The most reliable NPCs ask 30 to 40 questions, which takes about 10 minutes to answer. That’s insight into aid eligibility in the time it takes to make a sandwich. But remember, answering NPC questions, will not get a student their aid, preparing a FAFSA is required.

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Looking For Scholarships? Don’t Forget Credit Unions!

Looking For Scholarships? Don’t Forget Credit Unions!

Credit Unions are probably the most helpful financial institutions known to mankind. They provide all the same services found in the more traditional bank settings but since they are owned and operated by the community members in which they serve, they bring a more comforting element to the table.

As you move forward in the college search process and start looking for outside scholarships, you will definitely want to drop a line to your local credit union to see if they have anything available. You may be surprised.

KEMBA Financial Credit Union located in Columbus, Ohio is celebrating their 21st year of providing college scholarships to their members. This year they are giving away $2,000 to one lucky member.

Here are the details regarding eligibility:

  • You have to be a member of the credit union (which is easily accomplished by any of the following)
    • Live, work, or worship in Franklin, Delaware, Logan, Madison, Sylvania Counties in Ohio
    • Be employed by a participating KEMBA partner company
    • Have a family member that is already a member
    • Become a member of Angie’s List Association, Ohio Nurse’s Association, or Columbus Board of Realtors
  • Be at least a High School Senior
  • Be enrolled or planning to attend an accredited college/university
  • Going full-time (at least two courses)

If you meet the above criteria, you can download an application from KEMBA here

The deadline is February 1st. Good Luck!

If you need additional assistance with finding outside scholarships, please be sure to check out CheapScholar’s Scholarship Resource Page.

Posted in Scholarships1 Comment

Need Financial Literacy On Your Campus? (video)

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College Goal Sunday – Helping FAFSA Filers Nationwide!

College Goal Sunday – Helping FAFSA Filers Nationwide!

The FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) is the gateway to all things good when it comes to making college affordable. The downside is that the FAFSA is feared by many, especially those that have never completed the process. This uncomfortable unknown factor is what keeps people from giving it a try and finding out what treasures it will unlock to enable them to obtain their educational goals. On a side note… check out this humorous article comparing the FAFSA to a colonoscopy.

In order to combat the ambiguity associated with the FAFSA, you can find great resources in books, on the web (like and through various other sources. However, nothing compares with direct one-on-one advice/counseling and that is where College Goal Sunday helps to fill a void and provide assistance with completing the FAFSA.

College Goal Sunday is a program that was founded in 2001 in Indiana with support from the Lilly foundation and now has a presence across the nation in 44 states. The main mission for this program is to help college bound students and their families to meet up with various financial aid professionals from their respective states and complete the all-so-important FAFSA. Given the name of the program, you can probably guess right away which day of the week these helpful sessions are offered (Sunday!).

If you would like to learn more about College Goal Sunday you can visit their website here. If you are a student or family member in need of help with the FAFSA, this is great resource for some personal one-on-one assistance.

You can click here
to find out when and where the next College Goal Sunday event is taking place in your area!

If you are going to College Goal Sunday to receive help with your FAFSA, please plan on bringing the following items to help speed up the process and ensure proper completion of your FAFSA application. (If you don’t go to College Goal Sunday, you still want to track down these items before you complete your FAFSA):

  • Social Security Number (can be found on Social Security card)
  • Driver’s license (if any)
  • W-2 Forms for the previous year and other records of money earned
  • Your (and your spouse’s, if you are married) most recent Federal Income Tax Return:
    • IRS Form 1040,
    • 1040A,
    • 1040EZ,
    • 1040Telefile,
    • foreign tax return, or
    • tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia.
  • Parent’s Federal Income Tax Return for the previous year (if you are a dependent student as defined by federal criteria)
  • Untaxed income records for the previous year:
    • Social Security,
    • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families,
    • welfare, or
    • veterans benefits.
  • Current bank statements
  • Current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond, and other investment records
  • Documentation that you are a U.S. permanent resident or other eligible non-citizen.

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A Model Education – Planning Ahead Pays Off

A Model Education – Planning Ahead Pays Off

The following is a guest article provided by Joseph Baker.

Many liberal arts educations are set up in such a way that encourages students to try their hand at many subjects before settling on a major. The idea is noble in that discovery is one of the most important parts of higher education. Exposure to new ideas of which you were previously unaware can be the catalyst to a lifetime of passionate study. On the other hand, many students get stuck in indecision, taking on a major that may be convenient for grades but not representative of the career path they want to follow.

When a company wants to test something out, they create a rapid prototype of it. A rapid prototype is essentially a model from which the manufacturer can determine what changes need to be made before a product is churned out en masse. It helps save costs during the manufacturing process because a small mistake could result in a huge and costly recall.

Indecision could be that defect. Coming into college with an actionable plan for what you want to achieve puts you on a dedicated path and gives you a focus and a goal to strive towards over your college career. That’s not to say there can’t be variation – you can and you should attend classes that interest you, that put you out of your comfort zone. Sometimes those classes are the most important ones. Just don’t lose sight of your goals. Even if they change, making sure you are aiming for more specific than “a degree in something” will help you avoid the same pitfalls that consume year after year of students.

Speaking from experience, this is the largest and most depressing reason to switch around your college career. By my junior year I was working three jobs, enrolled in the honors curriculum and drowning in the stress and anxiety of it all. Financial aid had run out and I was failing in classes I cared about. It’s not uncommon. In fact, it’s long been known that dropout rates are linked to financial woes.

Students who pay for school themselves are more likely to dropout due to financial issues than those who get help from their families, according to a survey conducted by Public Agenda reported by the New York Times. Many students are faced with the reality that they may not graduate on time due to class scheduling, changing majors, and other factors. The survey shows that 2.8 million new students enroll in higher education every year. Of this number, only one in five students who enroll in an associate’s degree program graduate in three years, and two in five who enroll in a four-year plan graduate in six years. Students who face paying for tuition themselves may not be able to afford the tuition for extra years.

When money woes occur, there is often very little you can do about it other than try to mitigate your exposure, find more college money resources (apply for grants and scholarships like crazy, take on a second job, take cheaper classes) or drop out. It’s a dreary juncture to come to and it can be avoided with a comprehensive plan going into college. It’s a tall order to ask a high school student or first year freshman to plan their academic careers in advance, but the payoff, though distant, is worth it.

Posted in Paying For College1 Comment