Editor’s note (6/24/16): Yesterday, NACIQI – the independent board that advises the Department of Education on accreditation – voted 10-3 in support of the Department’s recommendation to end recognition of ACICS. As noted in the post below, that was the next step in the process after the initial recommendation for Department staff. The recommendations now come to a senior official here at the Department, who has 90 days to make a decision. After that, ACICS will have the opportunity to appeal the decision to the Secretary of Education if it wishes to do so.
For millions of Americans, federal student loans and grants open the doors to a college education. That critical federal aid must be used at a school that is (among other things) given the seal of approval by an “accrediting agency” or “accreditor” recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. It’s one of the safeguards in the system. Accreditation is an important signal to students, families, and the Department about whether a school offers a quality education. Accreditors have a responsibility under federal law to make sure colleges earn that seal.
But what happens when the Department stops recognizing an accrediting agency?
As I wrote back in February, accreditation plays a critical role in protecting students and taxpayers. Students and families trust that approval from an accrediting agency means that a school or program prepares its graduates for work and life. The federal government also relies on accreditation to affirm that the education provided by that institution or program is a worthy investment of taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen far too many schools maintain their institutional accreditation even while defrauding and misleading students, providing poor quality education, or closing without recourse for students. This is inexcusable. Accreditation can and must be the mark of quality that the public expects.
That’s why the Department has been working to strengthen the accreditation system. We have published information about accreditors’ standards and the student outcomes at the institutions and programs they have approved. We are taking steps to increase transparency around accreditors’ reviews of institutions and resulting actions. We will soon publish guidance to encourage accreditors to use the flexibility they have in order to target their resources to problematic and poorly performing institutions and programs. And we are increasing our focus on outcomes in our own process of recognizing accreditors.
A college or career school education = more money, more job options, and more freedom. Yet, with more than 7,000 colleges and universities nationwide, deciding which college is right for you can be difficult. Maybe you want to find a school with the best nursing program, or study abroad options, or the best college basketball team; every person values different things. However, it’s also important to remember that college is one of the biggest financial investments you will make in yourself. Just as important as academics and extracurricular activities are the financial factors: how much a college costs, whether students are likely to graduate on time, and, if alumni are able to find good jobs and pay off their loans. That is why the U.S. Department of Education developed the College Scorecard. It provides clear information to answer all of your questions regarding college costs, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings.
As you’re comparing colleges, use the College Scorecard to compare these four things:
1. Net Cost
For starters, you should consider how much you’ll actually be paying on an annual basis. That’s not necessarily the sticker price, but it’s the sticker price minus all of the scholarships and grants that you will receive when enrolling in an institution. This is called the net price, and it’s important because it’s the average amount students actually pay out of pocket.The College Scorecard can show you the average net price of each school compared to the national average. It can also give you a net price estimate for each school broken down by family income. Here’s an example:
Ah, deadlines. The sworn enemy of students across the nation. When you’re busy with classes, extracurricular activities, and a social life in whatever time you’ve got left, it’s easy to lose track and let due dates start whooshing by. All of a sudden, your U.S. history paper is due at midnight, and you still don’t know Madison from a minuteman. We get it.
Nevertheless, we’re here to point out a few critical deadlines that you really shouldn’t miss: those to do with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). By submitting your FAFSA late, you might be forfeiting big money that can help you pay for college. Luckily for you, you’ve got just three types of deadlines to stay on top of. Now if only your Founding Father flashcards were that simple.
Here are those three deadlines:
The College Deadline
The first type of deadline comes from colleges themselves, and—spoiler alert—it’s typically pretty early. These deadlines vary from school to school, but they usually come well before the academic year starts, many in the neighborhood of early spring. If you’re applying to multiple colleges, be sure to look up each school’s FAFSA deadline and apply by the earliest one.
Many of these FAFSA due dates are priority deadlines. This means that you need to get your FAFSA in by that date to be considered for the most money. Many colleges have this date clearly marked on their financial aid pages. If you can’t find it, a call to the college’s financial aid office never goes amiss.
The State Deadline
The second deadline is determined by your home state. This deadline varies by state and can be as early as February 15 of a given year’s FAFSA application cycle (What’s good, Connecticut?). Some states have suggested deadlines to make sure you get priority consideration for college money, and some just want you to get the FAFSA in as soon as you can. States often award aid until they run out of money—first come, first served—so apply early.
This last deadline comes from us, the Department of Education, aka the FAFSA folks. This one is pretty low-pressure. Our only time constraint is that each year’s FAFSA becomes unavailable on June 30 at the end of the academic year it applies to.
That means that the 2016–17 FAFSA (which became available Jan. 1, 2016) will disappear from fafsa.gov on June 30, 2017, because that’s the end of the 2016–17 school year. That’s right; you can technically go through your entire year at college before accessing the FAFSA. However, a few federal student aid programs have limited funds, so be sure to apply as soon as you can. Also, as we said, earlier deadlines from states and colleges make waiting a bad idea.
Why so many deadlines?
All these entities award their financial aid money differently and at different times. What they all have in common, though, is that they use the FAFSA to assess eligibility for their aid programs. So when a college wants to get its aid squared away before the academic year starts, it needs your FAFSA to make that happen. If you want in on that college money, you need to help the college out by getting your information in by its deadline. Same goes for state aid programs. Additionally, many outside scholarship programs need to see your FAFSA before they consider your eligibility for their money. If you’re applying for scholarships, you need to stay on top of those deadlines, too.
What happens if I miss the deadlines?
Don’t miss the deadlines. Plan to get your FAFSA in by the earliest of all the deadlines for your best crack at college money. By missing deadlines, you take yourself out of the running for money you might otherwise get. Some states and colleges continue awarding aid to FAFSA latecomers, but your chances get much slimmer, and the payout is often less if you do get aid. It’s better just not to miss the deadlines.
If you miss the end-of-June federal deadline, you’re no longer eligible to submit that year’s FAFSA. Did we mention not to miss the deadlines?
Across the board, the motto really is “the sooner the better.” So put off the procrastinating until tomorrow. Apply by the earliest deadline. Get your FAFSA done today!
Drew Goins is a senior journalism major at the University of North Carolina. He’s also an intern with the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office. Likes: politics, language, good puns. Dislikes: mainly kale.
Some of you may be familiar with the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Repayment Plan, which caps payments at 10% of a borrower’s monthly income and forgives any remaining balance on your student loans after 20 years of qualifying repayment. But this plan is only for recent borrowers.
REPAYE solves this problem. Like the name implies, REPAYE has some similarities to PAYE. First and foremost, REPAYE, like PAYE, sets payments at no more than 10% of income. However, REPAYE—unlike PAYE— is available to Direct Loan borrowers regardless of when they took out their loans.
Should I switch to REPAYE?
If you can’t afford your monthly payment under your current repayment plan, you should consider REPAYE or one of the other income-driven repayment plans. These plans can offer needed relief by ensuring that you will never pay more than a certain percentage of your income. If you can afford to pay more on your loan, you should, since this will save you more on interest costs over the life of your loan.
If you’re pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you should consider REPAYE. REPAYE is an eligible repayment plan for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. If you’re working toward PSLF and considering consolidating your loans in order to qualify for REPAYE, you should read this first.
If you’re currently on Income-Based Repayment (IBR) because you weren’t eligible for PAYE, you should consider whether REPAYE might be a better option for you. REPAYE could lower your payments by one-third, from 15% to 10% of income.
Before making your decision, use our repayment estimator to compare what your monthly payment would be under REPAYE and all of our other plans.
Under any income-driven repayment plan, you’ll need to “recertify” your income and family size each year.
How is REPAYE different from the other income-driven repayment plans?
So, you already know that your payment under an income-driven plan is a percentage of your income. But REPAYE is different from the other plans. Here are a few differences:
There’s no income requirement to enter the plan: Unlike with the PAYE and IBR plans, borrowers don’t have to show that that their income is low compared to their federal student loan debt in order to enter REPAYE. In simple terms, that means that the amount of your debt and your income level won’t keep you from qualifying.
Borrowers with only undergraduate loans will have a different repayment period than those with graduate loans: Income-driven repayment plans forgive any remaining loan balance after a specific number of years of qualifying repayment—either 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan. REPAYE is a little different than the other income-driven repayment plans. With REPAYE, if you’re only repaying loans you received as an undergraduate student, you’ll repay your loans for up to 20 years. However, if you’re repaying even one loan that you received as a graduate or professional student, you’ll repay your loans (including any loans you received as an undergraduate) for up to 25 years. Of course, this difference doesn’t matter if you later qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, since your loans would be forgiven after 10 years of qualifying payments.
Married borrowers’ payments are calculated differently: The other income-driven repayment plans use the combined income of you and your spouse to set your payment amount only if you file a joint federal income tax return. If you and your spouse file separate tax returns, your payment amount is based on only your income. REPAYE (with limited exceptions) uses the combined income of you and your spouse to set your monthly payment amount, regardless of whether you file a joint tax return or separate returns. This could increase your monthly payment amount. For more information, read our Q&A.
REPAYE payments are not capped at the 10-year standard payment amount: Generally, your payment amount under an income-driven repayment plan is a percentage of your discretionary income. However, this isn’t always the case with the PAYE and IBR plans. Under PAYE and IBR, your payment will never be higher than what it would have been under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, no matter how much your income increases. With REPAYE, there’s no cap on your monthly payment amount. Your payment will always be 10% of your discretionary income, no matter how high your income grows. This means that if your income increases significantly, your REPAYE payment could be higher than what you would have to pay under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan.
REPAYE provides a more generous interest benefit: If your payment doesn’t cover all of your interest, REPAYE pays more of the remaining interest than PAYE or IBR. This can help prevent your loan balance from ballooning and limit the total cost of your loans.
What else should I consider before applying?
Determine whether you have Direct Loans before attempting to switch to REPAYE. If you’re not sure which type of loans you have, you can log in to StudentAid.gov to find out. Loans labeled “Direct” qualify for REPAYE, loans without the “Direct” label don’t qualify for REPAYE unless you consolidate them. You can apply for a Direct Consolidation Loan on StudentLoans.gov.
Special considerations for borrowers who are currently on IBR:
If you don’t have Direct Loans, but you’ve been repaying your other loans under IBR for a while and you’re thinking of consolidating to take advantage of REPAYE, it’s important to understand that you’ll lose any credit toward IBR loan forgiveness that you received before consolidating—you’ll have to start over with a new 20- or 25-year repayment period on the Direct Consolidation Loan. So, carefully consider whether having a lower monthly payment amount matters more than the additional time you may spend repaying your loans.
Any outstanding interest will be capitalized (added to your loan principal balance) when you leave IBR.
How do I apply for REPAYE?
You can apply for REPAYE—or any other income-driven repayment plan—on StudentLoans.gov. We’ve made some improvements to the way the electronic application works, so give it a spin.
Looking for the lowest monthly payment? With four income-driven repayment plans, it’s easy to overlook a plan or confuse a feature of one plan with another. Let us do the hard part for you. If you’re looking for the lowest monthly payment, there’s a box you can check on the application to request that your loan servicer evaluate you for all income-driven repayment plans, and put you on the plan with the lowest initial payment.
Where can I get more information?
There’s more to know about REPAYE than what you see in this blog post.
Get more information about REPAYE and income-driven repayment plans at StudentAid.gov/idr.
Summary: How the U.S. Digital Service worked with students, families, schools, developers and teams across the federal government to rebuild the new College Scorecard tool.
My niece is a smart kid. I’m biased, but I swear she is. And just as I started working on the College Scorecard project as the U.S. Digital Service’s new Chief Digital Service Officer at the Department of Education, I got a call from her – she was trying to decide where to go to school. As we were building this tool, wading through this data, and working with all the top college choice tools already in the market, I was also helping her navigate her college choice process. Where should she go? What was the best value? What is value when it comes to schools? This may be the single most important investment of her life, and even she was struggling to find clear, reliable data on critical questions.
Today, the Department of Education is proud to announce new steps to help students, parents and advisers make better college choices, including:
A new College Scorecard redesigned with direct input from students, families, and their advisers to provide the clearest, most accessible, and reliable national data on college cost, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings. This new College Scorecard can empower Americans to rate colleges based on what matters most to them; to highlight colleges that are serving students of all backgrounds well; and to focus on making a quality, affordable education within reach.
New, comprehensive and updated data on higher education institutions. For the first time, the public can access the most reliable and comprehensive data on students’ outcomes at specific colleges, including former students’ earnings, graduates’ student debt, and borrowers’ repayment rates. These data are also available for various sub-groups, like first generation and Pell students. Because these data will be published through an open application programming interface (API), researchers, policymakers, and members of the public can customize their own analysis of college performance more quickly and easily.
Customized tools for students, with 11 organizations already using these data to launch new tools. Today, ScholarMatch, StartClass and College Abacus, three college search resources, are using this new, unique data that help students search for, compare, and develop a list of colleges based on the outcomes data that the Department is making available to the public for the first time. PayScale, which offers consumers a large salary database, will use the new data to analyze various colleges’ return-on-investment for different student groups while InsideTrack, which is a team of coaches and consultants working to improve student outcomes, will use the data to develop and implement effective student-centered initiatives. ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism newsroom, has built a tool with the open data to help consumers make more informed decisions.
This work was truly collaborative team effort, with teams from the Departments of Education and of the Treasury, White House Domestic Policy Council, Council of Economic Advisors, and Office of Management and Budget, the General Services Administration’s 18F and the U.S. Digital Service.
Here’s how we did it:
Build with, not for, users.
We knew what we needed to do – make people’s lives better by providing them the tools and information to make more informed choices and get the best bang for buck college choice. And we thought – exactly how do people make choices when deciding on college?
So we went out and asked them..
Following our practice of focusing on user needs, the College Scorecard team first spent time engaging directly with users at every single step in the project. Some of our favorite conversations were when we talked to high school students in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood and their excellent guidance counselor who told us how he “hacks” the process to make sure every one of his students gets an acceptance letter from a college, and feels that rush of possibility.
We met with 4-H kids from across the country who were frustrated by inaccurate data on the college search tools they use to find the best agricultural programs today. We listened to a mom from Maryland explain that she shopped for schools based on the lowest annual actual cost to become a medical technician – her dream. We even called a young woman who works as a college advisor in the Bronx, who had written a letter to the President with her ideas of how to make higher education data and tools work even better for her students. We also visited the newsrooms of data journalists to understand how they used higher education open data to report on how well schools were serving students.
We build on the hard work of the Department of Education; previously, they met with thousands of stakeholders from the higher education community to learn about their concerns and ideas and hopes for how we could help students and families make a more informed decision.
Based on this research, we made the cheapest, fastest prototype of the College Scorecard possible, based on what we heard. We knew it needed to be mobile-first, simple, and easy to customize. That prototype ended up being a homemade, cardboard iPhone with slips of paper with wireframes of what the tool could look like. It probably cost less than a cup of coffee to produce.
We also went to work with the federal government’s data from over 7,000 schools, going back 18 years, putting it into an open API (Application Programming Interface) that fuels the College Scorecard website. We wanted to make the data as usable by software developers and data scientists. The API allows anyone to create tools and insights that will help prospective college students make these important decisions.
We worked with a group of software developers and data scientists to be beta users of the data – to make sure it worked well and was clear. In addition to the groups I mentioned above, whose work is live today, we’re also excited to see the tools and enhancements that Niche, College Greenlight, Noodle, Tractus Insight (HelloCollege) and I’m First! are working on – and are looking forward to what many others will be able to do with the data that’s now open and available.
What’s in the data?
With nearly 2,000 data points for over 7,000 schools going back 18 years, there’s a lot of information in the College Scorecard dataset. The dataset includes information from the Department of the Treasury on student loan repayment rates, and the IRS on post-college income. When we can combine new data from Departments of Education and of the Treasury with data that colleges already report on graduation rates, cost, and other descriptions about their school, the College Scorecard allows the public to distinguish colleges based on the outcomes of their students.
Some of the information students, their parents or guardians, and advisors will be able to see includes:
Employment outcomes: The College Scorecard contains the first-ever comprehensive and reliable data on post-college earnings for students who attended all types of undergraduate institutions, based upon tax records. While increased earnings are only one of many reasons to go to college, many students consider their future career prospects when making an investment in their education. Specifically, the new Scorecard includes: (1) the proportion of former students earning over $25,000, which is the average earnings of high school graduates, six years after enrolling and (2) the median earnings of students 10 years after they enroll in college.
Student-level outcomes data: The College Scorecard publishes data from the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), which ED has used to manage and track grants and loans since the 1990s. The data can be used to produce a variety of new institutional performance metrics including (1) median cumulative loan debt, (2) repayment rate, and (3) completion and transfer rates, all by various student sub-groups.
The demographic data includes things you might expect, like ethnicity or gender, as well as how many students are the first in their family to attend college, students’ family income, and the rates at which students are taking out student loans or grants. We should point out that the Department of Education ensured the data protects the privacy of all students by aggregating up to the institution level and only reporting information for schools with enough students. Rest assured that no one can distinguish any individuals from the data. With these data, we can better understand how well schools do for students.
And this is just the beginning. By giving developers access to an API, even more customized tools will be created, providing students more options than ever before to find the right school for them.
“The status quo serves some colleges and the companies that rank them just fine. But it doesn’t serve our students well – and that doesn’t serve any of us well. There are colleges dedicated to helping students of all backgrounds learn without saddling them with debt. We should hold everybody to that standard. Our economic future depends on it.” – President Barack Obama, Weekly Address, September 12, 2015
When consumers have more access to information, it means they can make better financial decisions for themselves and their families. This is a huge win for students, families, and the marketplace — open data like this ensures that both colleges and students are operating in a more fair, competitive, and transparent environment.
A college degree is the best investment students can make in their future, and the public now has more data than ever to make one of the most important decisions students face in their lifetimes.
Lisa Gelobter is the Chief U.S. Digital Service Officer at the U.S. Department of Education.
Federal Student Aid PIN, known as PIN to his many friends, died on May 10, 2015, after a long life of public service. Born in Washington, D.C. in 1998, PIN immediately made his presence felt across the country as he helped students complete their FAFSAs electronically on the World Wide Web. For 17 years, PIN reduced the completion time of federal student aid applications by millions of hours. Success with the FAFSA led to an extended career spanning the entire student aid life cycle, ranging from the aforementioned FAFSA and the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, entrance and exit counseling, and signing Master Promissory Notes, all the way to loan history access on the National Student Loan Data System and—more recently—StudentAid.gov. PIN is survived by one child, FSA ID.
On May 10, 2015, we changed the way you log in to Federal Student Aid websites. Students, parents, and borrowers are now required to use an FSA ID, instead of a Federal Student Aid PIN, to log in. If you haven’t logged in to a Federal Student Aid website (such as fafsa.gov or StudentLoans.gov) since May 10, you will need to create an FSA ID before you can log on in the future.
A: An FSA ID is a username and password you use to access your personal information on Federal Student Aid websites and to sign important documents.
Q: What happened to the Federal Student Aid PIN?
A: On May 10, 2015, after 17 years of dedicated service, the PIN was retired to make way for the more modern and secure FSA ID.
Q: If I already submitted my FAFSA this year, do I already have an FSA ID?
A: The FSA ID replaced the PIN on May 10, 2015. If you submitted your FAFSA before that, you used a PIN. In order to do anything with your FAFSA or any other Federal Student Aid websites, you will now need an FSA ID. You can create one at StudentAid.gov/fsaid
Q: Who needs an FSA ID?
A: Students, parents, and borrowers who need to log in or interact with Federal Student Aid websites need an FSA ID.
Q: Can I make an FSA ID for someone else, such as my child or my parent?
A: No. Only the FSA ID owner should create and use the FSA ID. Why? The FSA ID is a legal signature that should be used only by its owner. If you don’t create your own FSA ID, then you may not be able to access the websites you need to get your financial aid!
Q: How do I get an FSA ID?
A: Go to StudentAid.gov/fsaid to create an FSA ID. If you have a PIN, then you can enter your PIN during the FSA ID registration process so that you won’t need to wait for the Social Security Administration to verify your information. But, if you don’t have a PIN or don’t have it handy, you can still create an FSA ID.
Q: Do I have to wait before I use my FSA ID?
A: You can use your FSA ID to sign and submit a new FAFSA right away. For other tasks, if you didn’t link your PIN when you created your account, you’ll need to wait one–three days for us to confirm your identity with the Social Security Administration. You’ll get an e-mail when this process is complete.
Q: What if I forget my FSA ID username or password?
A: Don’t worry. On our log-in pages, you’ll find links that give you the option of retrieving your username or password through your verified e-mail address or by successfully answering your challenge questions.
For answers to other frequently asked questions about the new FSA ID, go here: StudentAid.gov/fsaid.
Getting ready for your last high school prom and counting down the days till graduation are all you can think about. Yes, freedom and plans for a fun-filled summer are just around the corner. Before you know it, you’ll be loading up your belongings in the family minivan and headed off to college. You’re so ready, right? Well, maybe not. Here are some tips for things to do this summer before you head off to college.
Downsize, Get Organized & Learn How to Do Your Own Laundry
You’re not going to be able to take your whole closet and every cherished belonging with you to the dorm. Start downsizing now and make a list of all the things you’ll need to take with you. A clean and tidy space will make things a lot more manageable. Most likely you’ll go home a time or two on break and you can swap out things that you don’t need for things that you do. But, in between those trips home, you’ll need to learn how to do laundry. Those whites can turn into some interesting colors and transform into a smaller size if you don’t know your way around a washer and dryer.
Understand Your Financial Situation
Each family’s situation is different – make sure you understand what your family may or may not be able to contribute. You should’ve already applied for financial aid. If not, you need to complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ASAP! Make sure you list on the application the school code of the college you plan to attend so your information is sent to that school. If you still haven’t decided it’s best to list any school you think you may attend. The financial aid office will then notify you of any financial aid you might be eligible for. Know what each of those types of aid is and in what order you should accept them. Visit StudentAid.gov for information on planning and paying for college. Do you have enough money to pay for school? Will you need to work part-time? Make a budget and know what you can spend on certain things.
Get a Good Calendar and Prepare for a Whole New World of Time Management
One of the biggest challenges for a lot of you will be time management. When you head off to college, you won’t have somebody there to wake you up, make you breakfast and send you out the door in clean clothes with completed homework in hand. Set yourself up early with a class schedule (make a course syllabus your new best friend) and a system that works for you. You need to know deadlines for registration, papers, financial aid, coursework and everything in between. Your chance of succeeding academically will rapidly evaporate if you don’t manage your time well. You’re worth the investment – manage it well.
Craft a Good Resume and Learn How to Network
No, don’t wait until you’re approaching college graduation to write a cover letter and resume, you need one now. Having a compelling and professional resume and cover letter is vital to applying for part-time jobs, internships, etc. You might want to also consider changing your email address. Employers probably won’t be impressed with an email address like justheretoparty@XXmail.com. Work experience can be just as important as good grades when looking for jobs after college graduation. Internships not only provide you with knowledgeable experiences in your field, but they also provide great networking opportunities. Don’t settle in and nest, put yourself out there and go to as many networking events as possible.
Embrace Coupons and Master the Art of a Good Deal
Another difficult thing to learn is skipping those unnecessary splurges. Yes, I know it’s all about YOLO but you need to embrace BOGO. Coupons aren’t just for stay at home moms anymore. Scoring deals whether in newspapers, magazines or with online sites like Groupon and Living Social it’s easier than ever. But don’t get so caught up in the deals that you buy vouchers for and you don’t end up using. That can cost rather than save you money. Save those splurges for when you score a great “Buy One Get One” free or other greatly discounted offer. Ask about student discounts and if available a studentadvantage card. Start practicing this summer. It’ll impress your friends and it’ll be a little more money in your pocket when you get to campus. Another great way to save money is buying used textbooks rather than new. Search sites like bigwords.com, Amazon, and TextbooksRUs to name a few. If you buy new and then resell them back to the college bookstore check online sites first for what they’re worth. College bookstore buy back rates are sometimes as low as 10% of what you paid for it new. Lots of students are also now renting textbooks on sites like chegg.com.
Learn How to Keep You and Your Things Safe
Yes, you need to remember to lock your dorm room and place that lock on your laptop. Losing your laptop can wreak havoc on your studies and a theft due to an unlocked door can also ruin your relationship with your roommate. Start practicing being more aware of your surroundings and keeping yourself safe. Program your school’s campus security number into your phone. You never know when you might need it. Safety also applies to protecting your social security number, PIN and passwords. Your social security number is one of the main identifiers when checking on things like financial aid, grades, and registering for classes. Make sure all your passwords and important numbers are not on a post-it-note on your desk. Store them in a secure place. Not protecting your identity and important information can have lasting long-term effects on your ability to get a job and apply for credit.
Congratulations on a job well done and making the decision to advance your education!
Susan Thares is the digital engagement lead for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.
As a high school counselor in a rural community I’ve been fortunate to work with students and families and guide them through planning and preparing for college. I’m also a single parent of two kids who survived the college going experience and graduated so I understand the somewhat overwhelming and daunting task it can be, especially for families who have not been through it before. Once those scholarship applications have been submitted, the FAFSA completed and college acceptances received there are still some things students and parents need to do.
Be courteous and notify the colleges and universities that you applied to but are not planning to attend of your decision. It will free up their resources to assist other students.
Follow through on scholarship requirements. Some students, even though they were initially awarded a scholarship, didn’t actually receive the money because they didn’t complete all the requirements. It may have been that they didn’t file all the necessary paperwork, or meet with their advisor or failed to make the necessary grades. Also remember, scholarships are free/gift money. Don’t forget to follow up with a simple thank you note to the donor or organization.
Make a financial plan and discuss expectations. Apply for a debit/credit card if you don’t already have one. Set limits and create a realistic budget that will carry you through the school year. StudentAid.gov/budget is a great resource for college budget planning.
Get connected with your new college email system. This is how you’ll receive information from them. Reply promptly to requests for information or documentation or you might lose out on some financial aid or end up with the least popular option for your on-campus work study job.
Get credit for your classes. If you took college classes in high school be sure to request an official transcript from the college that you took the classes from be mailed to your future college. There might be a small fee involved. What is listed on your high school transcript isn’t enough.
Attend summer orientation with at least one parent. Try to schedule it for one of the earlier options. Typically you’ll be registering for fall classes during your orientation. Waiting until later in the summer means some classes you want to take are already full and you have fewer options to choose from.
You’ve worked hard to get this far but college may be even harder. Don’t be discouraged. Focus on the end result and the new heights a college degree will take you to.
Cheryl Knudson is a school counselor for Irene-Wakonda Public Schools in South Dakota
It’s easy to talk about the importance of college. But some folks really walk the walk.
I had the thrilling opportunity to meet some of them a few years ago, when I joined the college signing day at YES Prep in Houston, Texas. As I told the audience that day, I was moved nearly to tears as students announced their college plans to a cheering stadium, and signed letters committing to their college. It was the kind of unbridled enthusiasm we usually reserve for sporting events — and yet it was also like a family reunion. It was overwhelming.
Today, first lady Michelle Obama will take that experience to a whole new level when she gives a name to her college access initiative, Reach Higher, at the culmination of a city-wide college celebration in San Antonio, Texas. All week, the entire city has been focused on the vital importance of getting a college degree. Today, the first lady will witness an auditorium full of high school seniors committing to entering and completing college.
Their embrace of that goal is part of changing our country’s future. A generation ago, our young people were first in the world in their college completion rate — but now we are 12th in the world. President Obama has set a goal of reclaiming our world leadership.
And we are seeing some really important progress. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of announcing our new cohort high school graduation rate, which at 80 percent is the highest in US history. And last month, we learned that attainment of college degrees last year saw its biggest rise since 2008.
These improvements are badly needed and long in coming. African-American, Latino and low-income students have helped to drive many recent increases in high school graduation and college-going — but they still don’t have the same opportunities, or the same success rates, as many other students. The need for equitable opportunities has always been pressing — but is even more so as we project that this fall, America’s public school students will for the first time be mostly nonwhite. We are working hard to ensure stronger opportunities — but we have a long way to go.
And college matters in a way that it never has before — because without some postsecondary education, there are very few opportunities in today’s knowledge-based economy.
The first lady understands this at her core. Fighting for and committing to getting a great education isn’t some intellectual exercise for the first lady. She lived this experience on Chicago’s South Side. Her parents didn’t have a college education, but they pushed her and her brother Craig to work hard in high school and concentrate on getting a college degree. She pushed herself to study as hard as possible — benefiting from the encouragement of those who supported her, and pushing past the doubts of those who didn’t. So when students hear from her, when she tells her own story of perseverance in high school, in college, in law school — they listen. Because they understand that she’s not that different from any of them. All those struggles, whether it was picking classes, navigating student loans, or even just knowing the right sized sheets to bring that first day of college — she’s faced them, persevered, and been successful thanks to getting a great education. And she wants to make sure others understand how to navigate that path.
So I feel really lucky to have her as a better partner to inspire students across the country and push them to reach higher and commit to postsecondary education. In San Antonio, she won’t just be celebrating the importance of the college-going culture in one city, but the college-going culture she’s trying to create across the country. Her story, her candor, and her energy ensure that young people across this country will reach higher — and will achieve more.
Eight years ago, I attended my first college tour thanks to a partnership between the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Howard University’s Alumni Club of Chicago.
“Escape to Mecca” (E2M) is an annual college visit that started 11 years ago. It has exposed more than 400 Chicago area juniors and seniors to life on Howard’s campus. The trip is organized by current Howard students originally from the Chicago area. The CPS alumni knew that spring break would be a great time to visit Washington, DC, because students wouldn’t miss valuable class time. Unlike traditional tours, E2M fully thrusts participants into campus life; they live in dorms and dine in cafeterias with their hosts, engage in social events, attend classes, and get the chance to meet a number of administrators.
First Lady Michelle Obama joins high school students from Chicago for a campus tour at Howard University in Washington, D.C., April 17, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)
The most recent group of participants got an extra treat this year when First Lady Michelle Obama met privately with the E2M participants. I accompanied Mrs. Obama as she toured campus dorms with students and then participated in a discussion about the challenges of attending college, and the importance of finding ways to overcome those challenges while using them as tools to success. She applauded students for taking ownership of their futures by participating in a trip like E2M and not letting the opportunity go to waste.
“So the fact that you guys have this opportunity to spend a weekend on a college campus and really get a feel for what this experience is going to be like is really a tremendous opportunity that I hope you will take advantage of,” said Mrs. Obama.
As Mrs. Obama said, there are a lot of variables to consider when students and their families navigate the college decision process including: school size, location, student-to-faculty ratios and costs. More high school students should use their spring and summer breaks to plan visits to institutions of higher learning. She said, “Contact schools that are of interest to you, plan a visit to the campus, walk inside the dorm, sit in the class, talk to students and meet with the financial aid office.” This allows students and families the flexibility to spend quality time at colleges without interrupting important high school schedules.
The First Lady’s advice resonated with this year’s E2M participants. Though her visit was a major highlight, the best part of the spring break trip was that 27 students accepted admission to Howard University’s Class of 2018.
I can relate to what the seniors felt as they visited classes, slept in dorms, and joined their hosts at campus hangouts. My trip gave me the opportunity to get a feel for what life was going to be like as a college freshman and solidified my decision to attend Howard University. That spring break changed my life.
As a native of the inner-city of Chicago, I realized that campus brochures and websites weren’t enough for me to fully grasp the reality of college. It took the physical act of being there—of walking the grounds that so many trailblazers before me walked, of sleeping in the same rooms that were once inhabited by the likes of Thurgood Marshall, and visiting the library where Charles Drew studied—to realize the legacy of the institution and the legacy I wanted to leave for those after me.
I mean let’s face it: if you’re on spring or summer break, you should use the time to plan a campus visit.
Here are tips & tools from ED to get a head start this summer:
College Scorecard: Includes information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.
Let’s face it. College tuition can be expensive. If you think about it in real terms, the annual cost of attending some colleges can equate to purchasing a new car each year. It seems absurd, right? Like many others, you might be wondering “How am I ever going to pay for college” and “Is there anything that I can do to lower my costs?” As a college graduate, current graduate student, and high school teacher, I’ve learned a few tricks on how to save on college:
Consider attending a community college first and transferring after two years. Some states, such as Virginia and California, offer guaranteed admissions to certain four-year institution of higher education for students who complete two years at a community college. You can get your prerequisite classes out of the way and save yourself quite a lot of money in the process. Additionally, SAT and ACT scores aren’t required to get into community college – another money-saving perk. Taking a path like this is a great way to prevent you from borrowing more money than needed.
Just because you are awarded a sum of money doesn’t mean that you have to borrow all of it. Look at your finances, your tuition/school costs, and borrow only what you need. If you want to accept less than what you were offered, let your school know ASAP because borrowing more than you need will cost you extra in the long run.
There is a lot of free money out there. That’s right. I said FREE money; so go find it! You can get it in the form of a scholarship – a sum of money awarded to students to help pay for school. Scholarships are different than loans in that they do not need to be paid back; they are completely free. So, look into applying for scholarships before borrowing a loan. There are thousands of scholarships out there. Scholarships come in all forms – large, small, national, local, etc. On top of that, there are scholarships catered for people of certain ethnicities, locations, majors, religions, skills, along with many other classifications. Think of any topic, and there is probably a scholarship for it – the best homemade duct tape prom outfit, a scholarship for being tall, and a candy technology scholarship. So, my advice is: look into applying for scholarships before borrowing money. Check out College Board’s Scholarship Search to find scholarships that fit your individual characteristics.
In order to reduce the amount of money that you need to borrow, consider getting a job while you attend school. You might even be able to find a part-time job somewhere – perhaps the school library or IT help desk – that allows you to study while you work. Additionally, there are federal and statewide work study programs that can help you earn money to help pay for college, reducing the amount you need to borrow.
When borrowing loans, choose federal student loans over private student loans. If you receive a federal loan, it will have a fixed interest rate , whereas private loans may fluctuate. Moreover, federal loans offer many options for repayment, forbearance, and deferment. Learn more about the differences between federal and private loans.
It’s always a nice feeling to save money. So, make sure to explore all of the money-saving options available to you, and you might be able to alleviate some of your college expenses. If you have any other questions or concerns about saving on college, visit StudentAid.gov.
Kelly Jubic is a digital engagement intern at Federal Student Aid.