“So, where are you going to school next year?” Sometimes it feels like this is the only question people ask you. Maybe you’ve been dreaming about a certain university, or maybe you have no idea what you even want to do with your life, let alone where to go to school. Choosing the right program is one of the biggest decisions of your life (no pressure). But before you take the plunge, here are three questions to help you figure out “What’s best for me?”
1. Do I know what I want to do with my life?
If you can answer a resounding “Yes!” to this question, I would suggest you stay open to new possibilities. For example, I really thought I wanted to be a psychologist, so I found a great school with a great psychology program. However, after my first semester I realized I liked psychology, but I loved writing and teaching. I switched my major to English Writing & Rhetoric; became a published author; taught at inner-city schools; and now I work for the U.S. Department of Education. My point is you never really know where life will take you. So if you’ve always wanted to be a doctor, great: get into the best program you can—just don’t close yourself off to trying new things.
Happy New (School) Year! The beginning of the school year is always an exciting time in our home. For my kids, it’s the anticipation of going back to school, making new friends, and the start of soccer! For my husband and me, it’s the joy of getting back to a routine.
This year is slightly different. Our daughter, Sahana, started her senior year in high school. Over the summer, we had fun visiting schools. During school presentations, we learned about academics, clubs, and traditions. The one thing we did not hear a lot about was the cost of each college and the financial aid options available. Yes, they usually did say to fill out the FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), but no one explained why we should fill out the FAFSA or the steps needed to secure financial aid.
As Sahana embarks on her journey to college this fall, we will also be focusing on how to pay for college.
As an employee at Federal Student Aid (FSA), I feel like I know a bit more about the federal financial aid process than the average parent does. Nevertheless, even after working at FSA for five years, it is such a different experience when you’re the one going through the FAFSA process for the first time. As I was creating a checklist for us, I thought it would be helpful to share it with other parents going through the same journey.
There’s so much information available about financial aid for college that it can be hard to tell the facts from fiction. We’ve got you covered! Here are some common myths about financial aid and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)—and we’ll give you the real scoop.
MYTH 1: My parents make too much money, so I won’t qualify for any aid.
FACT: The reality is there’s no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid. It doesn’t matter if you have a low or high income, you will still qualify for some type of financial aid, including low-interest student loans. Many factors besides income—such as your family size and your year in school—are taken into account. Your eligibility is determined by a mathematical formula, not by your parents’ income alone.
TIP: When you fill out the FAFSA, you’re also automatically applying for funds from your state, and possibly from your school as well. In fact, some schools won’t even consider you for any of their scholarships (including academic scholarships) until you’ve submitted a FAFSA. Don’t make assumptions about what you’ll get—fill out the application and find out!
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:
1. 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. If you’re applying to multiple colleges, be sure to look up each school’s FAFSA deadline and apply by the earliest one.
Congratulations! You submitted your 2017–18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)! Wondering what happens next? Here are a few things to look out for:
1. Your FAFSA confirmation page is not your financial aid award.
After you complete the FAFSA online and click “SUBMIT,” you’ll see a confirmation page like the one below. This is not your award package. You’ll get that separately from the school(s) you apply to and get into. Your school(s) calculate your aid.
The confirmation page provides federal aid estimates based on the information you provided on your FAFSA. It’s important to know that these figures are truly estimates and assume the information you provided on the FAFSA is correct. To calculate the actual amount of aid you’re eligible for, your school will take into account other factors, such as the cost to attend the school. Additionally, these estimates only take into account federal aid and not outside scholarships or state and institutional financial assistance you may also be eligible for.
Spoiler alert: college is really expensive. Begging the government for money can make it more affordable! Such begging is done in the form of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—FAFSA® for short. In order to maximize the amount of aid you can get, it’s very important that you fill out your FAFSA early.
In my experience, filling out the FAFSA is not super quick and easy. While you can do it in one sitting, it’s a bit of a process. That’s why it’s best to get a solid start on it so you’re not overwhelmed with it just before a deadline. Here are some tips to help you prep for and fill out your FAFSA.
And here’s some info about when you CAN fill out your FAFSA versus when you SHOULD fill out your FAFSA. There can be a big difference!
You might have heard that the next FAFSA® will be available on October 1, 2016 as opposed to January 1, 2017. Well, it’s not a myth! If you (or your child) are planning to go to college during the 2017–18 academic year, you’ll want to make sure you have your facts straight. Check out the 7 myths about the FAFSA below.
I used 2015 tax information last year and didn’t get any aid, so it’s pointless to fill out the FAFSA again.
FACT: Not pointless! Your aid award could be different this year.
If you filed a 2016–17 FAFSA and received an award letter from your school, don’t assume that next year’s financial aid award will be the same. We ask you to complete the FAFSA annually because the factors used to calculate your aid could change each year. Things like your year in school, family income, and cost of attendance at your school are just a few factors used to determine your aid. You never know what aid you may get if you don’t complete the FAFSA, so don’t let last year’s award deter you from potential aid you may receive this year. Even if you did not get the Federal Pell Grant last year, you could still be eligible for other types of aid this year. This includes work-study and low-interest loans. Also, many states, schools, and private scholarships require you to submit the FAFSA to be considered for their aid as well.
Student and a counselor at College Depot, Phoenix Public Library.
This past spring, I had the pleasure of traveling out to Phoenix, Arizona to meet with various counselors, mentors, and college access professionals to learn more about how they are getting ready for the upcoming FAFSA season. With the FAFSA launching earlier this year on October 1, many of you have started to organize events and prepare to help students and parents through the financial aid process. As a former college counselor, my biggest piece of advice to you is to familiarize yourself with the Financial Aid Toolkit. It is a goldmine of information that can help answer many of your questions and assist with your financial aid planning process. Also, here’s some advice from a few of our key partners on how to make this process fun and exciting.
Freshmen orientation. You can almost smell the nerves in the room, but you’re not worried. Dorm room, check. Class schedule, check. Textbooks, check. Watching your siblings and friends go through their college years has prepared you for the years ahead. Surely there were bumps and bruises, but there’s bound to be people on campus to help you avoid making life changing mistakes and make the most of your time at the school. Right?
Here at the Department of Education, we asked some of our interns for any advice they would extend to incoming freshmen to make their college years un-regrettable…
There are two exciting changes coming to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) process this year.
1. The 2017–18 FAFSA will be available earlier.
You can file your 2017–18 FAFSA as early as Oct. 1, 2016, rather than beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. The earlier submission date will be a permanent change, enabling you to complete and submit a FAFSA as early as October 1 every year.
2. You’ll use earlier income and tax information.
Beginning with the 2017–18 FAFSA, you’ll be required to report income and tax info from an earlier tax year. For example, on the 2017–18 FAFSA, you—and your parent(s), as appropriate—will report your 2015 income and tax info, rather than your 2016 income and tax info.
We get this question so many times a day! Your school will disburse (pay out) your financial aid, not the federal government. Since each school has a different timeline for awarding aid, you’ll have to call your school’s financial aid office to find out the specific date.
@FAFSA DO YOU THINK THAT A COLLEGE EDUCATION GROWS ON TREES?????? I NEED MORE MONEY????
If you work in public service, you already know that feeling of self-fulfillment that comes from helping others, but you might not realize a potential added benefit of your public service work: federal student loan forgiveness.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. I know what you’re thinking … “qualifying” is used a lot of times in that sentence. How would you possibly know if you qualify? You don’t have to guess; there’s an easy way to determine your eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Submit an Employment Certification Form (sometimes called an ECF).
1. What’s an ECF and why should I submit it?
An ECF is a form that you can complete and submit to keep track of your progress toward loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. It requires you to provide some basic information about you (the borrower) and your employer. Both you and your employer are required to certify that the information on your ECF is true, complete, and correct. Once you submit your form, the PSLF servicer will determine if your loans are eligible for PSLF and if your employer qualifies. Qualifying public service employment can include government work, teaching in a public school, or working at a non-profit organization.