“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.
Need to fill out the FAFSA® but don’t know where to start? I’m here to help. Let’s walk through the process step by step:
1. Create an Account (FSA ID)
Student: An FSA ID is a username and password you need to log in to and sign the FAFSA online. If you don’t have an FSA ID, get one here ASAP. It takes about 10 minutes to create an FSA ID. If this will be your first time filling out the FAFSA, you’ll be able to use your FSA ID right away to sign and submit your FAFSA online. If this is not your first time filling out the FAFSA, you’ll need to wait 1–3 days before you can use your new FSA ID (there’s an account verification process).
IMPORTANT: Some of the most common FAFSA errors occur when the student and parent mix up their FSA IDs. If you don’t want your financial aid to be delayed, it’s extremely important that each parent and each student create his/her own FSA ID and that they do not share it with ANYONE, even each other.
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.
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.
Your child is going to college or career school—that’s great! But you may have questions about how to pay for it. If your child hasn’t completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), ask your child to complete it today. Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and quick, and it gives your child access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school, including loans YOU can receive.
After applying for financial aid, your child may receive an aid offer from the school that includes grants, federal work-study, scholarships, school and state aid, and federal student loans. Those federal loans may include a Direct PLUS Loan that you can get as a parent borrower. PLUS loans are an excellent option if you need money to pay your child’s education expenses, but you’ll want to make sure you understand the loan terms before you get one. Once you’ve taken out a PLUS loan, you must repay it, even if your child doesn’t complete their degree, can’t find a job related to their program of study, or if you or your child are unhappy with the education you paid for with your loan.
Your last high school prom is over and for most of you, graduation has come and gone. 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 heading 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.
1. Make sure your school has your financial aid ready for you
Early summer is a great time to check with the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend to make sure your financial aid is and all paperwork is complete. This will help you avoid any unnecessary surprises or financial aid delays when you arrive on campus.
So you filed your FAFSA and got accepted to a college. Congrats! Your school will send you an award letter that lists different types and amounts of financial aid you’re eligible for. These types of aid could include grants, scholarships, work-study funds, or student loans. You might see two types of federal student loans in your letter: Direct Unsubsidized Loan and Direct Subsidized Loan. Some people refer to these loans as Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans or just subsidized and unsubsidized loans. It’s important you know the basics about these two types of loans before you sign to accept either of them.
As a graduate student, I‘m no stranger to filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), and when I filed my 2016-17 FAFSA, I was prompted to create an FSA ID—the username and password you need to log in to the FAFSA. I followed the step-by-step instructions, and voila! I easily created my very own FSA ID in no time!
More than 30 million FSA IDs have been created, and people, like me, have used their FSA ID more than 146 million* times. With any new process, there are some myths floating around about creating and using an FSA ID. Let’s tackle some of those right now…