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FAFSA Moves Toward Simpler Form

January 5, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

It's January, which means it's time to start thinking about completing a new FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for the 2010-2011 school year. This can be a long, complicated process for parents and students, but the Department of Education has begun taking steps to make the form easier to complete.

In a presentation to high school students and school counselors in Washington, DC today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other officials demonstrated the 2010 FAFSA, which went online January 1. While the paper form remains roughly the same length, at 107 questions, changes have been made to the online application to allow applicants to skip several questions that don't apply to them. A few other changes have also been made to make the website easier to navigate and the form easier to complete. These steps will hopefully speed up students' application processes and reduce confusion.

Progress is also being made on syncing the FAFSA and tax information from the IRS. In late 2009, the Department of Education announced that beginning in 2010, some students would be able to access a new tool that would allow them to import their 2008 tax information into a 2009-2010 FAFSA. The tool is expected to go live later this month, with work continuing on making the feature available to everyone.

According to Nextgov, one of the main barriers still remaining is a conflict between state FAFSA deadlines and the dates 2009 tax information will be available on the IRS website. Currently, previous year tax information goes online in the middle of the year, after many state deadlines have passed for FAFSA filing. The Department of Education and the IRS are working to find a solution to this problem to make the data transfer tool more widely useful. Other tweaks are likely to be made once the pilot program gets underway.

Legislation currently in Congress may further simplify the FAFSA by eliminating additional questions that many deem unnecessary. While the financial aid application process is likely to remain long and complicated for the foreseeable future, concrete steps are being taken to make it shorter and simpler, and it appears the movement is gaining momentum.

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Obama Extends an "Opportunity" to College Students

The American Opportunity Tax Credit, That Is

October 13, 2010

Obama Extends an "Opportunity" to College Students

by Suada Kolovic

The financial aid process can be a daunting one but if you’re planning on attending college any time soon, you should know that there are tons of federal student aid options out there – from Pell Grants to Perkins Loans to FAFSA – but your eligibility to receive aid depends on your level of need and, subsequently, how much aid you are eligible to receive. So, to the folks right in the middle: How does a tax credit sound? The American Opportunity Tax Credit, created in the 2009 economic stimulus bill, expires in 2010, but President Obama has proposed making it permanent, with a price tag of $58 billion over 10 years.

Now what does this mean to you? Because the Opportunity Tax Credit is more generous than its predecessor, the Hope Tax Credit, it provides a credit of up to $2,500 rather than $1,800 and it phases out at a higher income level – $160,000 for married couples filing jointly instead of $100,000. According to a report by the Department of Treasury, it’s also partially refundable so students and families with little or no tax liability can receive up to $1,000 of it as a tax refund. The report comes as lawmakers are debating a bill to extend several expiring tax credits. Recent versions would not extend the American Opportunity Tax Credit, but President Obama hopes lawmakers will reconsider.

"The president obviously feels strongly that this is an important relief for middle-class families," said Gene Sperling, counselor to the Treasury Secretary.

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5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Happy New FAFSA!

2011-2012 Application Available Tomorrow

December 31, 2010

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Happy New FAFSA!

by Alexis Mattera

Ladies and gentlemen, prospective and current college students, I (or the federal government, rather) give you the 2011-2012 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Hooray!

Vacuum up the confetti because it’s time to get down to business. January 1st marks the first day college-bound seniors, continuing undergraduate and graduate students, and their parents can begin filling out the FAFSA online. Completing the FAFSA is a vital part of the college process: The Department of Education uses it to determine eligibility for federal student financial aid for college. This aid includes federal grant programs (such as the Pell Grant), federal work study, and federal student loans; it is also used by states to determine eligibility for their college aid programs, such as state grants. Colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for the need-based aid programs they administer and, finally, many scholarship opportunities request FAFSA information as part of their application processes. Even if you think that you won’t qualify for free money in the form of need-based college scholarships and grants, you should still apply. At the minimum, the vast majority of students qualify for Stafford Loans, low-interest federal student loans that represent one of the best deals in borrowing and paying for school.

Submission deadlines vary by state (verify yours sooner than later here) so, as with any sort of college funding, we recommend you complete the FAFSA as early as possible because funds do run out. For more information, visit the official FAFSA website or review our federal aid pages. Happy filing (and New Year)!

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Scholarship Scam Spotting 101

February 16, 2011

Scholarship Scam Spotting 101

by Alexis Mattera

Applying for scholarships requires hard work, creativity and time...not boatloads of cash, frustration and empty promises. Each year, however, students are duped into ponying up exorbitant application fees for scholarships they aren’t even guaranteed to win. This is just plain WRONG, people – scholarships are supposed to be free money for college! – and while we’re betting you’ve already checked out our pages on scholarship scam prevention, the Washington Post recently published some refresher info:

  • Filling out the FAFSA is 100-percent free and you can do it either online or on paper. If you would like to fill it out online, be sure your search terms are correct: A seemingly small typo like "FASFA" can direct you to sites that ask you to pay to file...and the forms they have are sometimes the wrong ones.
  • It's legal for for-profit companies to charge for providing scholarship information but it's illegal for them to collect fees but never provide the information, misrepresent themselves as government officials or guarantee they'll get the student full funding for college.
  • Voice any concerns about an organization to a high school or college counselor; they've been there and done that and can point you to the truth.
  • If you are alerted that you're a finalist for a contest you've never entered or if credit card/banking information is requested online, go no further unless you are positive the organization is legit.
  • Don't give in to anything branded as a "limited time offer" or "exclusive opportunity." They're just high-pressure sales tactics.
  • Investigate the success stories presented at seminars. These so-called "satisfied customers" could have been paid to give glowing recommendations so ask for a list of at least three local families who used the service and contact them directly to make sure the organization delivered on its promises.
  • If you do find a legitimate organization that requires payment, get in writing how much the service costs, what exactly the company will do and the refund policy.

College is expensive enough so save those application fees for books and other college expenses: All Scholarships.com’s services – from the scholarship search and college matchmaker to financial aid information and college preparation tips – are available completely free of charge. You’re welcome!

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Deadline for Our Facebook Scholarship Approaching

March 22, 2011

Deadline for Our Facebook Scholarship Approaching

by Suada Kolovic

With just over a week left to enter our “You Like Me…You Really Like Me” Facebook Scholarship, we wanted to remind our fans of a key piece of the judging criteria: The person who best describes how Scholarships.com is helping them prepare for and afford college will win the $1,000 prize. So, while we love hearing that you heart us, we’d much rather have you detail how, for example, our blog post on standardized testing helped prepare you for the dreaded SATs or how our College Prep section gave you a jumpstart on your college planning. Remember, the more you share, the better your chances are at winning.

If you’re new to Scholarships.com and unfamiliar with its contents, take a tour and check out everything we have to offer. Our site is teeming with info – from figuring out the puzzle that is the FAFSA and strategies for winning scholarships to living with a roommate and preparing for an internship – so if you like us (really like us), tell us why. Just be sure to do it soon: The deadline to “like” and leave your thoughtful comment is March 31st. For more details, check out our Facebook page. Good luck!

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Financial Aid Applications Increase for 2011-2012

National Need Mirrored in the Buckeye State

April 26, 2011

Financial Aid Applications Increase for 2011-2012

by Alexis Mattera

If you are attending college, you probably need some form of financial aid to pay for tuition, room and board, books and other living expenses. Next year, it’s likely you’ll need a little bit more.

The Columbus Dispatch recently reported the number of students in the U.S. who have filed forms for federal financial aid for the 2011-2012 academic year has increased by about 1 million from last year. At Ohio State alone, requests are up about 10,600 from two years ago - a 22-percent jump, says financial aid director Diane Stemper. Ohio University’s Sondra Williams reports a similar trend with a 12-percent increase in federal financial aid applications. The reasons for the increased need aren’t surprising. "Many people who used to have the resources to send their children to college have lost their jobs or been downsized," Stemper said, adding lower home and stock values and rising food and gas prices are also culprits.

Though more students are getting the aid they require – OSU has seen an increase in Pell Grant recipients enrolled and OU has more students receiving subsidized loans – the financial relief may be short-lived: Governor John Kasich’s state budget proposal has public universities in Ohio could increasing tuition by up to 3.5 percent. Current undergraduate and graduate students, do you need more financial aid now than you did when you first enrolled? High schoolers and incoming freshman, how do you plan to pay for school?

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Prepping for a Summer Abroad: Financial Edition

May 26, 2011

Prepping for a Summer Abroad: Financial Edition

by Mariah Proctor

When people hear I’m getting ready to leave on my third study abroad, there are no questions asked – just resentful looks that say ‘Well, aren’t you the cultured little rich girl.’ Okay, maybe the looks aren’t that venomous but the idea holds true. If you are considering studying abroad but think you can’t afford it, listen up: You can.

My first study abroad was paid for in the way many people pay for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land: through money left by my grandparents. There was something tender about imagining my grandfather working hard as a schoolteacher and saving every penny – pennies that would one day take me to Jerusalem. But the inheritance-type funds had run dry when I was asked to go to Southeast Asia for a summer, so my second study abroad saw a more creative, financial-finagling me.

The first step in paying for a semester of international intrigue is finding funding from your home institution. Most international study programs have discount or program-specific scholarships. Also, make sure you fill out the FAFSA to get a Pell grant if you’re eligible. Not everyone knows those government pick-me-ups can be applied to international study...but now you do. Go after one!

There are study abroad-specific scholarships all over the Internet (Scholarships.com is rich with financial opportunities that can be applied). The Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Scholarship and the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship are two of the most well-known sources of study abroad funding, plus oodles of country-specific and area of study specific-grants.

If you are persistent about diversifying your sources of funding, studying abroad can be less expensive than staying on campus. The most important thing is not to let the cost of a plane ticket or the dollar-to-euro exchange rate scare you away from what will be a fulfilling experiences in your young life. There’s no rule that says only rich kids can travel; if you dream of pyramids or tropical breezes, stop dreaming and start doing. Bonus: Studying abroad provides rich material for grad school application essays.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Students Say "I Do" for Lower Tuition

Would You Marry to Keep College Costs Down?

June 7, 2011

Students Say "I Do" for Lower Tuition

by Alexis Mattera

In February, we read a New York Times article about students getting married to save on tuition and asked our Facebook friends and Twitter followers if they, too, would get hitched if it meant they’d pay less for school. The responses? Mixed, but the topic is still hot four months later.

State aid is down, tuition is up and students are stuck in a tough position these days. While some are continuing down the traditional paths of obtaining funding for college (filling out the FAFSA, applying for scholarships and grants, taking out loans, etc.), others are taking a different route – or should we say aisle – with a friend or another student in a similar monetary situation. Why? If a student is single and under the age of 22, their financial aid is determined by their parents’ income but if the student is married, aid is determined by the joint income of the student and their spouse – an enticing loophole for cash-strapped undergraduate and graduate students. Unlike marrying to obtain citizenship, marrying for financial aid or in-state residency benefits is legal according to WalletPop; there are even matchmaking services that help students find likeminded individuals to marry for tuition relief and divorce after graduation!

What are your thoughts on these “on-paper” marriages? Would you say “I do” if you could save thousands on tuition and fees or do you feel this practice – while legal – is too unethical to consider?

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Helpful Tips on Maximizing Merit Aid

June 16, 2011

Helpful Tips on Maximizing Merit Aid

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out the bottom line when it comes to the cost of your college education is definitely a stressful part of the process. With everything that goes into determining your financial aid package (your parents’ income, your earnings and your family’s net assets), it’s important to understand that merit aid – aid based on a student’s attributes (academics, athletics, extracurriculars, etc.) – is available to student regardless of their “need.” New federal rules are blurring the distinction between scholarships awarded on merit and grants awarded because of a student’s financial need – for instance, a growing number of colleges now award “need-based” aid to students from families earning six figures! Who would have thunk it?! So, we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to maximize your chances for merit aid and increase your overall financial aid package.

  • Fill out the FAFSA. Federal rules have changed. College aid officials are now allowed to award need-based aid to students whose parents earned decent salaries last year but have recently been laid off, as well as make accommodations for a family’s unique circumstances, such as high medical bills.
  • Apply to schools where you’d rank at the top. While your dream school might be an Ivy League, you should apply to at least a few colleges where your GPA would put you in the top 25 percent of the student body.
  • Apply to schools that offer generous need-based aid. In the 2009-10 academic year, Louisiana College reported that 88 percent of students were receiving non-need based financial aid. Do the schools you’re considering boast the same kind of aid?
  • Do the research. If you’re interested in a college, find out what it has to offer when it comes to merit aid. You might qualify for more awards than you think!
  • Before making a final decision, compare net prices. Consider the cost of attendance in its entirety including tuition and fees, room and board, books and transportation. The school that offers the most in merit aid might not be the best choice; sometimes the college offering the largest merit scholarship might have the highest net price because its tuition is higher.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Believe it or not, you have negotiating leverage when it comes to your merit aid package. If you have received admission letters from two or more universities and your first choice has a higher net price than your second choice, contact that institution! Some schools might be willing to match the merit aid offered, which would provide you the opportunity to attend your first choice school for less money!
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Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

August 10, 2011

Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

by Alexis Mattera

A few months back, we wrote about helpful tips on maximizing merit aid, or aid based on a student’s attributes like academics, athletics and extracurriculars. For college applicants who aren’t deemed financially needy in terms of their FAFSA or EFC, merit aid can make a huge difference in the schools they can realistically afford to attend. Students and families seeking this extra financial aid boost should consider researching schools more likely to dispense merit-based awards but with so many colleges and universities in the U.S., which ones are the best financial bets?

Help has arrived in the form of U.S. News, which has compiled a top 10 list of schools that awarded the highest percentage of merit-based funding to non-needy students during the 2009-10 academic year (the stats do not include financially needy students who were given merit aid or students who received athletic scholarships or other tuition breaks). Take a look:

High school students, does this data have you looking at these schools in a new light? Current college students attending one of the schools listed above, did merit aid make the difference as to whether or not you enrolled?

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