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Just the (FAFSA) Facts, Ma’am

Tips and Tricks for Filing This Oft-Dreaded Application

March 9, 2012

Just the (FAFSA) Facts, Ma’am

by Radha Jhatakia

For those of us who cannot afford large out-of-pocket expenses for college, financial aid is our only option. Many, if not all, universities require their students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – aka the FAFSA – which uses your family’s finances and taxes in order to best determine how much aid you get. It can be confusing but it is definitely worth your time to file the application.

Depending on the state of the school you attend and live in, the FAFSA has different deadlines. States offer different grants and scholarships as long as you qualify and apply by the stated deadline and private schools also have different deadlines for private funding which can be found on their websites. The dates for states can all be found on the print out form on the FAFSA’s website. Remember to use this official government website – other sites charge fees.

The FAFSA requires you to have a federal PIN number. To apply for one, request one from the FAFSA website. (Make sure to do this even if you don’t have your tax returns, as the PIN number sometimes takes some time to receive.) Also, a new procedure that the FAFSA has is the IRS data retrieval tool, which takes the tax information directly from the IRS database and filters it into the FAFSA. This option not only makes life easier for those filing the FAFSA but it helps college financial aid offices, as they won’t require you to turn in additional documents to verify if the information is correct.

Always try to have yours and your parents' tax returns completed as soon as possible to have your FAFSA completed on time; however, since required documents like W-2s and other federal papers often aren’t available when you need them, file the FAFSA and select the option “Will File” rather than “Already Completed” for the question asking if you have already filed the tax returns. Use the tax information from the previous year so that you can have it completed by the deadline and once your tax returns are complete, go back into the FAFSA and use the “Make Corrections” option to update the information.

Happy filing, everyone!

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major at San Jose State University. She's a transfer student who had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.


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Investment Strategies for College Students

by Radha Jhatakia

Most students begin to make decisions about what sort of financial investments they need to make after they graduate while they are still attending college. It’s not an easy decision – rather, it’s one that takes time and some level of research – but this short guide will help you get started.

You may have "made" a lot of money through economics projects where you "invested" in stocks but playing the stock market in real life is much different. With great risk, you can have a great payoff or a great loss and unlike your econ projects, investing requires real funding to make an initial investment, as a single share can be quite expensive depending on the stock. Research the stocks you are interested in and watch the market daily before investing any money. It sounds silly but the best starting point would be reading a book like "Stock Investing for Dummies."

If you’re wary about the stock market, a safer investment would be in a bank or credit union. Many banks do not have annual fees for college accounts but in the current economy, some financial institutions do not offer high interest rates for savings accounts, money markets or certificates of deposits (CDs). Credit unions often have higher interest rates and may charge annual fees but it depends on the institutions' individual policies. Here are the differences between these accounts:

  • Savings accounts: Savings accounts don’t require large balances and offer students the freedom of withdrawing money whenever needed. The downfall is low interest rates.
  • Money markets: Money markets require higher balances since banks use the accounts to make investments but the interest rate is higher since you make money off their investments. The caveat here is not having the money readily available and being charged fees for falling below the minimum balance.
  • CDs: CDs are great for long term use, as they require investments for a certain length of time. This account has a high interest rate and is insured by the FDIC but the drawback is breaking the CD to withdraw money means paying a hefty fee.

Are you currently investing your money? If so, how?

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major at San Jose State University. She's a transfer student who had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.


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Volunteering During the Holidays - Do It!

by Radha Jhatakia

The holiday season has arrived. We see decorations up everywhere and sales for the things we’ve coveted all year. We go to parties, have feasts of delicious holiday food and exchange gifts. It’s all very beautiful and spirited but there is a very realistic part of the holiday season that often gets overlooked.

When you pass by those beautiful decorations, how many of you notice there are people sitting on the sidewalk, not because they’re tired of shopping but because that is where they live? When you are at the register spending hundreds on gifts, how many think about those who barely have money to eat? I think ‘tis the season we college students start thinking of others!

With the current state of the economy, many people are unable to celebrate the holidays the way they would like so let’s spread our good fortune to those who don’t have as much. Most college students have an entire month off from school between semesters so do some good during that time! Here are a few ideas:

  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter. These organizations are often short staffed during the holidays because of the amount of people that go in so they will be grateful for any time you can spare.
  • Organize a food drive and then help deliver the goods. You can also look into working with a charity that distributes food baskets for those who aren’t homeless but can’t afford holiday meals.
  • Give a gift to someone less fortunate if you can. Community centers set up toy drives during the holidays and some schools even have “Letters to Santa” programs where needy students share their holiday wish lists.

Making someone’s holiday even a little bit happier is easier than you think. All it takes is a bit of time and effort to give someone else the joy you are blessed to have.

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major at San Jose State University. She's a transfer student who had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.


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BARC Can Give Your Career Some Bite!

Bay Area Retail Leadership Center Helps Students Learn from, Network with Professionals

February 28, 2012

BARC Can Give Your Career Some Bite!

by Radha Jhatakia

One of the best resources that college can offer you (besides an education, of course) is the opportunity to find employment after graduation. There are programs dedicated to helping students in different career fields and at SJSU, one of these opportunities comes with the Bay Area Retail Leadership Center, or BARC.

BARC consists of SJSU students and faculty who have partnered up with those in the retail industry. Currently, the list of partners includes Target, Walgreens, Kohl's, Verizon Wireless, Ross, Nike and Walmart and students are able to interact with professionals at these companies and gain insight to what working for a retail corporation will be like while networking and getting potential job offers.

BARC offers a study tour during which students travel to different headquarters and main offices of these companies – an advantageous experience that happens only twice a year. Apart from this, BARC hosts conferences in which speakers present on different aspects of how to make it to the retail industry; internships are also offered. Just like with any networking opportunity, though, it is up to the student to make the most of these prospects in the end.

If there is a program like BARC at your college, take advantage of it – there are so many unexplored opportunities! – but if a program like this doesn’t exist, speak with advisers and faculty to start one! It will be a great chance for you to launch a program that will not only help many individuals but will allow you to gain work experience and contacts in the professional world as well.

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major at San Jose State University. She's a transfer student who had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.


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Economical Workout Alternatives

by Samual Favela

Every year, thousands of college students waste their money at the gym to get workouts they could get for free around their own cities. Here's how to make the most of your workouts AND your budget!

If you are looking to build lots of muscle, the gym is for you but if you’re just trying to get some cardio in, spots around the city would be perfect. With little research, students can find trails, high school tracks, parks and clubs. For example, I found out the times and days my local high school’s facilities were open to the public and I started going there to run on the track and up the bleachers – I could feel the difference in my legs and waist in two weeks! I also bought a jump rope so I can add a little extra cardio and I am even considering joining a Crossfit club so I can write more in detail about the benefits and procedures of this type of workout.

When beginning a workout routine, some students may feel insecure seeing others around them running a little faster or lifting a little more. This could translate into a student giving less than 100-percent and decreasing the quality of his or her workouts, thus wasting money. Exercising at various spots across the city can help eliminate this insecurity because the surroundings (both scenery and people) are always changing. Working out outside also helps on a more spiritual level; connecting with nature is something everyone needs to do and some of us don't get enough of that in our busy schedules.

So save your money and go for a run outside – it really is more enjoyable for your wellbeing and your bank account!

Samuel “Samwell” Favela is a journalism major at Long Beach City College. He’s interested in all things media – he enjoys blogging, Instagramming and hosting his own campus radio show – and is always excited to meet new people. Samwell’s educational journey has already taken him from Pomona to Long Beach and shows no sign of slowing down...which is exactly the way he likes it!


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The FAFSA: New Year Means New Application

by Scholarships.com Staff

Though it’s a day off from school and work, New Year’s Day is also a day to get down to business. While you’re starting in on your New Year’s resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there’s one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should do each January. The Department of Education starts accepting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1 each year. State application deadlines fall soon after—as early as February in some cases. So while you might not start classes until August or September, you want to start applying for financial aid as soon as the FAFSA is available each year.

In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following:

  • your social security number
  • a driver’s license if you have one
  • bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • records of untaxed income (again, if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2011 for the 2012-2013 FAFSA)
  • all of the above for your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • a PIN to sign electronically (go to pin.ed.gov to get one)

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Study: Pell Grant Restrictions Affect Enrollment at Community Colleges in the South

by Scholarships.com Staff

Community colleges across the country have seen a steep decline in enrollments this year for a few reasons. A recovering economy steering students toward jobs and budget cuts that have led to fee increases have played key roles but changes to federal Pell grant eligibility are most notable. According to a new study, community colleges in the Deep South have been hit hardest by the changes that took effect last year.

The study, by Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama director Stephen Katsinas, argues that community college enrollments in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi are highly sensitive to changes in the federal grant program. Enrollment in 47 of the 62 two-year colleges across the three states declined this past fall and more than 5,000 students lost Pell grants – a change that the report's authors say can be directly attributed to the changes in eligibility. Students are now limited to just six years of Pell grants, fewer students automatically qualify for the maximum grant because of a lower income cap for receiving an “automatic zero” expected family contribution and students without a high school diploma or GED are no longer eligible.

While many states have started to see their economies improve, that’s not the case for the three states included in the study. In fact, not only have their economies not recovered but state-supported student aid programs are much smaller, so colleges have fewer resources for low-income students who no longer qualify for Pell grants. Both Pell grants and community colleges are "vital to enhancing college degree completion in the Deep South, for it is the community colleges where economically disadvantaged students begin higher education," the study noted. The enrollment numbers were based on surveys of community college officials. All of the two-year colleges in the three-state region responded. However, the national enrollment data for 2012 hasn't been compiled yet, said David Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education.


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Is Your Dream School Affordable, Too?

by Scholarships.com Staff

When an acceptance letter arrives from your dream college, your first instinct may be to scream, cry and jump on your couch with Tom Cruise-caliber flair. Feel free to give in to those urges – hey, you earned it! – but realize you will soon have to figure out how to pay for your education. Can you really afford this school, not only while you’re attending but after you graduate as well? A new list from Kiplinger says your dream school could be a reality after all.

The list, which rates how well colleges actually do in making themselves affordable, includes schools with students who graduate with less than $20,000 in student loan debt on average. The Washington Post’s Daniel de Vise also weighed in, supplementing Kiplinger’s findings with data from the Institute for College Access and Success. Here’s what he found were the most affordable institutions based on the average amount of debt graduates carry:


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Ever been told to finish what you started? That’s not bad advice. Students are being taught the value of a good education, and the counsel is working. College entrance rates have been going up for years. Classrooms are filling up, and dormitories are busting at the seams. Whether or not students are graduating is a different story.

According to a study conducted by ACT, a not-for-profit organization providing research services, only 74.5% of first-year students attending public four-year colleges return the following year. Those attending private four-year colleges fared a bit better, but barely. Graduation rates at private colleges were only .7% better than those at public ones, down from 5.8% in 1988. Sending a student to a more expensive private college is unlikely to solve the problem.

And arguing that these students are simply transferring doesn’t cut it either. According to an article released by the Associated Press, only 54% of students who entered a four-year university in 1997 had a degree six years later. Unless you’re Van Wilder, you should have something to show after six years.

Despite a spike in the number of students who attend college and obtain degrees, a high dropout percentage continues to be a problem. As a matter of fact, the rate is the same as it was in 1988. So many more ambitious students are vying for each college spot, but about one in four still quits after the first year. What’s the problem?

According to the ACT survey, the top two factors contributing to student failure were lack of motivation and inadequate financial resources. These two problems can be solved, but students need to take matters into their own hands.

Lack of student motivation was ranked as the biggest determinant of college failure—even more than a student’s academic fit for a particular school. This means that a student who can get their act together need not be discouraged by campus nerds. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

Students should also keep their future in mind during stressful college times. Those who have yet to pinpoint a career may have a hard time identifying goals, but obtaining a degree is a great goal in itself. A degree gives students options. Those who change their minds about future plans may always return to school. In the mean time, a degree gives students something to fall back on.

As you surely know, more jobs than before require degrees. In fact, degrees are just the beginning. It is not uncommon for an employer to look your resume up and down and declare that your impressive background would make you a perfect fit for the company: no one would match your paper-filing skills.

The second biggest obstacle standing between a student and their degree was financial need. Students who spend a bundle on their education may suffer financially after dropping out. No education and no money is not a good combo. There are plenty of financial aid options, and students should take advantage of them.

The best money is, of course, free money. By filing a FASFA and searching Scholarships.com for grant and scholarship opportunities, students have the chance to find free college funding, no strings attached. Those who can save ahead of time should look into setting up a college savings account. Some good choices may be the 529 and the Coverdell as they allow students to accumulate money, tax-free. For more savings account options, visit the Scholarships.com Resources Section. Loans, as a last resort, can generally be obtained at lower rates when borrowed from the government. Take advantage of any aid offered. Don’t leave your purchase at the door: get the degree and the education you paid for.

Posted Under:

College and the Economy


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by Scholarships.com Staff

While the focus for many students right now is planning for and paying for the next year of college, some students are still struggling with bills from the current or previous semester.  An e-mail survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers reports a perceived increase in unpaid tuition bills in the 2008-2009 academic year.  While being caught short on one semester's tuition can seem stressful enough, it can carry serious consequences for college students.

For students with the funds to easily cover tuition, either through family income, college savings plans, or financial aid awards, the figure on their bursar bill may be unpleasant, but it is soon forgotten.  However, carrying a bursar balance--in some cases, even a small one--can cut off your ability to register for classes, request transcripts, and even graduate, among other consequences.  Students who are unable to pay for a semester by the school's deadline may even find themselves dropped from their classes and kicked off campus.  These consequences can essentially derail your education, and many students who take a semester off from college to save money and pay off bills never go back to finish.

Luckily, as Kim Clark stresses in an article on the subject in U.S. News and World Report, universities are willing to work with students to keep them enrolled and get their bills paid, especially in the current economic climate.  Many schools are establishing or adding to emergency loan and grant funds to help students stay in school.  Federal student financial aid is also still available mid-term.  You can still complete the FAFSA for 2008-2009 anytime before June 30.  Even if you've already applied for the current year, talking to the financial aid office could still come through big time, especially if your circumstances have changed. Federal grants, as well as some campus-based programs may be available to students whose family contributions have significantly dipped.  While Clark's article emphasizes the surprising success networking and asking family for donations can bring, conducting a scholarship search may be a safer bet. Most importantly, be sure to stay in communication with your school. You may have to deal with three different offices on campus, but don't get discouraged.  The process may be more streamlined than you'd expect.  It is possible to stay enrolled regardless of the financial troubles you're facing.


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