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The FAFSA: New Year Means New Application

by Alexis Mattera

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 (2012 for the 2013-2014 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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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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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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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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What National University is the Best Value?

U.S. News Reveals Sneak Peek at Latest List

September 8, 2011

What National University is the Best Value?

by Alexis Mattera

With college costs at an all-time high, the likelihood of college applicants and their parents selecting the school offering the most financial assistance is pretty high. But what national schools provide the highest quality education for the lowest price? Just ask the experts at U.S. News.

Though the official ordered list will not be revealed until next week, U.S. News published a sneak peek of its top 10 best value schools in the National Universities category today. (Keep in mind the schools are only listed in alphabetical order at this point.)

Is your dream school represented? Excellent! What school do you think will be named the best value and why?


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A Little Loan Goes a Long Way

November 29, 2011

A Little Loan Goes a Long Way

by Alexis Mattera

In recent years, college students have become more cautious about taking out loans to pay for school. There are multiple reasons for this – horror stories from friends or siblings, limited job prospects after graduation and high interest rates have all been cited – and while it’s an admirable goal to graduatefrom college debt-free, educators think this approach could actually hinder students from getting degrees.

According to a recent Associated Press article, students are attempting to limit borrowing by working longer hours, taking fewer credits (and often not enrolling full-time), living at home and attending less selective institutions. While educators are impressed with this level of fiscal responsibility, they are quick to point out that each action above is a risk factor that makes college students less likely to graduate. Borrowing could prevent this, said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and vice president of Excelencia in Education. "If you can take out a little bit of loan you're more likely to complete. If you can go to a more selective institution that gives you more resources and support, you're more likely to complete." How much more likely? Federal data analyzed by Excelencia and the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) in 2008 shows roughly 86 percent of students who borrow for college are able to attend full-time compared to 70 percent of students who don't borrow and roughly 60 percent of full-time students receive a bachelor's degree within eight years compared to 25 percent of part-time students.

What can be done to facilitate this message? Educators believe students need to better understand financial aid, the difference between types of loans, debt management and the returns on various degrees and majors. In addition to searching for scholarships and grants, is borrowing part of your financial aid plan and does this information make you more or less likely to take out a loan?


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Sixty-Two Schools Meet Students’ Full Financial Need

by Alexis Mattera

Wouldn't it be amazing if that super expensive college you were just accepted into said, "Hey there, new friend – thanks for all your hard work saving, scrimping and scholarship searching but we’ll take it from here, financially"? It can happen...kind of.

When a student fills out the FAFSA, a figure known as the expected family contribution (EFC) – the amount a student or family can reasonably spend on one year of college – is calculated using family income, number of children, amount of assets and other factors. There is sometimes a gap between the EFC and the final cost of college but 62 schools have reported to U.S. News that, on average, 100 percent of their admitted full-time undergraduate students' financial need was met for fall 2010 by some combination of aid (work-study, merit scholarships, grants, subsidized loans, etc.).

Now, we're not going to list every single college and university that reported these claims (you can check out U.S. News' site for that) but we will say that some well-known schools like Yale, Vanderbilt and Grinnell – the latter of which has never failed to meet full need for a student in 20 years, according to financial aid director Arnold Woods – have made the cut. Way to go and keep up the good work!


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"First Generation" Trains Its Lens on College Access

by Alexis Mattera

Many students think they know what it takes to get into the college of their choice but with record-low admissions rates, insufficient financial aid and increasing student loan debt, the path to higher education is not as clear-cut as it once was. Good grades and high standardized test scores aren’t enough anymore – the incoming freshman class at Berkeley, for example, includes an expert Ping-Pong player, an Irish dancer and a figure skater, as well as a TV star and a champion roller skater – but what if you don’t have the access to even that kind of basic information? The filmmakers behind "First Generation" hope to explain just that.

Adam and Jaye Fenderson's first feature film follows four students – an inner city athlete, a small town waitress, a Samoan warrior dancer and the daughter of migrant field workers – through as they apply to college and attempt to be the first members of their families to attend college. "First Generation" explores how, despite these students all possessing valuable attributes inside and outside of the classroom, the absence of college graduates in a family can result in a lack of financial support and a shortage of knowledge about the college admissions process as a whole.

Check out the trailer here when you have a minute and let us know what you think. If you are or will be a first generation college student, could you relate to the individuals featured? Do you think "First Generation" should be viewed by all students applying to college? Weigh in in the comments section!


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Duncan to College Applicants: "Shop Around"

Ed Sec Says Comparing More Schools Will Lead to More Informed College Choices

July 3, 2012

Duncan to College Applicants: "Shop Around"

by Alexis Mattera

In the epic battle between quality versus quantity, it's the former that usually prevails but Arne Duncan has a slightly different proposal for soon-to-be college students: increase the quantity of schools you consider in order to find the best quality fit.

Though the annual Higher Education Research Institute survey reported that students are already employing that approach (just 12 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen applied to only one college in 2011), Education Secretary Duncan believes that too many students are making their college choices based on distance from home rather than price, majors and other factors vital to college completion and future success. He feels that if students apply to more schools and compare financial aid packages, they'll find the school and program that's right for them. But not everyone is buying into his "shop around" proposal. Lloyd Thacker, director of the admissions reform group Education Conservancy, said, "The problem with the admissions process is it's become too much like a transaction or consumer process, and less like an investment in education ... I'm not saying what he's doing is necessarily wrong but you need to be very thoughtful that good intentions are tied to sound research.”

Check out the full Inside Higher Ed article here and let us know what you think. Are you ready to go shopping with Duncan or will you be taking a different approach when applying to college?


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