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by Suada Kolovic

While the road to a college degree may include countless detours, it’s essential to understand the importance of financial aid and filling out the FAFSA. But don’t just take my word for it – President Obama agrees: Last week, the President announced an initiative that would encourage more students to apply for federal student aid.

Under the FAFSA Completion Initiative, the Department of Education will work with states to identify students who have not completed the form and employ new outreach efforts to help more students through the process. The White House said the effort would build on earlier steps by the Obama administration to simplify the form and make it easier for parents and student to use information from their tax returns to complete the paperwork. "We made it simple. It doesn't cost anything. It does not take a long time to fill out. Once you do, you're putting yourself in the running for all kinds of financial support for college," said President Obama.

For those of you that aren’t familiar, the FAFSA (which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid) acts as a gateway between graduating seniors and almost $150 billion in grants, loans and work-study funds that the federal government has available. Funds do run out, though, so we recommend filling out the FAFSA as early as possible. Have you filled out the FAFSA? Let us know how it went in the comments section. If you haven’t done so yet, review our financial aid section for some tips.


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Federal Student Loans

November 6, 2007

by Kevin Ladd

Loans don’t incite pleasant feelings in students, in anyone on the borrowing side. It doesn’t help that the media has made it a point to discuss, extensively, what appears to be the newest trend… mortgage loan defaulting. Student loans aren't as large as mortgages, but for a growing number, they are catching up.

Regardless of cost, there are a lot of dedicated students out there, and until the college-financing system undergoes a major overhaul (cross your fingers but don't hold your breath), loans may be inevitable. Before taking out loans, students should complete a FAFSA and conduct a free scholarship search. Those who still need money should apply for federal loans. Only after exhausting government loans should one consider private student loans

As a result of the recently passed College Cost Reduction and Access Act, there will be a decrease in interest rates on federal college student loans. That's great news for students with large financial aid needs, but loan rates have not yet been changed. Even before government rates become less expensive, it is in a student's best interest to see what the government has to offer before looking elsewhere. Below are the federal student loan options available to those in need.

Stafford Loans- Students who are interested in taking out a Stafford Loan (or other types of federal student loans) will need to fill out a FAFSA. The amount that a student can borrow will depend on a student’s year in school as well as on whether the Stafford Loan is subsidized or unsubsidized (only a portion of the amount may be subsidized). Stafford Loans disbursed after July 1, 2006 are fixed at a 6.8 % interest rate, but lower rates are in the works.

  • For the 2007-2008 school year, dependent undergraduate students attending college full time may borrow between $3,500 and $5,500 (borrowing limit increases after each completed year).
  • Independent undergraduates or dependents whose parents were denied a PLUS Loan may borrow between $7,500 and $10,500 (again, freshmen may take out less than seniors).
  • The maximum amount of a professional or graduate student loan is a bit larger—as is graduate tuition. This year, students may borrow up to $20,500, regardless of their year in graduate school.

PLUS Loans- The Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students or PLUS Loan is offered to, as the name suggests, parents of undergraduate students. Recently, the loan has also been made available to graduate school students. PLUS Loan amounts may not exceed the total cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received. If the student’s estimated cost of attendance (amount determined by each school) is $6,000 and the student receives $4,000 in aid, only $2,000 may be borrowed. To take advantage of this loan, students must max out their Stafford Loans, and doing so is in a student’s best interest anyway. PLUS Loans have higher interest rates than Stafford Loans; those disbursed on or after July 1, 2006 are fixed at 7.9% for Direct PLUS Loans and at 8.5% for FFEL PLUS Loans.

Perkins Loans- Although Perkins Loans are made with government money, they are normally classified as campus-based aid because they are administered by schools. Perkins Loans are offered to students with exceptional need, and only a limited amount is available. Once a school runs low on Perkins Loan funds, students will not receive as much (the same holds true for federal-work study opportunities). This is why students are generally advised to submit their FAFSA early. The earlier they apply, the greater their chance of receiving some forms of aid. The loan amount received through the Perkins Loan program depends on the amount a school has, on already-received aid and on the financial needs of the student. Students who qualify can borrow up to $4,000 each year and pay it off at a 5% student loan rate.

Posted Under:

FAFSA , Financial Aid , Student Loans


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by Kevin Ladd

Each year at about this time, I see students, desperate for financial aid of any kind, begin to despair juuuust a bit. “This scholarship is due in two days… I can’t put together a application/winning essay that quickly!” or something along those lines.  Others complain that the deadlines have passed for many of the scholarships for which they might have applied. There is only really one solution for this and that is for you to begin searching for scholarships earlier in the year."


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by Administrator

The key to applying for financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is used to determine your eligibility for all federal student financial aid programs, and is a powerful tool for anyone who wants to find money for college.

Information from the FAFSA is also used to determine eligibility for many need-based scholarship programs and for some state grant programs. When you ask a representative of your college’s financial aid office how to apply for financial aid, he or she will tell you that you must complete the FAFSA.

Until you submit a FAFSA, there is no way for you to get an accurate estimate of the types of federal financial aid that you might be able to receive. FAFSA data are used to determine eligibility for Federal Pell Grants, various Federal student loan programs, and college work-study positions. If you are planning to enter college in the fall following graduation from high school, you need to submit your FAFSA as early as possible in your graduation year.

As soon as you have W-2s and/or tax forms for you and your parents for the previous year, you need to fill out the FAFSA financial aid forms. The financial aid office at the school you plan to attend may be able to answer questions you have about how to apply for financial aid with the FAFSA. The Federal Student Aid Information Center can also assist you if you have any questions about how to fill out your financial aid forms.

You may reach a representative by calling 800-4-FED-AID. The sooner you take care of this important aspect of applying for financial aid, the earlier you will understand your financial aid options. Once you submit your FAFSA, it will be processed and you will find out what types of Federal Financial Aid you can receive.

Posted Under:

College Costs , FAFSA , Financial Aid


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by Administrator


Financial Aid Acronym Overview

While researching financial aid options you will probably feel overwhelmed by the amount of information that you receive. The good news is that you aren't alone. Students applying for financial aid are often overwhelmed by the terminology associated with it and the heavy use of acronyms within informative literature. Before reading the financial aid information provided in this article these are some the acronyms you should know:

  • FAFSA (Free Application For Student Aid)

  • FSA (Federal Student Aid)

  • EFC (Expected Family Contribution)

  • FPL (Federal Perkins Loan Program)

  • SEOG (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants)

  • FWS (Federal Work Study)

  • PLUS (Parent Loans For Undergraduate Students)

  • COA (Cost of Attendance)

  • FFEL (Federal Family Education Loan)

  • LEAP (Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership)

  • SSIG (State Student Incentive Grant)

  • CPS (Central Processing System)

  • SAR (Student Aid Report)


Where to begin.Feel as though you've been thrown into a den of ravenous acronyms and aren't sure where to begin applying for financial aid? Begin with FAFSA. To apply for an allotment of financial assistance from the federal government every student must submit their Free Application for Student Aid. After you submit your FAFSA it is distributed to the Central Processing System where several federal agencies like the Social Security Administration and the Department of Immigration, verify the information submitted. After your information has been evaluated the government determines your level of need and subsequently, how much aid you are eligible to receive and where the aid will come from. The most basic formula for determining financial need is the COA minus the EFC. The remaining amount is equal to the funding that the government determines to be in need of. FAFSA gives students and parents access to the FSA funds available. To clarify, FAFSA is not the financial aid itself, FAFSA is the form with which students request financial assistance from the government. Even if you are unsure of what aid you will receive from FAFSA, it is still a good idea to submit your form.

Each year the funds available in the federal assistance programs fluctuate; more often than not the funds available are lower than the actual need for aid. The fluctuations in funding are caused by changes in our economy and college enrollment rates. The amount that each student is given, is influenced by the availability of funds for a given year.

Behind the Scenes. When you submit your FAFSA form, the government decides exactly how much aid you qualify for and then determines where the aid will come from. Typically, the aid is drawn from a combination of assistance programs and expects that either the students or the parents also have the option of taking out a loan. A typical financial aid package may be comprised of a Pell grant, a state need-based grant, a SEOG, FWS, a direct loan and a Perkin's Loan. Students are not obligated to return the money received in the form of grants, however, any funds supplied by the FSL must be repaid.

Federal Student Loan Programs. You can take advantage of FSA programs by receiving assistance from FFEL or a Direct Loan, whichever is designated by the university you attend.

FFEL program relies on a private lender, such as a bank or credit union, to subsidize the loan. A Direct Loan is different; the government is responsible for subsidizing such loans directly. For the students that receive one of these loans, the only notable difference is where the money is returned to.

PELL Grants. The best thing about a PELL grant is that it is essentially a gift from the federal government. Any student who has an unmet financial need qualifies to receive assistance from this program. The size of the grant is contingent upon three factors: the cost of attendance, enrollment status, and the EFC. Though a part-time student will receive a lower grant than a student with full-time status, he is still eligible for assistance. Typically, PELL grants are only available to undergrads that do not already have a degree.

State Contributions. LEAP is vehicle through which your state provides financial assistance for students in need. This program was designed so that the financial contributions made by your state will be matched by the federal government. The primary role of this program is to provide grant money that is accessed through campus based programs.
Campus Based Financial Aid Programs


  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. These grants are typically awarded to students with a considerable need for financial aid. The amounts awarded vary from $100 to $4000 dollars per year. This amount depends on the students need and the funding available for a given academic year.

  • Federal Perkins Loan Program. This program is also designed for students with an exceptional need for financial aid and is available to undergraduates and graduates alike. Interest does not accumulate while the recipient of the loan is in school and repayment of the loan is delayed until nine months after graduation.

  • Federal Work Study. Also a program that can be relied upon by undergrads and grads alike. Students who participate in this program have the opportunity to earn money towards expenses related to their education. Typically these students work about 10 hours a week and earn at least the minimum wage.


There is a notable difference between federal aid and the assistance provided by the three campus-based programs. If the federal government determines unmet need in a FAFSA applicant, that student gains access to any available aid offered through federal programs. This does not mean however, that the student will be eligible for any of the federal assistance administered by the college or university through a campus based program. When you submit your FAFSA form, the government does not calculate the equity of your parent's homes into the EFC, but universities do. This means that many students who the government deems eligible for financial aid are less likely to receive assistance through a campus based program. The difference in these calculations is used to separate the needy students from the extremely needy students.

Exclusions. . If you are over the age of 24, married, or have children, you are classified as independent. Federal Student Aid was designed to help send dependents without a network of resources to college. If you don’t qualify because of independent status, don't be discouraged as there are other forms of student loans available and scholarships that can be used toward your tuition as well. Additionally, if you carry veteran status or are a ward of the state you are excluded from the FSA program. Keep in mind that drug abuse can impact your eligibility to receive aid. Any drug related convictions will disqualify you from the program unless you have undergone rehabilitation therapy in a state approved institution.

Posted Under:

FAFSA


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by Administrator

In the world of financial aid there are many different forms of assistance available to students and each serves a slightly different purpose than the other. Many students assume that words like scholarship, grant, fellowship, internship, and student loan are interchangeable. They are not, however, and the consequences of misunderstanding which form of financial aid you are looking for or receiving can be far reaching. For each variety of assistance there are different tax stipulations, service requirements, and repayment expectations attached. Any student on the hunt for financial aid should know what he’s looking for, what he’s found, what the award requires and how it will help him achieve his college goals.

Scholarships

Most scholarships are financial awards given to eligible students with no strings attached. Typically, if you win a standard scholarship, unless it is renewable, your interaction with the donor ends the day you receive your check. According to the IRS, if you are not pursuing a degree, the entire scholarship is taxable. For those students using the scholarship for college, any portion used for tuition, fees, books, and supplies is not taxable. Any funds remaining after your expenses are paid for, however, are subject to tax. There is not typically a service requirement or other stipulation attached to the scholarship upon receipt of the award, however, you should check to be certain. Scholarships are offered in many varieties—sweepstakes, essays, competitions—for traditional and non-traditional students alike. Occasionally scholarships require that you do a specified amount of community service after receiving the award.

Grants

Like scholarships grants are a cash award that does not need to be repaid. There are federal grants, state grants, and grants issued by private businesses and organizations. Many undergraduate students greatly depend on government grants to get them through college. Why shouldn’t they? As long as students qualify financially, all they need to do is fill out a FAFSA. Aside from the government sponsored grant program, most grants are awarded to graduate students who need help funding research or who intent to enter a specific field. Grant amounts range greatly. They may be $100, $100,000, etc. Graduate school grants are not typically used toward tuition, but rather, they are usually used for any expenses necessary to complete your research.

Fellowships

Fellowships are typically awarded to pursuers of graduate or doctoral degrees. Although providers don’t seek repayment, they will frequently ask that students perform research work as a part of the deal. The work may be tedious, but it is usually worth the effort; it is not uncommon for stipends, in addition to tuition coverage, to be a part of the fellowship package. Fellowships tend to be lucrative, and they can get pretty competitive. Students who demonstrate exceptional merit are usually the top runners.

Internships

Most students know the difference between a scholarship and an internship, however, for those that need clarification an internship is an opportunity to work within a business or organization that you would otherwise need a degree to hold a position in. While some internships offer monthly stipends for students participating in their programs, others are unpaid. There are many professions that require students to have participated in an internship program before they can be hired as an employee. It’s a good idea to find out how most professionals in your field of interest secured a position in their field because you will likely discover that without the help of an internship most would not be where they are today. When you are considering an internship there are several things to think about before you accept a position. Ask yourself: How will it help me? What is the time commitment? Is there a stipend? And of course, is there a possibility for employment after the internship?

Student Loans

Believe it or not, student loans qualify as financial assistance; however, loans are a form of low-interest debt that must eventually be repaid. There is a limit to how much financial assistance a student can receive from student loans which is usually determined by how great the financial need of the student is. For the students who do not qualify for a need-based grant but do not have enough cash to pay for tuition, student loans are a good option. An added benefit is that most loans do not begin accumulating interest until 6 to 12 months after you graduate and monthly payments are also delayed until then.


Comments

by Administrator

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is a form of federal student aid that does not need to be repaid. It is awarded to students by colleges and universities, and a mixture of federal and school funds is used to pay for the program. As FSEOG awards are based on financial need, students interested in obtaining this form of financial aid will have to complete a FAFSA and have their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculated. A standard federal formula will be used to determine a student’s financial need, but schools will have a large degree of leverage over how much each student will receive.

To obtain the FSEOG, a student must attend one of the approximately 4,000 colleges and universities that participate in the federal program.  Schools that take part in the FSEOG program receive grant money from the government but must still contribute 25 percent of the funds.

Individual colleges and universities determine how much grant money each student will receives based on fund availability, the time a student submits their FAFSA (earlier is better) and the student’s level of need. The yearly awards may vary from $100 to $4,000 per year, and those who were eligible for Pell Grants will be considered first.

If a student is awarded an FSEOG, the school may pay them directly, credit their school account or both. Depending on the school’s term system, students may be paid each semester, trimester or quarter. Regardless of the institutions set course timeline, the money must be paid in at least two installments.

Posted Under:

College Grants , FAFSA , Financial Aid


Comments

by Agnes Jasinski

One of the most important steps you'll need to take in the financial aid application process is applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The Department of Education starts accepting the FAFSA Jan. 1 of each year, which just so happens to be tomorrow. So start your new year off right by filing that financial aid document, or filing a renewal FAFSA if this isn't your first time. State financial aid deadlines fall as early as February, so it's best to get a head start and know how much funding you can expect come next fall.

Both the FAFSA and renewal FAFSA are available online through Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. Completing the FAFSA online will speed up processing and leave less time for you to worry about how much financial aid you'll be receiving. Remember that it doesn't cost anything to fill out your FAFSA - the FAFSA is free - and some agencies will charge you for filling the application out for you. Once you complete the online form, you’ll be able to check its status, make any corrections as needed, and print your Student Aid Report once that is ready. (Your Student Aid Report summarizes what you've filled out on your FAFSA, and provides you with an Expected Family Contribution, or the total you and your family would be expected to come up with to fund your education.) If you aren’t comfortable filling out your FAFSA online, you can submit a paper form, but it does take longer to process than the online form.

In order to complete your FAFSA, you'll need the following:

  • your Social Security number
  • your driver’s license number (if you have one)
  • your bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • your records of untaxed income (if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2008 for the 2009-2010 FAFSA)
  • all of the above from your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • an electronic PIN to sign the form online

We have a number of resources available to those filling out their FAFSAs and preparing to apply for federal aid. Browse through our site so that you know exactly where to begin, what to expect, and how to file the application successfully, because if you do make mistakes you may delay the processing of your FAFSA. Happy New Year!


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by Agnes Jasinski

As unemployment rates remain high and budgets stay tight, more people are looking to wait out the struggling economy by going back to college. Competition then has become more fierce not only on the admissions level, but for funding to pay for those educations. While many schools are doing whatever they can to continue offering scholarships and grants, the economy has affected some schools' available funding. Good news is, scholarships do exist, and there are things you can do to have a better chance of landing one.

  • Apply early, and apply often. Scholarships wait for no one, and a later deadline doesn't mean you should wait until the very last moment to apply. Generous scholarships like the Coca-Cola Scholars Program have deadlines in October, for example. It's not a bad move to look ahead and start applying for awards beyond this year, either, to get an idea of funding you'll need in the future. To see scholarships that have deadlines this fall, conduct a a free scholarship search and see the dozens you could be eligible for.
  • Don't rule out local scholarships. While funding packages from your intended college are often more generous than outside awards, it won't hurt to supplement any funding you're awarded or have a backup plan in case what your school offers covers less of your fees than you thought. Local scholarships from your dad's employer or your local bowling league are also less competitive than college-based awards or the more well-known contests, and often look at things beyond your GPA and test scores to factor in things like community service, your experience with that organization and financial need. New scholarships are being created all the time, so check on your search throughout the school year for the most up-to-date results.
  • Stand out on the application. It's not too late to make up for that less-than-stellar grade in your high school Algebra class, especially if you're looking ahead to scholarship opportunities beyond your freshman year in college. GPAs matter from your entire high school career, so don't slack off when the senioritis hits. Don't be afraid of AP classes unless it's a subject you know you'd get a low grade in, and get involved in your school and your community as it's also not always about academics. Work on that resume by applying for internships that fit your intended major, and put in more hours of practice if you're going for a sports or music scholarship. It's never too late to make yourself a more desirable scholarship candidate.
  • Appeal your award. If you've done everything you can - filled out your FAFSA early, put together impressive scholarship applications - and you feel the financial aid you've been offered from your school is unfair or if your circumstances have changed dramatically since applying for government aid, you still have options. Schools are more likely to reconsider packages in the current climate, and you could be eligible for more grant and scholarship funding, the best kind that you don't need to pay back.

For more information on upcoming scholarships and other helpful financial aid tips, visit our College Resources. Tomorrow, we'll explore your options on keeping college costs low and looking at a school's program versus its reputation.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A new study out today shows that it literally pays off to ask for help if you're feeling lost while filling out your FAFSA. The National Bureau of Economic Research has found that low- and moderate-income financial aid applicants who received help from professional tax preparers when filling out their FAFSAs not only received more generous aid packages, but were more likely to apply for aid compared to those navigating the process independently.

The FAFSA can be daunting, and it isn't surprising to hear many students are intimidated by the process or skeptical that they will  receive any need-based aid at all. Still, it's rare to see data on such anecdotal topics. The study was based on results from three groups. One group received help from several H&R Block tax professionals; the second received some financial aid advice, but did not receive personalized assistance; the third received no help in completing their FAFSAs. The results showed that it isn't enough to tell students to fill out the FAFSA and give them the form. The group with the most personalized assistance fared best in terms of how much funding they were approved for, and more generally, whether they would be going to college at all.

The federal government and higher education advocates have been working for years to come up with ways to simplify the financial aid application process. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 that recently passed in the House of Representatives includes a clause that would streamline the application and make it easier to understand for students. The study suggests that students who have trouble filling out applications or who avoid the financial aid process altogether for one reason or another are significantly less likely to go to college. Often the financial aid students receive is a determining factor in the campus they'll find themselves come fall, and if you don't apply for the need-based aid, no one is going to hand you any or often even urge you to fill out that FAFSA application.

Researchers from the study hope the results will lead to programming and services where students are not only told to fill out the applications as part of the college admissions process, but receive automatic assistance in completing their FAFSAs. If you're nervous about doing it on your own come Jan. 1 when the applications first become available for processing, ask for help. Browse through our site to find tips on landing the most free money and filling out the application correctly, as the smallest mistake can lead to delays in not only the processing of your FAFSA, but in the awarding of scholarships, grants and student loans that you're relying on to pay for that college degree.

Posted Under:

FAFSA , Financial Aid , Tips

Tags: FAFSA , Financial Aid , Need-Based

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