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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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by Scholarships.com Staff

For students used to syncing just about every website they visit with Facebook, the amount of manual data entry involved in applying for financial aid can seem completely alien and unnecessary. In fact, many students who would qualify for aid either fail to complete the FAFSA or do so incorrectly, due to the confusing and time-consuming nature of the application process.

Members of the higher education community were concerned about this, as well, so when Congress renewed the Higher Education Act last year, they included a provision to update the FAFSA to make it easier for families to complete. The proposed changes will go into effect in 2010, and some students could be seeing a simpler FAFSA as soon as January.

Under the new system, students completing the FAFSA on the Web will be able to automatically fill in their FAFSA with relevant information from their previous year's tax return. Starting in January, select users who click on "Fill Out Your FAFSA" will be asked if they'd like to access the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to do so. From there, they can enter their Federal Student Aid PIN then be taken to the IRS website where they can retrieve their tax information and click "Transfer Now" to automatically fill in the applicable lines on the FAFSA form. Dependent students will have to repeat this process for their parents' information.

While it still involves multiple steps and websites, the new process is a significant improvement over the current process of hunting for your tax return, begging your parents for their tax returns, sorting through pages of numbers and instructions, and carefully transcribing numbers from one form to another each year. The Department of Education hopes that the more automated and streamlined FAFSA will reduce errors and encourage more students to apply for federal student financial aid.

Only a small group of students who are filing a FAFSA for the current academic year will see the new FAFSA completion options in January. The option will be available for all FAFSA filers for 2010-2011 in July. Although you may be stuck filling out your FAFSA the old way next year, you can at least take some comfort in the knowledge that this will be the last time.


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Your Guide to On-Campus Living

September 4, 2013

Your Guide to On-Campus Living

by Abby Egan

As an incoming college student, you’ve probably heard the term “freshman experience” a million times by now. Well, think of residence halls as feeding grounds for memories and experiences you can gain outside of the college classrooms: The social atmosphere of residence halls is the most basic way to build college connections and relationships and staying on campus during freshman year is essential to receiving that crash course to how life really is on a college campus.

Abby Egan is currently a junior at MCLA in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, where she is an English Communications major with a concentration in writing and a minor in philosophy. Abby hopes to find work at a publishing company after college and someday publish some of her own work. In her spare time, Abby likes to drink copious amounts of coffee, spend all her money on adorable shoes and blog into the wee hours of the night.


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Planning Your Ideal Study Abroad Experience

by Anthony Guzmán

Maybe you grew up in a small town where everyone knows everyone and gossip spreads like wildfire. Or maybe you just want to experience something new. Whatever the case is, my advice to you is to see the world through studying abroad! Who am I to tell you what to do? My freshman year of college has been the best year of my life, partly because I studied abroad. For spring break, the Mays Business School sponsored 15 freshmen to travel to Paris; this trip gave me the travel bug so I started the process for my first study abroad trip.

Imagine the study abroad planning process like an upside-down pyramid: At the top you have, “I want to go somewhere!” but as you move down the pyramid, you narrow your search until you are left with the perfect trip for you. To get to that point, you need to answer these questions:

  • What kind of study abroad program (faculty lead, transfer credit, reciprocal exchange, internships, etc.) and where?
  • Can I receive academic credit for the courses?
  • What kind of courses will I take? (languages, major related, etc.)
  • For how long? (I recommend during the summer or when your degree plan allows it.)
  • What is your budget (ex. Latin America is cheaper than Europe) and is the financial aid you receive from your school applicable? (I was fortunate enough to have my study abroad experience paid for with scholarships, financial aid, donors and family; if you need additional aid, apply early.)

As you can see, study abroad encompasses many aspects but there are plenty of resources. The first place to begin your search is your school’s study abroad office: Set up an appointment, attend a seminar, review the study abroad website or just swing by and look for flyers for different programs. There is something out there for everyone whether you want to learn a language, teach English, dive deeper into your major or explore a different culture. For example, during May and June, I studied with Sol Education Abroad in Costa Rica, took classes at a local university, lived with a host family (my most cherished part) and went on excursions with a great group of students from different colleges.

Everyone’s study abroad is unique – I did it my freshman year and it helped me get ahead while I had the time of my life! – but it’s on you to make the experience a reality. Bon voyage!

Anthony Guzmán is currently a rising sophomore at Texas A&M University where he studies business management and Spanish. He hopes to use business to create positive change through non-profit organization. He devotes the majority of his time to Catholic ministry and he also enjoys dancing, being with friends and family, and traveling.


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Popping the Bubble: How to Keep Up on Current Events in College

by Mary Steffenhagen

The crisis in Syria! The Bradley Manning sentencing! The fracking debate! Yet another random act of violence!

The media bombards us with information and news every second of every day – a sensory overload of grim stories and political biases. It's overwhelming but college can become a sort of bubble, a relaxing retreat from the cares of the outside world. You don’t see the news unless you turn on your own TV or radio or follow a news site or newspaper. With all the other fun things to do, who’s got time to be depressed and bored by other people’s problems?

It’s incredibly easy to feel that what you see on CNN doesn’t affect you – a college student in America – but it does. You may not live in a small village in the Middle East but actions cause ripples and what happens across the globe may, in any small way, touch your life. Some events will affect you directly. For example, President Obama recently signed a bill to restore lower interest rates on student loans: This directly affects you and me, who will now be paying a 3.4 percent interest rate on our loans as opposed to the previous 6.8 percent.

Current events are nearly always incendiary topics as well. You will encounter a diverse range of people in college with a diverse range of ideologies...and a shrug and a “Whatever, I don’t really care about that” won’t get you off the hook in discussions anymore. It’s important to know where you stand and even more important to do your research, so as not to form a hasty assumption. First off, it will help you not to look like a buffoon or needlessly offend others and secondly, being able to form and articulate a well-thought argument is an invaluable skill!

Lastly, being cognizant of “the outside world” is an important development in the whole messy process of becoming an adult. Forming opinions, arguments and worldviews – and having them challenged – is a necessary part of life...especially in an environment such as college, where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. So don’t let college become a bubble and cut you off from the vital circulation of ideas and news. Get (and stay) informed!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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