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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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Save the Perkins!

Proposed Amendment Will Keep This Loan Alive

September 23, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

The Perkins Loan Program has played a vital role in the quest for higher education (mine included) since 1958 but in two years, it could end up just as extinct as dinos and dodos. Can it (and the dreams of countless students) be saved?

The Perkins, or as one supporter affectionately calls it, “the David among the Goliaths of other aid,” is used by 1,800 colleges across the country yet Congress hasn’t provided any new money for the program since 2004. In 2009 alone, colleges awarded 495,000 new Perkins loans at an average of $2,231 per student and its demise would shut out college access to low-income students and eliminate the jobs of campus officials and loan servicers who help distribute the funds. Representative John Spratt clearly understands the importance of the Perkins and is sponsoring an amendment to delay the program’s cancellation – so much so that he held a hearing in Washington yesterday discussing the Perkins’ significance; though it probably won’t pass this year, Spratt is optimistic that with the support of the House Budget Committee and the schools relying on the loans, the amendment has a shot at approval next year.

“By its very nature, the Perkins Loan Program provides schools the flexibility to provide additional aid to needy students. The importance of this flexibility cannot be overstated,” said Sarah Bauder, assistant vice president of enrollment services and student financial aid at the University of Maryland at College Park, in her testimony during the hearing. “Financial aid administrators work where the rubber meets the road and have a unique perspective that allows them to assess students’ and families’ ability to pay for college in ways that aid applications will never be able to assess. When aid administrators see students and families struggling with unique circumstances, they need some flexibility to deliver funds to ensure the success of these students.” One such student, Joseph Hill, also testified. The Georgetown senior stated that though he received $26,000 in scholarships, the Perkins was what made it possible for him to attend the school of his dreams. “Last week, I was talking to my mother, and without hesitation, she said, ‘It still wouldn’t have worked without that Perkins Loan,’ ” Hill revealed.

There’s a lot more to the history of the Perkins and the fight to save it (get the details here) and as a former Perkins recipient, I can’t help but root for this little amendment that could. I'm definitely making a t-shirt.


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How Expensive is "Too Expensive" for a College Education?

Students Willing to Spend More for Academics, Prestige

November 4, 2010

How Expensive is "Too Expensive" for a College Education?

by Alexis Mattera

The true cost of a college education is seldom the number that’s printed in school brochures and on various college comparison lists. When you figure in federal aid, scholarships, grants, room and board, books and supplies, that price fluctuates. One thing remains constant - higher education doesn’t come cheap - but a new poll finds students are willing to stretch their finances for several key factors.

In April, right up until enrollment deadlines, students were still considering “too expensive” schools and were willing to stretch to pay for their education, poll conductors the College Board and the Art & Science Group report. While it would be more financially sound to select the school with the lower tuition and better financial aid package, “too expensive” colleges remained in play if they had strong academics in students’ fields of interest, were places students felt comfortable, had prestigious academic reputations or had excellent records of graduate school acceptance or good job placement after students graduated. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Twenty-six percent of students surveyed said their family would have to stretch a lot, but “I think we’ll make it.”
  • Twenty-two percent chose “I’m not sure how my family will afford to send me to college, but I believe we’ll work something out when the time comes.”
  • Eleven percent said, “I don’t think my family can afford to send me to college, but we are going to try.” Nearly 40 percent of students surveyed did not have a sense of long-term costs, citing “no idea” what their likely monthly payment on student loans would be after graduation.

If you think back to every award show you’ve ever seen, you’ll recall those who do not win always say it is an honor just to be nominated. The same can be said for college admissions: It’s an amazing achievement to be accepted to a prestigious college but is attending worth it if the cost of attendance is going to drive you and your family into debt?


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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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Obama (Sorta Kinda) Keeps His Promise

Changes in Higher Ed Funding Afoot

February 15, 2011

Obama (Sorta Kinda) Keeps His Promise

by Alexis Mattera

While "Honest Barack" doesn't have quite the same ring as our 16th President’s nickname, we have to give him credit for keeping his promise to privilege spending on education and research...for the most part: Some potentially painful cuts could slice through the higher education pie relatively soon.

First, the good news. The 2012 budget blueprint reveals the maximum Pell Grant (currently set at $5,550 per year) would not be slashed by $845 as originally expected and funding will continue for financial aid programs including AmeriCorps, the Perkins Loan and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Programs and academic research agencies. The Education Department's overall budget would grow by 4.3 percent in 2012 under the President's budget but despite this positive information, it won’t be all unicorns and butterflies for college students. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the administration had to make some "tough choices" to maintain the current level of funding and compensate for future spending. For example, the department's 2012 budget calls for ending a three-year experiment allowing students to qualify for two Pell Grants in a calendar year and use this funding to attend college year-round, as well as eliminating the subsidy in which the government pays interest on graduate student loans while the students are in school; the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program, the Byrd Honors Scholarships and the TEACH Grant program would also be eliminated.

Obama said, "Education is an investment that we need to win the future...and to make sure that we can afford these investments, we’re going to have to get serious about cutting back on those things that would be nice to have but we can do without," but student advocates, like Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, were quick to show their displeasure. "It is regrettable that the administration is proposing to maintain Pell by making cuts to other student aid programs that provide much needed funds to students," he said.

The information above merely scratches the surface (check out Inside Higher Ed’s article for all details) but it’s enough to get the conversation started. What do you think of the proposed budget? Will the changes impact your ability to pay for school? Would you propose a different course of action?


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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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College Costs (Literally) an Arm and a Leg

Parent Offers to Become Live Cadaver to Pay Off Children's Student Loans

February 28, 2011

College Costs (Literally) an Arm and a Leg

by Alexis Mattera

There's been a lot of talk about Harvard lately – its reinstatement of early action, a graduate winning the Best Actress Oscar, another Winklevoss lawsuit against Facebook, etc. – but this next story doesn’t fall within the boundaries of its ivy-covered campus...and not that far away, either. An arm’s length, shall we say?

Desperate to pay off their children's $20,000 worth of student loans, a Boston-area parent recently posted on Craigslist that he or she was willing to sell their body parts to combat the mounting debt. The posting did not include a name, gender or exact location but listed the "live cadaver" was 5 feet 10 inches tall, 200 pounds and had all organs in working order. "If you eliminate my children's student loans, I will give you my life!" the poster wrote. "Take my blood, take my plasma. Drill into my brain, my leg, my arm. Tap my heart, my liver, my kidney," the poster wrote, adding, "I am very very serious."

There are a lot of options out there to limit exorbitant loans (scholarships, grants and fellowships, to name a few) and consolidation can simplify the loan repayment process by allowing the borrower to combine several types of federal student loans and repayment schedules into one...but selling off one’s body parts piece by piece? We’re all for finding interesting ways to pay for school but this is just plain crazy. Would you ever consider taking this route to keep loan collectors at bay?


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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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Fed Law Requires College Net Price Calculators, Experts Question Accuracy

by Alexis Mattera

How much will it cost to attend the school of your dreams? The federal government hopes its new law will make that question easier to answer but higher education experts have their doubts where accuracy is concerned.

By this October, the federal government will require all U.S. higher education institutions to offer net price calculators on their websites so prospective college students can easily compare attendance costs earlier in their college searches. Users will be asked questions about their financial and academic backgrounds and their answers – and the calculator’s tallies of tuition, fees, books, housing and food, minus scholarships and grants – will reveal the net price to attend that particular school. Though many experts are glad students will have access to this information, accuracy is a concern. Certain factors won’t be taken into consideration because direct student-to-school contact has been eliminated; for example, Washington University is willing to adjust financial aid packages if a parent loses their job and this might not be reflected in the calculators’ answers.

It’s likely the law will be revised to make side-by-side comparison more accurate before the calculators are implemented - read more about the net price calculators in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch - but would you use this new technology or do you think it’s still too early to glean accurate information?


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