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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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The Pros and Cons of Graduating Early

by Radha Jhatakia

Much of the time, college students who are able to get the classes they need and have an education plan are able to graduate early. Graduating early can be a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it; it worked for my fellow virtual intern Jessica but how do you know if it's right for you? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Do you have job offers lined up after graduation?

2. Did you go to college close to home?

  • If you said yes, then graduating early wouldn’t be a tough transition but if you attended college further away, graduating early may be more difficult. Many if not all of your friends were will still be in school and you’ll also miss out on the senior graduation programs.

3. Did you take out loans to pay for college?

After you answer these questions, you should be able to determine if you should graduate early or not. Just remember there are pros and cons to both and you should choose the path that’s right for you.

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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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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Graduating On Time: It CAN Be Done!

by Shari Williams

Before starting school, I didn’t know very much about college life but now that I will be in school a year beyond my expected graduation date, I know what I could have done to enter the real world sooner.

At Towson, all freshmen receive class schedules assembled by the school. I didn't think to change the times of the classes (which were all at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday), nor did I research the professors. This turned out to be a huge mistake – I never was a morning person and I got stuck with some of the worst professors at Towsonmy school – as was the number of credits (12). I figured my university that I pay thousands of dollars in tuition to attend would know best, so I stuck with only 12 credits from then on. It was another oversight: Even though 12 credits is considered as full time, 12 credits is not enough to take every semester in order to graduate in four years without taking winter or summer classes. I had to figure this out myself and adjusted my class schedule accordingly.

I’m not saying you need to overload yourself with academics and never leave your dorm room – that’s not a college experience to remember! – but I am saying take as many classes as you can comfortably manage. If you have the means or have grants and scholarships, you can always take some classes over the summer or the next semester as long as it falls accordingly to your academic plan. Simply do what is best for you.

Graduating a four-year program in five years is not the end of the world but it is not something that you should shoot for, either. If you can handle five or more classes each semester, take them; you can also consider enrolling in a few online courses or opting to take a few classes pass/fail. Take what you can handle so that you can succeed.

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.


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Lending a Helping Hand Pays Off

by Shari Williams

Community service is something most of us have done at one point or another. For some high schools, it’s a graduation requirement but I believe serving your community is vital whether it’s mandated or not. The good news for college students is that not only does community service help others but it can also translate into money for school.

One renown program is AmeriCorps. Several colleges and universities take part in this program, providing information and opportunities for students to get involved. Each year, AmeriCorps gives students opportunities to participate in year-long service-learning programs. If a certain amount of community service hours are acquired by the end of the year, the student is granted a stipend.

Another option is the Fulbright Program. Fulbright has an array of grants included in their U.S. Student Program to students who have studied or are studying foreign language, music, business, journalism and public health, to name a few. Fulbright is an opportunity geared more toward soon-to-be or recent college graduates looking for more experience in their fields. Students live outside the U.S. with most expenses paid and full or partial tuition awarded. A special program opportunity that Fulbright offers is the Fulbright-mtvU Awards, which provide four grants to recent graduates studying outside of the country who will conduct research on international music culture. If that sparks your interest, they have many more opportunities to apply for.

Both AmeriCorps and Fulbright are awesome opportunities and are great ways to gain valuable experience. For more information on Americorps or Fulbright, visit www.americorps.gov and US.FulbrightOnline.org, respectively, or contact your college.

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.


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No Need to Wait - Start Your Scholarship Search NOW!

by Shari Williams

I am your average student. I got decent grades in high school, applied to college, got accepted to college, and paid for my education with multiple student loans. I have taken classes I loved (and didn’t love), been involved in extracurricular activities and clubs, and have truly grown as a person during my time in college. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive prestigious grants or scholarships to limit the debt I’ll surely incur after graduation.

There are many college students who are in the same boat...so what can we do? How can we afford the education we deserve? How can we make sure we have enough funds for books and food? How can we buy those super trendy shoes Kim Kardashian was just spotted wearing when we have loan payments looming? Okay, maybe the last question isn't as important but if you want to avoid student loan debt, start searching for scholarships.

And don’t just search – search early! There are plenty of scholarships out there and the more you apply to, the better your chances are of winning one. All awards are different but many scholarship providers begin their application processes at the beginning of the fall semester so start looking now to avoid missing important deadlines. I learned this the hard way: I found lots of perfect scholarships...after the deadlines had passed.

Whether you’re still in high school or a super senior in college, do me – and yourself! – a huge favor: Make scholarships a priority. You can do this easily by creating a Scholarships.com account; not only will you have access to an entire database of awards but you’ll also receive regular email reminders about new awards and due dates. With the college costs showing no signs of decreasing, every penny counts – just make sure they come without interest if you can!

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.


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The Politics of Student Government and Greek Council

by Thomas Lee

In my last article, I mentioned some of my experiences with college political parties and gave a little advice on how to choose one. While the two main choices are College Democrats or College Republicans, there are other ways one can get politically motivated on campus.

One way is joining Student Government Association or SGA as it is called at many schools. SGA is a student-led body that usually has a president and senators who help make operational or financial decisions that affect student life. I was an SGA senator my sophomore and junior years and helped plan the budget on the financial committee. SGA was allotted a certain amount of money from the main budget every three-month grant period and the finance committee would then receive proposals from all the organizations and departments on campus requesting money for specific functions. SGA then usually granted money to campus functions and student events that would promote campus life. It wasn’t a perfect process, but when has politics ever been?

Although it might not seem political at first glance, campus Greek life also plays a large role in making decisions that impact non-Greek students. At Methodist University, we instituted a Greek Council my junior year, as there ended up being a total of two fraternities and two sororities by the time I graduated. Greek Council was a governing body made of members from all four groups. They helped promote SGA events and raised money for community causes, such as helping soldiers. Ultimately, Greek Council influenced the university board of directors to approve the construction of a four-house Greek village. Academic Greek clubs such as Alpha Chi also may help in campus and community service.

So just because you don’t identify as a donkey or an elephant doesn’t mean you still can’t rock the vote on your campus!

Thomas Lee recently graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a BA in political science and journalism. His father is an ordained Church of God minister and his mother is a private school teacher; he also has two younger sisters. Thomas’ interests include politics, law, debate, global issues and writing fiction and he believes in a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and a strong commitment to biblical morality and ethics. He currently resides in Washington, North Carolina and will be attending law school in the near future.


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How to Win a Scholarship: From a Girl Who's Applied for 300+ Awards

by Diane Melville

Yes, I’ve applied for a LOT of scholarships. It was basically my full-time job throughout college and Scholarships.com was my preferred source for finding the scholarships that I qualified for. You may think that this post will outline how you should do the same thing. False: Me telling you how to apply for 300 scholarships would be like a guy who found a mountain of gold after searching for 30 years telling you to take the same long, exhausting journey. You don’t want to repeat his arduous trek – you just want to buy a one-way ticket to gold mountain! In the same way, I want to teach you some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way that will help you to win scholarships...without having to apply for hundreds of them.

Start Small. I started this whole thing by applying to one scholarship. That’s it. I won that scholarship ($1,500 a year for the rest of my education) and that’s what motivated me to apply for more. Some students create massive goals for themselves and set out to win a ton of scholarships, yet they soon find the process to be daunting and give up. The best piece of advice I can give you is to start small. Don’t try to find hundreds or even dozens of scholarships in one shot. Instead, find five scholarships that have deadlines within the next six months and make it a priority to apply for them. First off, it’s a lot easier to find five scholarships that you not only qualify for, but feel you have a solid shot of winning. Second, this will be enough of a taste of the application process to help you determine whether or not you’d like to keep this whole scholarship thing up. If you do end up winning a scholarship, or if you simply enjoyed the process, then you can go to town and apply for many more. Until then, keep it simple.

Select the Right Scholarships. National corporate scholarships draw a lot of applicants so even if you are eligible, the odds of you winning are low in comparison to the smaller ones. The same goes for awards with very limited requirements. What should you do then? I suggest that your five scholarships look something like this:

  • Two national scholarships (examples: Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, etc.)
  • Three small or local/state scholarships (examples: Central Massachusetts Community Foundation, City of Boston Scholarship Fund, The Girl Friends Fund Scholarship, etc.)

This mix still gives you the opportunity to win a national award but increases your chances of success by including smaller, local scholarships that receive fewer applicants.

Take Your Time. Now that you’ve got your scholarships selected, you should put maximum effort into completing the applications to the best of your abilities. Don’t procrastinate until the night before the essay is due and just slap a few things together with the hope that it’s good enough – really research and consider what each scholarship organization values and try to highlight the areas of your life that reflect these values.

Push Through It! You are going to feel unsure. Maybe you hate your essay. Maybe your resume feels lacking. You get stuck, then procrastinate, then neglect and before you know it, the deadline has passed and you didn’t apply for the scholarship. Don’t let this happen! If you don’t apply, you will never have a chance of winning. Push through those feelings of frustration, ask for help if you need it and just submit your scholarship application. Trust me, you’ll be happy that you did.

Diane Melville is the author of The Community College Advantage and president of the community college planning website, Transfer Bootcamp. Diane has applied for more than 300 scholarships (using Scholarships.com, of course!) and paid for her entire college education using private scholarships. She hopes to use this blog to share everything she has learned about paying for college.


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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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