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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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Three Tips to Ease Your Mind on Test Day

March 13, 2012

Three Tips to Ease Your Mind on Test Day

by Jacquelene Bennett

SAT, ACT and AP these are all acronyms for the tests that many high school juniors and seniors are gearing up to take in the next few weeks. While these tests may not be fun, they are important because they help determine which universities and colleges you get into and whether or not you’ll receive credit for intro classes. So to help ease the pressure of taking these tests, I am here to offer a few helpful pieces of advice.

  • Go over the basics. This tip applies to any and all tests regardless of subject. There are always fundamental terms and concepts that will be part of any test, such as certain grammar and punctuation rules or simple math concepts. Reviewing these basic elements beforehand will help you on the test.
  • Practice your timing. These tests are timed and since you know about how many minutes you have for each section ahead of time, use that info to your advantage: If you are taking the SAT or AP English test, practice writing as essay in 25 minutes or fewer. Timing yourself when you are studying or taking practice tests will also help you when you are taking the real test.
  • Don’t freak out. I know that this isn’t an actual test prep strategy but being relaxed while you take the test will result in a higher score. Making sure you get a good night’s sleep and eating a substantial meal beforehand will also help you out when you go to take these tests. This may seem like common sense but so many students still pull all-nighters and skip breakfast on test day. Don’t be one of them.

In addition to these tips, don’t forget to be confident and easy on yourself. I know it may seem like these tests are be all and end all factors when you’re trying to get into college but they’re not. There are other factors that determine admission and you can always take some of these tests again for better scores!

Jacquelene Bennett is a senior at the University of Redlands where her areas of study are creative writing, government and religious studies. When she is not studying or working, you can usually find her eating frozen yogurt or blogging about her day. She has a cactus named Kat and believes that Stephen Colbert is a genius. Jacquelene works hard, laughs hard and knows that one day you’ll see her name in lights.

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The How and Why of Interning and Volunteering Abroad

March 14, 2012

The How and Why of Interning and Volunteering Abroad

by Darci Miller

In this day and age, the world is an increasingly small place, as one only has to foray into the world of blogs and forums to make contact with people thousands of miles away. We may not exactly live in the “global village” that Marshall McLuhan predicted back in the day but we’re certainly closer than society has ever been to that point. What does that mean for us college students? Well, I think it goes without saying that the job market is a changing place. It is far from uncommon for a company to be multinational and deal with clients from around the world so this makes a basic knowledge of international relations – as well as knowledge of another language...or two – a definite plus.

Experience abroad can be turned into a marketable quality when you’re on the job or internship search. Most interviewers are more concerned with experience than they are with grades so if you’re abroad, don’t be afraid to skip the occasional class if it means getting out there and immersing yourself in the culture of your new home. Some events only come around once in a lifetime and can often be much more valuable than a perfect attendance record.

Even better? Get work experience abroad! In an international job market, this experience is invaluable and will be looked upon extremely favorably by employers but be sure to do your research ahead of time. For example, college students get “work placement” in England rather than internships, so opportunities are few and far between. Before you leave your home university, email companies in your study abroad destination and tell them you’re interested in working for them...even if they aren’t advertising any positions – that’s what a friend of mine did and she nabbed herself an internship in London for the summer!

Another crucial tip is ensuring that you have the proper work clearance. If your visa is incorrect, you could end up being deported or banned from ever returning to the country. Each country’s border agency or immigration office should have details on its website; the process is a pain (trust me, I’ve been there) but it’s definitely worth it: My Tier 4 student visa has allowed me to volunteer with the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and I couldn’t be happier!

Darci Miller is a New Yorker studying journalism and sport administration at the University of Miami. When she’s not writing for the school newspaper, you can find her at the gym, either working or working out. She loves all ‘80s pop culture (the cheesier, the better!) and glues herself to her TV when the Olympics are on. She dreams big and believes the sky’s the limit. This semester, Darci is studying abroad in London and will share her international experiences here.

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Colleges Worry About End of Federal Aid-Based Ability Benefit

March 20, 2012

Colleges Worry About End of Federal Aid-Based Ability Benefit

by Alexis Mattera

It may feel like we’ve skipped winter but federal aid is about to be put on ice for college hopefuls lacking high school diplomas or GEDs.

As of July 1st, newly-enrolled students will no longer be allowed to take an "ability to benefit" test or complete a set amount of credits without aid; instead, college students will be required to have high school diplomas or GEDs in order to receive federal financial aid. How will these students – many of whom are older, seeking training to find a new job, immigrants and students in states like California where the basic adult education budget has been cut – pay for school? College administrators anticipate they will turn to private loans...or give up on their degrees entirely.

David Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, says the change “runs counter to the missions of many of our colleges,” as these schools view enrolling students without high school credentials as a key part of providing access to higher education: There are currently about 836,000 students without high school diplomas or GEDs enrolled at two-year public colleges nationwide and according to a limited 2006-2007 Education Department study, students without high school diplomas and GEDs were ultimately more successful in college and had higher GPAs than their classmates with high school diplomas, even if they failed the "ability to benefit" test. If would-be students have to get a GED before going to college and receive zero financial assistance while they prepare, Baime says many will opt out altogether.

What do you think of the new rule regarding federal aid? Do you think a high school diploma or GED is necessary to succeed in college?

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Commit Now, Pay Later

Public College Tuition Often Still Undecided by Enrollment Deadlines

March 21, 2012

Commit Now, Pay Later

by Alexis Mattera

The cost of college is a huge factor for a high school senior about to head off to college for the first time, a transfer student getting ready to continue his or her education at a four-year school and an undergrad preparing to pursue a graduate degree. If the student can’t afford to attend a specific school, an alternate institution that better fits his or her college budget should be selected...but what if tuition is still undetermined before the enrollment deadline?

This scenario is common at public universities across the country, as they cannot announce the next year’s tuition until they know how much funding they will receive from their respective states. Though schools like Towson and UVa offer estimates, banking on those figures is a gamble: For example, VCU raised tuition 24 percent in 2010 and the average public university in California raised expenses 21 percent last year – sizeable increases few college hopefuls could have expected. Colleges in this position have to work out preliminary financial aid packages based on the current year’s costs and adjust the awards after tuition is set. Students weighing their enrollment options at private universities have it much easier: A recent report projected private tuition would rise between 4 and 5 percent for next year but schools including Georgetown, UPenn and Goucher have already set and posted their tuition rates for the upcoming academic year.

Are you still waiting on next year’s tuition rates to make your college choice?

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Making the Most of Your Final College Visits

March 23, 2012

Making the Most of Your Final College Visits

by Jacquelene Bennett

It is the start of the spring season, which means that high school seniors everywhere are getting their college acceptance letters. While the stress of applying to schools is over, making the difficult decision of where to attend college is just starting. Visiting the campus and taking a college tour is one way to help you in that decision making process because while a school may look good on paper, your feelings toward it might be swayed one way or another once you actually experience it in person.

Before I enrolled at the University of Redlands four years ago, I was thrilled to be accepted to UC Riverside. It had the academic programs that I wanted, a couple of my high school classmates were going there, it was close to home and the pictures in the brochure of the campus were beautiful. I thought that UCR was the school I’d one day call my alma mater but once I actually went to UCR and toured and walked around the campus, I discovered that it wasn’t the right fit for me.

Visiting a college gives you the opportunity to ask questions about the things that you care about. Is there Greek life on campus? What kind of clubs are there? Are the buildings handicap accessible? When you visit a school, you get to interact with actual students and ask why they chose that school; hearing these experiences could play a vital role in your college decision.

During a campus visit, you get to experience firsthand what life will be like if you went to that school. You see what the dorms and classrooms look like, you see the dining areas and what food will be available to you, you see the hustle and bustle of everyday student life and, most importantly, you feel the energy and vibe of the campus that lets you know if it’s the school for you.

Jacquelene Bennett is a senior at the University of Redlands where her areas of study are creative writing, government and religious studies. When she is not studying or working, you can usually find her eating frozen yogurt or blogging about her day. She has a cactus named Kat and believes that Stephen Colbert is a genius. Jacquelene works hard, laughs hard and knows that one day you’ll see her name in lights.

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Identity Crisis: Administrators Take Steps to Prevent Cheating on Standardized Tests

April 4, 2012

Identity Crisis: Administrators Take Steps to Prevent Cheating on Standardized Tests

by Kara Coleman

Okay, be honest: Have you ever cheated on a test? Last fall, at least 20 teens in New York State were involved in a cheating scandal for the biggest exams of their academic careers: the ACT and SAT college entrance exams. Five of those students were accused of taking the tests for others and the other 15 allegedly paid those individuals between $500 and $3,600 to take the tests for them. One of the test takers was a guy who had been taking tests for girls with gender-neutral names; he had also been presenting test proctors with fake IDs.

To combat this, the College Board and ACT Education announced on March 27th that some additional security measures will be taken when students register for the college entrance exams. The changes – which will come into effect this fall – include students submitting a headshot of themselves when they register for the ACT or SAT; these photos will be printed on the test proctors’ rosters and on the students’ admission tickets and on test day, the proctors will compare the photos to the photo IDs that the students present to the students’ actual faces. Students will also have to identify their gender, date of birth and high school to prevent any other chance of mistaken identity.

So what do you think? Will these new identity verification measures prevent students from having others take the tests for them? This situation also presents another question: Is too much riding on a student’s standardized test scores? When one point can keep a student out of their dream school or prevent them from receiving a scholarship, what other factors should be considered in the college admissions process? It will be interesting to see how the SAT and ACT continue to change in upcoming years and how well the new changes will work this fall.

This past summer, Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree and she is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University. Kara's writing has also been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books.

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Words of Wisdom for the Wait-Listed

April 4, 2012

Words of Wisdom for the Wait-Listed

by Alexis Mattera

At this point in the college admissions cycle, most students have either been accepted, rejected or wait-listed; while the definitions of and actions associated with the first two outcomes are pretty clear (decide if you want to go or choose another school), things involving the third can be a little murky. What do you do if you find yourself in these waters? Here’s a much-needed paddle from the folks at The Choice blog:

Reevaluate: William Conley, dean of enrollment and academic services at Johns Hopkins University, suggests taking a second look at the school (or schools) you’ve been wait-listed at and deciding which you would realistically attend if you were accepted.

Respond: Some schools look at the time it takes students to reply to a wait-list notification; write a follow-up letter about why you want to go there or surrender your spot if the school isn’t the right fit for you as soon as possible, says veteran counselor Ted de Villefranca of the Peddie School in New Jersey.

Realize: A spot on the wait list is by no means a guarantee of admission – of the 996 students on Yale’s wait list last year, only 103 were accepted – so keep your expectations manageable in case you don’t get in.

Reach out...within reason: Mention only substantive information, says Jeffrey Brenzel, dean of admissions at Yale, and don’t overdo it. In that same vein, JHU’s Conley warns against constantly contacting the admissions staff, as your repeated calls and emails could be a turn-off.

You can read the rest of the experts’ tips here but we want to know if any of our readers are former wait-listers and, if so, what advice do you have for students who are in that position right now?

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Tuition Discounts Lack Effectiveness

April 5, 2012

Tuition Discounts Lack Effectiveness

by Alexis Mattera

When making your final college choice, would you choose the school touting generous tuition discounts or the institution offering the standard financial aid package? The choice may seem obvious but according to a new study, things aren’t always what they seem.

A survey of 400 private institutions conducted by the National Association of College and University Business Officers revealed tuition discounting could be losing its effectiveness as a way of luring students to colleges. Data show that though the rate of institutional discounts in the form of scholarships, grants and fellowships continues to rise – the average is predicted to hit 42.8 percent this year – 45 percent of the schools surveyed saw overall enrollment remain flat or drop and 53.2 percent saw a decline or no change in the number of freshmen they enrolled.

What do you think of the tuition discounting trend? Is it playing a role in your college decision or are other factors (location, reputation, programs of study, etc.) more important to you?

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Schools with Rolling or Late Admissions Deadlines

April 6, 2012

Schools with Rolling or Late Admissions Deadlines

by Alexis Mattera

So you’ve applied to a number of schools and received your admissions decisions but found that the colleges you once thought were perfect are anything but. Is it too late in the admissions cycle to find the right school for you? Not when countless colleges offer rolling and/or late admissions! Here are a few schools that do just that:

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