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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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Forget "The Hunger Games" - Try These Study Games!

March 20, 2012

Forget "The Hunger Games" - Try These Study Games!

by Lisa Lowdermilk

So, you've been studying for three hours straight for your chemistry exam and you haven’t even cracked your calculus, history and geography books yet. Besides envisioning that much sought-after 4.0 GPA, how do you stay motivated? You play study games, of course!

While study games aren't quite as addicting as the Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft varieties, they're still much more engaging than reading over your study guide for the hundredth time. Websites like Quizlet – aka "the world's largest flash cards and study games website" – are perfect for helping you memorize vocabulary whether you're studying biology or business and another option, Quia, offers Hangman, Battleship, scavenger hunts and more. If you're looking for resources to help you prepare for standardized tests like the SAT, ACT or GRE, on the other hand, sites like Grockit have got you covered...but access to these games, study plans, written and video study aids can cost $29.99 a month.

In addition to being more fun than your average study session, study games increase your chances of remembering the material for your test. Research has shown that if you try to encode information in as many ways as possible (e.g., via sight and sound), you're more likely to remember that information. And because many study games make use of both visual and auditory features, your odds of doing well on your test increase. If you can't find a game to help you study, consider visiting your textbook's website: Many publishers offer animations, study guides and quizzes.

Regardless of how you study, remember to encode the information in as many ways as possible, take breaks and reward yourself when you're done. Let the games begin!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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Why I Changed My Minor

March 21, 2012

Why I Changed My Minor

by Kara Coleman

I am always curious as to why students choose to minor in the areas that they do. Sometimes, minors complement majors but at other times, the connection between the two is not so obvious.

I have always loved to read and write – I was an English major during my time at Gadsden State Community College – so when it came time for me to transfer to a four-year university, I knew that I wanted to major in communications. Since I already had several lit classes under my belt from my time at Gadsden State, I decided to declare English as my minor. A couple of weeks ago, however, halfway through my junior year, I decided to change my minor.

While minoring in English certainly seemed like the practical way to go because I have to take many more classes, I weighed my options and decided to minor in creative writing instead. Although changing my minor has added a whole semester of classes to the work I have to do before I graduate, taking writing classes will allow me to further hone my writing skills. Since I want to write for a living instead of read poetry, creative writing was definitely the way to go for me.

What is your minor and why did you decide to pursue it? Before you graduate, ask yourself: Are the skills I’m acquiring while working on my minor going to help me with my overall career plans? Did I choose my minor because it’s something that I enjoy, even though it may not have a direct connection to my major? Decide for yourself what would be best for you in the long run when you select your minor...and keep in mind you always have the option to double minor!

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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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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Admitted Students Groups on Facebook Foster Connections, Put Freshmen at Ease

April 3, 2012

Admitted Students Groups on Facebook Foster Connections, Put Freshmen at Ease

by Jacquelene Bennett

Starting college, meeting new people and living on your own for the first time can be both an exciting and terrifying experience for freshmen. Universities are trying to help quell concerns and ease the transition through the use of social media – specifically, colleges create Facebook groups for newly-admitted students that allow incoming freshmen and transfer students to join and interact with one another.

Every year, my school starts a group for in the incoming fall class and allows RAs, freshmen orientation leaders and current college students to join as well so that fall freshmen can get to know each other and current students before the academic year starts. New students ask current students about what kind of classes they should take, get advice on professors and find out what they should and shouldn’t bring with them for their dorm rooms.

Unlike your average campus tour, these groups allow students to ask questions about anything and everything. Students can use these groups to find out who will be living in their dorm hall, what to expect during freshmen orientation week, find people who have similar interests (intramural sports, dance company, etc.), voice concerns about class registration and ask questions that they can’t get answered anywhere else.

So if you are a newly-admitted college freshman, I suggest you join one of these groups and take advantage of the opportunities it presents. Use this medium to meet people, ask questions and to try to get a feel for how student life is going to be at the school.

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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Traveling While Abroad

April 5, 2012

Traveling While Abroad

by Darci Miller

My backpack is packed, my tickets are printed, my passport is at the ready and my camera is fully charged. My train to Paris leaves in exactly three hours and one minute and from there, a few friends and I begin a three-week backpacking tour across Europe. Our stops include a city I’ve wanted to visit since the fourth grade (Copenhagen), the world center of the Olympic movement (Lausanne), one of my favorite cities in the world (Venice) and two cities in which I was considering studying abroad (Munich and Berlin). Am I excited? You could say so.

Studying abroad is the perfect opportunity to achieve any travel dreams you may have. Money is, of course, an obstacle but there are ways to travel on the cheap, especially in the European Union. For an extended trip like mine, the Eurail pass is a great option, letting you choose your number of travel days and countries. There are also Megabus deals between countries starting at next to nothing, plus discount airlines.

Airlines can charge an arm and a leg for checked baggage so it’s smart to fit everything you need into a carry-on or backpack. Invest in a sturdy one and remember to pack light! Bring clothes that can easily be mixed and matched (and ladies, a great space-saving option that gives you tons of outfit choices while traveling is bringing shorts and tights instead of pants if it’s warm enough!).

It’s also important to remember to book travel as early as you can to save on transportation and hostel costs. When it comes to hostels, try to stay in places that your friends have stayed in before you; personal recommendations are always a plus. Don’t be too worried about sharing rooms with strangers, either: Most places have lockers where you can keep your stuff safe and most people staying in hostels are in the exact same boat as you.

As for an itinerary, my friends and I don’t have one. We know when we have to be at the train station and we have a list of things to do in each city but that’s it. We’ve discovered that part of the fun is wandering around and seeing what we stumble across – don’t be afraid to leave some things to chance!

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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