Before College: May 1 is Right Around the Corner!

May 1 is just 34 days away. That’s the deadline for paying a nonrefundable enrollment deposit to hold a spot at the 4-year college your student decides to attend this fall. When it comes to affordability, there’s much to do.

(1) Award Letter: Be sure your student has his financial aid offer from each school he’s considering. If a school’s award letter hasn’t arrived yet, make sure you’ve completed verification (if the school required it), then contact the financial aid office to request one IMG_5726ASAP.

(2) Outside Aid: If you know about scholarships your student’s getting from parties outside the school, report them to the aid office right away. Not doing so will freeze financial aid once the school learns of these awards, because it’s required to determine that the aid it awarded isn’t affected by outside scholarships. Should reductions be required, schools usually cut loans, then work-study and, last, grants or scholarships.

(3) Appeal: File a financial aid appeal ASAP if it might lower your student’s Expected Family Contribution and qualify her for more need-based aid. The aid office can tell you how.

(4) Affordability Analysis: Evaluate the affordability of each school under consideration.

First, use the “Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses” on the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator website to calculate annual growth in the average cost of attending a school over the last four year. Multiply the school’s 2017-18 costs by this average for each of the next four years to project your student’s 4-year cost.

Now project the financial aid to be received over four years. Some institutional grants and scholarships are for one year only, so be sure to differentiate between them and 4-year IMG_5659awards. And watch out for schools that practice bait and switch. Assume federal and state grant amounts will remain constant each year. Keep your borrowing assumptions within annual federal loan limits.

Subtract your 4-year financial aid projection from your 4-year cost projection. Now the big question — can you and your student cover the remaining gap? If so, keep that school on the list for consideration. If not, it may have to be dropped.

(5) Fit: Fit is absolutely critical. If a college or major doesn’t work for your student, chances are he’ll transfer, which’ll increase the cost of his degree. So consider fit carefully.

Need help analyzing the affordability of the colleges your student is considering? Contact College Affordability Solutions by email at collegeafford@gmail.com or by phone at (512) 366-5354.

Before College: Should You File a Financial Aid Appeal?

Your 2017-18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — despite all the information it collects, it can’t cover everything. It doesn’t gather unusual information that could impact your student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) — the key to determining his eligibility for financial aid awarded on the basis of financial need.

Since 2015 ended, did you suffer:

  • A big income loss — a layoff or employment termination — that’s still affecting IMG_5702you; or
  • Any major uninsured medical expenses in 2015, 2016, or 2017; or
  • Similarly unavoidable financial problems?

If so, appeal. These may lower your student’s EFC, qualifying her for more need-based aid.

The financial aid office can tell you how to do an appeal. You’ll no doubt be asked to file it in writing and to provide documents proving your income reduction, medical bills, or other financial losses. Why? Because parties funding your student’s need-based aid often audit EFCs. If they’re not convinced that your student’s EFC is correct, the school becomes liable for need-based aid it gives him in excess of his resulting financial need.

DOG_ATTACKKeep copies of the documents you submitted with your appeal. You might need to them to respond to follow-up questions from the aid office.

Because there are so many appeals at this time of year, file yours as soon as possible to give the aid office’s staff sufficient time to review it and make a determination before May 1. That’s when your student must make a go/no-go decision about which 4-year college in which she’ll enroll next fall, and you don’t want this decision made without knowing her financial aid situation.

If your student’s EFC should be changed, the aid office will tell your student. And should additional need-based aid still be available, it’ll send him a revised financial aid award letter showing changes in such aid.

Remember, the EFC can’t be lowered for small, optional, or routine financial matters. A successful appeal will document that your situation is exceptional and unavoidable — e.g. medical bills aren’t for something like elective cosmetic surgery. It’ll also demonstrate that your situation significantly impacts your ability to help pay your student’s college costs — i.e. the loss you’ve suffered costs more than just a few hundred dollars.

If you meet these criteria, file an appeal ASAP. It could make a difference!

Questions about the financial aid process? Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

Special Bulletin: IRS Data Retieval Tool for FAFSA Not Working

Hopefully you filed your 2017-18 FAFSA many weeks or months ago. If you haven’t filed it yet, you’re going to hit a snag just as we reach many college and state deadlines for getting priority to receive various forms of financial aid.

The IRS has announced that it, “. . . decided to temporarily suspend the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves.”

The DRT is the mechanism through which most students ensure that key fields on their Free Applications for Student Financial Aid (FAFSAs) are accurately populated with data. FAFSA information is used by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and colleges to determine how much need-based financial aid students may receive for IMG_56692017-18.

While the DRT has worked well in past years, nobody knows when it will begin operating again for 2017-18 FAFSAs. Some colleges and states are changing their FAFSA priority deadlines because of this failure. In Texas, for example, the state is allowing colleges to suspend its March 15 deadline. So check with the school(s) your student may attend during the upcoming academic year.

If necessary, get a copy of your 2015 federal tax returns out of your records and manually enter data required by the FAFSA. Do this as soon as you can because, if you miss the school or state’s FAFSA priority deadline, your student will go to the end of the line for certain grants, scholarships, loans, or work-study awards.

College Affordability Solutions will publish another special bulletin when the DRT is back up and running.

Before College: Why Begin At A Community College?

What’s your student’s higher education goal? If it’s to get a certificate or associate’s degree that’ll get him started in a trade or technical field, than he should be looking to attend a community college or public technical institute. But even it’s to earn a bachelor’s degree, your local community college may still be the place for him to start.

Why a community college or public technical institute? Because although there are many excellent private vocational schools, these schools are subject to little oversight and regulation. The result is that way too many of them are operated by con artists — people who rip students off by charging big bucks for degrees and certificates that don’t prepare them for gainful employment. Furthermore, private vocational schools often charge high rates of tuition.

Why begin at a community college if your student’s goal is a bachelor’s degree? Simple — it, too, is a much less expensive way to earn credits that’ll count toward that degree.IMG_5561

This year, the average total cost of attending a U.S. community college is $17,000 — just 69% of the $24,610 average total cost of attending a public 4-year college or university.

If your student lives at home with you while taking community college classes, he will (on average) lop another $8,060 in room and board off his costs. So now a year at community college averages just 36% the average cost of attendance at a public 4-year public institution.

Small wonder many high school counselors and state officials urge low-income and middle-class students to begin higher education at community colleges, then transfer the credits they earn there to 4-year colleges and universities. Many low and middle-income students can pay for their time at community colleges without borrowing a penny.IMG_5566

So community colleges can be one of the most cost-effective paths to a bachelor’s degree. But in considering this option, think carefully about the pitfalls that can come with attending a community college. If none of those are a problem for your student, than enrollment in local community college can be a wonderful money-saver.

NOTE:
WE’LL BE TAKING SPRING BREAK NEXT WEEK, SO OUR NEXT POST WILL BE ON MARCH 22.

College Affordability Solutions can help you conduct an affordability analysis on various paths your student may take to earn a bachelor’s degree. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com if you need such assistance.

Before College: Problems With Beginning at Community Colleges

The financial reasons for beginning at a community college are compelling. But this isn’t necessarily what’s best for every student. Problems along the way undermine some students’ ability to complete an affordable higher education.

If your student seeks an occupation requiring a bachelor’s degree, he’ll eventually need to transfer to a 4-year college or university, so carefully consider whether he has the academic dedication, drive, and perseverance to get there.IMG_5562

Only 16% of students who begin at community colleges transfer and get bachelor’s degrees. Of course, not all these students want such degrees but, at an age when peer pressure is a big influence on your student, these will be his classmates and friends. They could distract him from his ultimate educational goal.

Course transferability is another problem. Your student will actually lose money whenever she must retake a community college course at a more expensive 4-year school.

She’ll probably be able to transfer some, but not all, community college courses to substitute for “core” courses at your state’s 4-year colleges and universities. Chances IMG_5628are that some of her less community college coursework won’t be accepted by those schools for classes she must complete to earn a specific degree. So before she registers for community college classes, urge her to check this out with that college’s academic advisor or the admissions offices at 4-year institutions to which she may transfer.

If your student has been accepted to another college, consider his scholarship offers that are limited to attending that institution. Most scholarship providers won’t hold their awards until he transfers from a community college. If those offers are large enough, he could actually lose money by not beginning at the school to which they’re tied.

Finally, to really save at a community college, your student will have to exercise spending and borrowing discipline while there. Attending a community college but borrowing to live an expensive lifestyle is a losing proposition. Your student may actually end up taking on more debt than classmates who began and ended at her 4-year college or university.

An affordable college experience isn’t worthwhile unless your student graduates with the degree she wants. Beginning at a community college can work If her eventual goal is a bachelor’s degree, but only if she avoids or overcomes the problems described above.

NOTE:
WE’LL BE TAKING SPRING BREAK NEXT WEEK, SO OUR NEXT POST WILL BE ON MARCH 22.

College Affordability Solutions can help you conduct an affordability analysis on various paths your student may take to earn a bachelor’s degree. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com if you need such assistance.

Before College: Is Your High School Junior Already Looking for Scholarships?

Emily and Jacob. Both college-bound high school seniors. Both with 3.5 GPAs, 1350 SAT scores, and busy schedules. Emily’s won 5 scholarships worth $6,000. Unfortunately, Jacob hasn’t won any scholarships.

The difference? Not academic performance. Not financial need. The difference is time. Emily began searching for scholarships last winter. She put in nearly 100 hours finding and applying for 30 different scholarships. Harry started his search this past fall and spent about 10 hours applying for a half-dozen scholarships. What led to Emily’s success? Let’s break it down:

1. Searching for Scholarships: Emily first spent many hours looking for scholarships img_5587with eligibility requirements she met. She visited her high school counselor’s office and looked through fat scholarship binders. She still goes back there weekly to look for new scholarship notices.

She did the same thing online, using reputable websites such as Big Future by College Board, FastWeb, and Scholarships.com — search engines that don’t charge fees or sell students’ personal information to marketers if students “opt out” of that practice.

Emily also made inquiries around town — with businesses, churches, civic groups, community foundations, and similar organizations — to see if they offered scholarships to local students.

2. Scholarship Resume: Emily eveloped a “resume” to help remember all the activities in img_5588which she’d been involved during high school. It was a strong resume that showed her staying active in the extracurricular and community volunteer activities she joined, and even rising to leadership roles in several of them.

3. Applying: Emily applied for every scholarship for which she was well-suited as soon as it’s application period opened. She worked hard on her application forms and essays — carefully transferring resume information to the application forms, writing essays with conviction and passion, and proofing both for completeness, spelling, and grammar until they were perfect.

4. Interviews: Emily was invited to interview for a few scholarships. Each time, she dressed well, took a copy of her application and essay(s), gave thoughtful answers, was upbeat and optimistic, and made sure the interviewers knew how important their award was to her college and lifelong plans.

So Emily began early, kept at it, and worked hard during her 100 hours of pursuing scholarships. In a way, those $6,000 in “free” money she got for college amount to “earnings” of $60 an hour. Not a bad return on her investment!

Got questions about scholarships? Contact College Affordabiliy Solutions at (512) 417-7660 or collegeafford@gmail.com for a free consultation.