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.

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Before College: Shop Comparatively Using the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

Many colleges have begun sending newly admitted undergraduates “award letters” showing the types and amounts of financial aid they can expect if they enroll in those schools. If your high school senior hasn’t already received such letters, they’ll probably start arriving in the next few weeks.

So dust off your calculator because, just as with any major purchase, the key to college affordability is comparative shopping.

Unfortunately, no two award letters are alike. Each uses its own unique layout and terminology. Few offer consumer information you need to know about institutions. This makes it difficult to compare schools based on affordability.

img_5222That’s why the U.S. Department of Education created the “financial aid shopping sheet.” Thousands of colleges send it with their award letters, making it easier to compare key numbers about them.

The shopping sheet’s left side shows each school’s cost of attendance — the college’s “sticker price” for the upcoming academic year.

Next comes the grants and scholarships your student is set to receive at that college for that academic year. These discount sticker price to determine the college’s “net price.”

Then comes other types of financial aid — work-study, loans — being offered to help your student pay the school’s net price.

The shopping sheet’s right side also has useful data. These include 6-year graduation rates at universities and 3-year graduation rates at community colleges. Such rates show how schools compare to similar institutions in getting undergraduates across the finish line.

The sheet also discloses the percentage of the school’s alumni repaying their federal student loans three years after beginning to do so — indicating how well the school prepares students for gainful employment.

Finally, you’ll see the median amount the college’s students borrow in federal loans, and their median monthly payments. This can give a rough sense of how much debt your student might be burdened with to attend that school.

Schools use shopping sheets on a voluntary basis, but beware of colleges that don’t provide them. Why are they trying to make it more difficult for you to compare them with other institutions? What don’t they want you to know about their aid offers or graduation and borrowing data?

You should select a college based on many factors, but the shopping sheet gives you useful, easy-to-compare affordability information for this all-important decision.

College Affordability Solutions conducts affordability analyses on institutions students are considering, whether or not those institutions provide shopping sheets. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for more information.

After College: “Late” and “Missed” are 4-Letter Words for Your Student Loans

If you graduated from college last spring after borrowing federal student loans, your loan servicer has already let you know the first of your monthly payment due dates. img_5066Chances are that date is this month.

This date is important. Pay on or before it and you’ll build a positive credit rating. Pay after it’s passed, or make no payment, and you’re immediately a delinquent borrower. Then your loan servicer may report your delinquency to the major credit bureaus right away (they must report it you when you’re 90 days delinquent). You’ll have an adverse credit history that’ll result in higher interest rates if you’re img_5065even able to borrow for a car or house; may stop you from renting an apartment or signing up for a cell phone or utilities; and could even stop you from getting a job.

As soon as you become delinquent, your loan servicer may also add collection costs equal to 18.5% of your debt to what you owe.

Fail to make any payment within 30 days of its due date and you’ll also pay a late fee equalling 6% of what you owe. Miss nine monthly payments in a row and you’re in default — at which point a government-hired collection agency will require you to repay your whole debt immediately. The government may also confiscate up to 15% of your salary and wages, your tax returns, and any money it owes you. It can also get permission from a judge to take real estate and other property you own. Finally, you’ll never be able to borrow another federal student loan while in default.

Fortunately, it’s easy to make your federal student loan payments on time. Enroll in an automatic debit plan and your payment will be deducted from your bank account on the same date every month. You’ll also reduce your interest rate by 0.25%.

If your monthly due date doesn’t work for you, contact your loan servicer and ask to change it. Do the same if you need to change your repayment plan to lower your required monthly month amount.

Need to postpone your payments for a while? You can do this without becoming delinquent. Contact your loan servicer and ask for a deferment or forbearance.

So don’t ever let yourself run late on your monthly payments or, worse yet, miss them altogether. Both produce nasty results, and they’re way too easy to avoid!

College Affordability Solutions has extensive experience with the ins and outs of student loan repayment. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com if you need confidential advice on managing your college debt.