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.

Before and During College: Has Your Student Been Asked to Verify FAFSA Data?

So your student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has already been completed and submitted. Now one or more of the colleges to which that FAFSA’s data were sent tells your student it needs to verify those data. Why are they doing this and what needs to be done?img_5119

Verification is used to confirm your student’s FAFSA. It’s needed because students sometimes make mistakes when completing FAFSA’s. So do parents whose children are dependent students. It’s also needed because, unfortunately, some families deliberately provide false information to rip off the system.

The U.S. Department of Education processes FAFSAs, and it selects them for verification — some because they likely have incorrect data, others at random. Colleges may also use their own methods to select FAFSAs for verification.

Being selected doesn’t mean anyone thinks you or your student did anything wrong. In fact, colleges may even release financial aid to students before verification is completed. But because they must repay any aid released for which students aren’t eligible, almost no schools do this.

And because there’s never enough money to cover the full financial need of all their img_5115students, most colleges won’t even award aid until verification is finished and they know exactly how much need your student has.

So your student (and you, if you too completed the FAFSA) must react quickly to any notice received about verification. Delaying may cause your student to miss out on grants and scholarships because the funds for those awards are all committed by the time verification gets done.

This notice will come to your student by email or regular mail. It’ll provide the key facts:

  • What FAFSA data need to be verified;
  • Acceptable documentation for verifying those data; and
  • Where to deliver that documentation, by when, and what happens if it’s late.

Once the college completes verification, it’ll tell your student:

  • Any corrections that are necessary; and
  • What it and/or he or she must do to correct those FAFSA data.

So watch out for verification notices, react to them quickly, and to follow their instructions to the letter. Otherwise, your student may lose grant and scholarship aid, making it much more difficult to afford college without extra borrowing!

College Affordability Solutions can advise you on all parts of the financial aid process, including verification. Email collegeafford@gmail.com or call (512) 417-7660 for assistance.

A Year of College Affordability Solutions

College Affordability Solutions is dedicated to helping families keep higher education spending within their means. It uses this website to highlight postsecondary educational cost-management strategies at the times of the year when you and/or your student are most likely to need them.

21-of-the-most-beautiful-college-campuses-in-amer-2-20243-1428837186-9_dblbigDespite those who’ll try to talk your student out of college, postsecondary education is still worthwhile even if he or she has to borrow to pay for it. But student loans increase the cost of college, so do everything possible to minimize their use.

Over the last year, we’ve covered several approaches to keeping college and college-related debt affordable. Click on any of the links below to learn more . . .

Before College

Various investment and savings programs can help you prepare for college bills. Among these are 529 plans and college savings bonds, but you should explore them all – the sooner the better.

And be sure to apply for financial for every year of college. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after October 1 but, by all means, before your FAFSA priority deadline arrives.

Student dependency status plays a big role in who completes the FAFSA. Other family factors do, too. But it isn’t as hard to complete as you’ve heard, especially if you fulfill 5 key steps, gather all the documents you need, and get answers to your last-minute FAFSA questions before doing so.

Long before the FAFSA, your student needs to begin aggressively searching for scholarships. It’s critical to know about the when and where and the how of doing this.

Pay close attention after you file your FAFSA to make sure you handle what happens next. Then carefully assess your financial aid offers as they arrive from colleges.

But it’s not all about financial aid and scholarships. A critical factor in college affordability is for your student to enroll in a college and major that fits him or her well.

During College

Once college begins, you can help your student keep his or her expenses within reason.140815_FF_BestCollegeCard Limited spending and indebtedness is important even with today’s low college loan interest rates.

Some of the most effective strategies for minimizing student borrowing include your student getting through college in 4 years or less while carefully managing money and avoiding rip offs such as the recent “student tax” scam. A little-known but highly-effective cost-saver involves returning unneeded federal loan dollars with 4 months of disbursement.

Help your student keep college more affordable by giving him or her some holiday gifts that’ll lower his or her reduce expenses upon returning to school and by recommending he or she generate funds through seasonal employment instead of borrowing.

After College

Seven out of 10 students borrow before earning their degrees, and over 90% of their loans come from federal loan programs. Fortunately, the government has designed  post-graduation strategies to help keep educational debt manageable.

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Your student needs to understand what happens to college loans after graduation. It’s worthwhile to consider the pros and cons of student loan consolidation, an often-used tactic for reducing monthly debt payments. Equally important is knowing how your student might qualify for forgiveness on all or part of what he or she owes.

Coming in 2017

We’re taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but beginning January 4 we’ll start publishing again about plans for keeping college affordable. Here’s hoping you have the happiest of holiday seasons, and that you’ll rejoin us then!

 Find out more about College Affordability Solutions and its services at https://collegeafford.com, or by calling (512) 366-5354.

Things to Do When Applying for Scholarships

img_4082Once a scholarship search turns up an opportunity, how does your student win it. A great scholarship expert once said that many providers are looking to help students that remind them of their younger selves. How do they know who these students are? It all comes down to the scholarship applications they receive.

(1) Apply for Scholarships that “Fit”: Make sure your student fully understands scholarship eligibility requirements. No need to waste time going after money for which he or she won’t qualify.

(2) Don’t Omit Anything: Coach your student to submit applications that are thorough and complete — especially about community, extracurricular, and leadership activities. You can never tell when a particular detail might be just the thing that helps an application reader identify your student as a worthy candidate.

(3) Write Strong Essays: Readers use scholarship application essays to really get to know your student — where he’s coming from, where she wants to go, and why. So img_4084these essays need to be both personal and passionate. And now isn’t the time for your student to be shy in describing his or her strengths and triumphs, to write timidly about what he or she wants to accomplish in college and life, or to downplay what drives and inspires him or her.

(4) Do It Right, Do It On-Time: Make sure every application is proofread for grammar and spelling, and for irrelevant information to distracts or slows readers. Also pay close attention to deadlines. Applications that arrive late go straight into the “no” stack.

(5) Beware of Cons and Frauds: Some businesses and individuals promise scholarship recommendations if you pay them. They may also request confidential personal information. Most of these are scam artists! Stay away from them!

Nobody really knows how many scholarship dollars are available, or how many of them might be available to your student. But with effective, timely searches and well done applications your student — with your help — can improve his or her chances of claiming such them!

College Affordability Solutions offers 40 years experience in helping students secure financial aid, including scholarships. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-charge consultation.

Scholarship Searching — When and Where

img_4081Scholarships are sometimes called “gift aid” because they’re free money — nothing’s borrowed, interest doesn’t accumulate, nothing’s repaid, and they’re not an like an hourly wage.

How can your student get such an award? There are many different scholarships out there, and there’s no one place to find them all, so you need to go searching for them!

When to Start Searching

Do you have a high school senior planning to begin college next fall? If so, your scholarship search should be well underway. The same goes for your student if he or she is already in college.

When to Stop Searching

Different scholarship providers offer their awards at different times, so a single search won’t do. Students who land the most scholarships periodically conduct searches right up until they graduate.

Where to Searchimg_4083

It’s likely there are scholarship providers right in your home town — churches, civic clubs, employers, high schools, local foundations, labor unions, etc. Your student should ask the high school counseling staff for information it has on scholarship opportunities. Inquire, too, with anyone who might be able to steer you toward scholarships — clergy, members of civic groups, supervisors, union reps, etc.

Colleges use scholarships to recruit potential freshmen and recognize outstanding current students. Check with financial aid offices to see if your student need to do anything other than your FAFSA to be considered for scholarships. Review the website for your student’s academic departmental scholarships, too.

There are also national and statewide scholarship providers. Do Google searches and use internet-based scholarship search engines to find them. There’s no certainty that any search engine will yield scholarship opportunities for your student, but two that are fairly effective and reputable are Big Future by College Board and Fastweb.

How to Apply

What comes after locating a scholarship for which your student seems well-matched? Check out Things to Do When Applying for Scholarships for more information.

The most important thing is for you and your student to persistently go after scholarships that could help make college more affordable. What are you waiting for?

College Affordability Solutions offers 40 years experience in helping students secure financial aid, including scholarships. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-charge consultation.