If you’re a senior in high school, you’re probably hearing a lot about the FAFSA. But there’s another application that should be on your radar, too.
By completing the FAFSA, you’re applying for most forms of federal and state financial aid. When you finish the FAFSA, you’ll see a prompt asking if you want to complete the Iowa Financial Aid application as well. Say yes.
That prompt actually leads to something called the “Eligibility Wizard,” a short series of simple questions to determine whether you might be eligible for additional state aid. If you’re not eligible, you’re done. If you meet initial eligibility requirements, you’ll see instructions to continue the application process for those additional grants and scholarships.
Did you already say no to the Iowa Financial Aid Application? You can find it here. It’s worth the few minutes it takes.
Fraudulent organizations sometimes pose as legitimate agencies willing to help with scholarship searches. They often guarantee you a scholarship or promise to do all the work for you for a fee. The Federal Trade Commission advises students to be cautious of these red flags for scholarship and FAFSA scams:
- “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.”
- “We just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship.”
- “We’ll do all the work. You just pay a processing fee.”
- “The scholarship will cost some money.”
- “You’ve been selected by a ‘national foundation’ to receive a scholarship.”
“I won’t qualify.”
That’s the No. 1 reason students don’t apply for scholarships—and they’re often very wrong. Today we’re going to bust some common myths.
MYTH: I’d have to be a genius or a star athlete to get any money.
REALITY: Academics and athletics are just two among many criteria that could earn you a scholarship. Some awards are based or service or leadership. Others go to students who take part in certain organizations or activities. (Iowa has a scholarship just for participants in the Iowa State Fair.) Some companies offer scholarships to the children of employees. Many scholarships are downright quirky. Do a search on Unigo and you’ll find awards for students who answer questions like “What flavor ice cream would you like to be?”
MYTH: I’ll have to write dozens of different essays.
REALITY: You can’t turn in the exact same essay for every scholarship application, but you’re likely to see some common themes in the questions, like accepting challenges or embracing new ways of thinking. Save each essay that you submit, then look for sections that can be repurposed. Just make sure you do enough reworking to answer the question being asked.
MYTH: No one with any pull will give me a recommendation.
REALITY: Your recommendations don’t have to come from “big names.” In fact, choosing someone well-known can backfire if that person doesn’t really know you. You need a recommendation from someone who understands your strengths and can offer specific examples that illustrate them. Talk to the teacher of a class you enjoyed or the advisor for an activity you took part in. What a person can say about you is much more important than his or her name recognition.
MYTH: There’s so little money available, it’s a waste of time.
REALITY: There are billions of dollars available every year. Some of that money actually goes unclaimed because not enough people apply for it. Check with your high school counselor and your college financial aid office. Do a Web search for scholarships that might suit you, whether you’re a bassoon player or a comic artist or an aspiring funeral director. The money is out there.
New Year’s is a time to look ahead and set goals. If you’re a high school senior, these resolutions can help you stay on track to start college in the fall.
Make a timeline of application deadlines. Most college applications are due by February 1, unless the schools have rolling deadlines. Financial aid deadlines will begin to hit March 1.
Review coursework with your counselor to be sure you have taken all the classes you need. Schedule summer classes if necessary.
File your FAFSA, if you haven’t already. Check with your schools of interest for their priority financial aid deadlines. Remember, filing earlier will increase your chances for some financial aid programs.
Ask your high school to send your official transcripts to the colleges where you are applying. You can make a request through your counseling office.
Be sure your ACT or SAT scores have been sent to all schools where you’re applying. If you’ve added schools to your list since you tested, you can send your scores there for an additional fee.
Check in regularly at IowaCollegeAid.gov and sign up for our newsletters for timely tips and advice. This will be a challenging but exciting year, and we can help you through it!
We’re hitting deadline season for college and scholarship applications, but you don’t need to panic. Here are some quick tips:
Apply to more than one school. Yes, you should have a “safety school,” but also try for a “stretch school.” Some students are surprised when they’re accepted at a school they thought was out of their reach. You can’t truly compare costs of different schools until you have award letters from those schools in hand. An expensive school might end up being the most affordable option if it offers a generous financial aid package.
Apply for more than one scholarship. You can improve your odds by expanding your search. Some scholarships actually have trouble giving away all their available money because they don’t get enough applicants. Talk to counselors, teachers, coaches and mentors about scholarship possibilities.
Put some effort into your essays. These are a chance to distinguish yourself, so take your time. Make sure your essay relates to the question, and back up what you say with specific examples. Don’t just list your accomplishments. Show that you’re capable of growing and learning from challenges. Proofread at least twice, then ask someone else to read behind you.
Sell your actual strengths. Don’t exaggerate or lie. Think about the things that you truly do well, and focus on those. Having trouble identifying your best areas? Ask an adult close to you, “What makes you proud of me?”
Be sure to submit. You should see a confirmation screen or receive a confirmation email when you’re done.
By now, students and families with an eye toward college, or any kind of education beyond high school, should have a pretty good understanding of just how important the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is to helping them achieve their goals. If not, here’s a good place to get started with the FAFSA.
Filing the FAFSA is crucial to getting money for school. But what happens after submitting the FAFSA? Here are some things for families to look out for, as well as some things to remember when dealing with information
Student Aid Report
After completing the FAFSA, the U.S. Department of Education will process the data and compile the Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR will be sent to families and the colleges selected during the FAFSA. If an email address was provided during the application, instructions to access an online copy of the SAR will be emailed; otherwise it will arrive snail mail.
Typically, applicants can access their SAR within three to five days if the FAFSA was filed electronically (approximately three weeks if filed by paper). The SAR contains the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as well as initial information about Pell Grant eligibility. Colleges and universities use the EFC to determine student eligibility for federal grants, loans, work-study and other financial aid programs.
How is the Expected Family Contribution Calculated?
Variables that determine a student’s EFC include income and net worth for the student and parents, family size, age of older parent, state and federal taxes and number of family members attending college. As a result, the EFC might change from year to year when the FAFSA is refiled.
Understanding Financial Need vs. College Costs
Each college or university listed on a student’s FAFSA application that accepts that student will determine financial need and present the applicant with an award letter describing the aid offered. “Financial Need” is determined by calculating the Cost of Attendance (COA) minus the EFC determined through the FAFSA.
The EFC will remain the same in a given year (unless an unusual family situation arises) regardless of which college or university the student attends. The amount of aid received cannot exceed the total cost of attendance at a college or university.
Each award letter will include federal, state and college-specific financial aid programs. It is likely that a student’s award letter will include one or more types of loans. These letters often don’t cleanly show which funds offered are scholarship or grant aid (free money) and which are loans (money which must be repaid). To get some tips on understanding award letters, check out our video series here and here.
Verification is the process by which colleges review student financial aid applications for accuracy where the U.S. Department of Education identifies some FAFSA applications for colleges to review. In addition, colleges may review additional applications based on answers provided to certain FAFSA questions.
Roughly one-third of all FAFSAs filed are selected for verification and the process must be completed before financial aid can be awarded. If you are selected for verification, you can expect the following:
- When you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) after completing the FAFSA, you will see a comment stating “Your FAFSA has been selected for a review process called verification. Your school has the authority to collect certain financial documents from you”.
- Your college’s financial aid office will contact you and inform you of documents you need to submit and any additional forms you need to complete.
- Your college may be required to verify the following data elements:
- Adjusted gross income
- Taxes paid
- Income earned from work (for non-tax-filers)
- Untaxed portions of IRA distributions or pensions
- IRA deductions and payments
- Tax exempt interest income
- Education credits
- Household size
- Number in college
- Receipt of food stamps/SNAP benefit
- Child support paid
- High school completion status
- Any other inconsistent or conflicting information.
- To verify the elements above, the college may ask for documents which may include, but are not limited to:
- Signed copies of the prior year tax transcripts for parent and student (if the student is dependent) or Federal IRS Data Retrieval.
- W-2s showing wages, 1099s and supporting schedules.
- Statement of child support paid, documentation that child support payments were made, and/or copy of the separation agreement or divorce decree that shows the amount of child support to be provided.
- Verification of net worth.
- Documentation of food stamps/SNAP benefit.
- Copy of the applicant’s high school diploma, final official high school transcript that shows the date when the diploma was awarded, GED certificate/transcript, state certificate or transcript received after passing a state-authorized exam (HiSET, TASC or other state-authorized exam) or a copy of the “secondary school leaving certificate” (or other similar document) for students who completed high school in a foreign country.
The best action you can take to reduce the likelihood of being selected for verification is to use the IRS data retrieval tool to automatically populate your (and if you are a dependent student, your parents’) tax information directly from the IRS into your FAFSA. When you use the IRS data retrieval tool, the tax information is considered to be already verified so you will not have to submit documentation.
If you are selected for verification, ensure that you respond to all requests from your college or university. If you do not submit documentation on time your financial aid may arrive after late fees have already been accessed to your account.