Winter is on its way out, and we’re not sorry to see it go! We’re ready for melting snow and rising temps. As you welcome signs of spring, now is also a great time to do a status check on your college plans:
If you’re a junior in high school …
- Sign up to take a college entrance exam. The SAT registration deadline is tomorrow (February 28) to test on March 10. The ACT registration deadline is March 9 to test on April 14. Taking these tests in your junior year leaves you plenty of time to retake them if you want to try to boost your score.
- Narrow down your list of possible colleges, and schedule campus visits. If you’re traveling over spring break, think about adding a visit to your itinerary.
- Look up “priority deadlines” for schools where you plan to apply, and start a list. You don’t want to miss these deadlines during your senior year. Filing late can actually decrease your chances of getting financial aid. “Your Course to College” includes priority deadlines for every college and university in Iowa, and it’s free.
If you’re a senior in high school …
- File your FAFSA! Priority deadlines vary for different schools and different financial aid programs, but March 1 is a very common date. Filing before a priority deadline will increase your chances of getting financial aid.
- By now, you should have applied to the school(s) of your choice. If not, don’t panic. Some schools have rolling deadlines, which means the admissions office considers applications as they come in instead of setting a single deadline. Check with any schools where you plan to apply to see if your window is still open.
- Get ready for acceptance and award letters! These will start landing in late March and early April. Most schools will expect you to make a commitment around May 1.
- Don’t slack off in your studies, even after you’re accepted. Your college will ask for a final transcript that includes all your high school grades.
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.
For the second year, October 1 marks the availability of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the next academic year. The FAFSA is a standardized application used to determine eligibility for federal grants, loans and work-study funds from the federal government. Additionally, many colleges and states, including Iowa, use FAFSA information when determining eligibility for institutional and state financial aid programs. It’s kind of a big deal!
When it comes to the FAFSA, remember these tips:
File the FAFSA no matter your financial situation. Even if you do not think you will qualify for need-based financial aid, you should still file the FAFSA. Many colleges require that you file the FAFSA to be considered for institutional aid. In addition, you are required to complete a FAFSA to be eligible for federal Stafford loans and completing the FAFSA does not obligate you to accept any of the aid offered.
Never pay to file the FAFSA. You can file the FAFSA for free at http://www.fafsa.gov. Reputable resources, including Iowa College Aid, are available to help for free. In addition, more than 50 College Goal Sunday events will be held throughout Iowa to provide one-on-one assistance with FAFSA filing.
Electronically access the FAFSA. The FSA ID comprises of a username and password. Users who have not already done so, will be directed to a link to register for a new FSA ID upon arriving at the http://www.fafsa.gov website. The registration process should take less than seven minutes.
Meet state and college deadlines. Many states, including Iowa, have FAFSA filing deadlines for state-funded scholarships, grants and work-study opportunities. Keep in mind most colleges and universities have their own FAFSA filing deadlines. You should check with your college of choice to determine its priority deadline for financial aid and if additional documentation is required.
Double check information to avoid delays. Review your FAFSA information before you submit it for processing. Make sure your Social Security number and your parent’s Social Security number are typed in the correct spaces. Mix-ups like these will cause processing delays.
It’s easier than ever with the data retrieval tool. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool allows students and parents to access their IRS federal tax return information from the IRS website and securely transfer the necessary data directly into their FAFSA. It is highly recommended that you use the data retrieval tool if you are eligible as it is the best way to ensure that your FAFSA has accurate tax information. An added bonus is that IRS transferred information means that you won’t need to provide a copy of your or your parent’s tax return to your college. The tax data should be available within 1-2 weeks of electronically filing taxes and then the IRS Data Retrieval Tool can be used to make a FASFA correction, streamlining the completion of the FAFSA.
Iowa Residents: Don’t forget to complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application! Upon completion of the FAFSA, all Iowa resident applicants have the option to link to the Iowa Financial Aid Application directly from their FAFSA confirmation page. If eligible, you will have the ability to pre-populate most of your demographic data to the Iowa application in the process. This not only streamlines the federal and state financial aid application process but also solidifies access to the Iowa application if you had not been informed of its availability.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a key part of college financial aid. While many families might think that the FAFSA is only for lower-income households, the truth is that the application helps make federal, state and school funds available for all students, regardless of their family’s income.
Here are some reasons to complete the FAFSA:
- To qualify for a variety scholarships and grants. Many federal and state scholarships (including those in Iowa) require a completed FAFSA for consideration, even when those scholarships and grants do not consider family income. FAFSA information can also impact the financial aid offered by schools in terms of grants or other awards.
- Some financial aid opportunities are available on a limited basis. Completing the FAFSA as soon as possible gives students the best chance for receiving those aid amounts.
- Completing the FAFSA earlier gives students the time to focus on other parts of college preparation, such as completing college applications, focusing on coursework and applying for scholarships.
- When students have completed their FAFSA, schools can more easily provide estimated financial aid offers sooner. This makes comparing colleges much easier, as students will have a better idea of what their education will actually cost them at each school to which they are accepted.
Sure, college can seem daunting. The idea of four more years of school (more for a graduate degree), being away from family and dealing with the cost of your education for years after graduation. It’s enough to make you ask why you should even bother with college if you can get a job right after high school.
Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College” guide offers a great deal of information and tips for students preparing, applying and succeeding in college. But perhaps the best tip of all (which is why it’s right up front in the guide), is showing why college is important in the first place.
A strong career and a bright future can be possible for all Iowans. When college is added to the mix, studies have shown that things can get stronger and brighter for those with a degree. Here are four (and maybe even a few more) reasons why a college education can make a difference in your life:
College graduates simply earn more. Weekly earnings for workers with bachelor’s degrees are almost twice the earnings of workers with only high school diplomas. Over a lifetime, this can translate to a difference of more than a million dollars, and the gap is getting wider.
You’re more likely to land a job if you go to college. The unemployment rate for college graduates is about half the unemployment rate for high school graduates. The number of jobs for college graduates is growing, while the number of jobs for high school graduates is falling. More than 95% of the jobs created from 2010 to 2016 required at least some college education.
Maybe you’ll never need to solve a differential equation or quote Shakespeare, but higher education will still serve you well. College teaches critical thinking, communications and problem-solving skills. A recent survey found that employers consider these skills more important than a potential hire’s subject of study.
Quality of life
In terms of finances, health and happiness, college graduates do better. The poverty rate for people with only a high school degree is nearly three times the poverty rate for people with bachelor’s degrees. College graduates are less likely to smoke, be obese or be incarcerated. College graduates are also significantly more likely to be happy with their standard of living.
Those are the biggies. But there’s so much more that college offers students that make for a fuller and more fulfilling career and life:
- Meet people from different backgrounds and cultures
- Discover your passion
- Try new things
- Learn new skills
- Build your confidence
- Get involved in clubs and activities
- Make your own decisions
- Learn more about yourself
- Challenge yourself and prove you can succeed
- Start a tradition
- Make your family proud
Keep these things in mind when you find yourself struggling with the more frustrating parts of preparing for college and remember: the more you put into your education, the greater the reward. You can get there, you can afford it and you can succeed.
The school year is just underway. While getting used to new classes, teachers, books and more, high school students are also on their way to attaining their high school degree and looking onward to college. Many students and families don’t start thinking about college until their junior or senior years. But for those families who put college on their radar earlier, preparing and succeeding with college applications becomes much more likely.
Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College” is designed for families of high schoolers, both current and incoming, who are looking to understand the steps necessary to apply for and succeed in college planning. This year’s guide is available for order or download now at Iowa College Aid’s site. To highlight the new edition, here’s a look at a high school checklist, included in “Your Course to College,” which helps students and families get an overview of how they can prepare for college each year of high school.
Meet your counselor. They want to help you succeed in high school and set you up for success after graduation. Arrange a meeting to talk about your plans.
Get involved. Many college admissions officers look for well-rounded students who are involved in their schools and communities.
Set up a college savings account or continue to add to an existing account. College Savings Iowa is sponsored by the State of Iowa and can be started with as little as $25. Find more information at collegesavingsiowa.com.
Choose the right class schedule. Research admissions requirements for the colleges in which you are interested.
Find out about Advanced Placement (AP) and other honors-level courses. If your high school does not offer AP courses directly, it might provide online access to courses through the Iowa Online AP Academy.
Fill your summer with volunteer and work opportunities to get a better idea of the careers you might like to pursue. Check out volunteeriowa.org to find organizations seeking volunteers.
Check in with your counselor. Ask about prerequisites you might need to take now to prepare for advanced courses in your junior and senior years.
Investigate concurrent enrollment for your junior and senior years. Concurrent, or dual, enrollment lets you take college-credit courses in high school.
Keep your grades up. Stay focused on schoolwork. Colleges will look at the grades from more than just your junior and senior years.
Take the PSAT in October. It’s good practice for taking the PSAT in your junior year, when the scores will determine National Merit Scholarship qualification.
Research financial aid options and begin searching for scholarships. Make a list of those you might be eligible for, and take note of deadlines.
Stay involved. Admissions officers like students who keep up with activities throughout high school, instead of starting them at college application time.
Start attending college fairs and arranging college visits. Call ahead to schedule appointments with financial aid and admissions offices.
Prep for college entrance exams. Download a free ACT preparation booklet from act.org. Find free official test prep for the SAT through the College Board at collegeboard.org and Khan Academy at khanacademy.org/sat. Take practice tests to determine where you might need to improve.
Focus on career and college research. Assess your skills and interests so you can consider possible areas of study. Determine which colleges offer programs that can prepare you for the career you want.
Take the PSAT in the fall to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship. Plus, it’s good practice for the SAT.
Continue college fairs and campus visits. If possible, sit in on classes that interest you and arrange to spend time in student housing.
Take the SAT or ACT in the spring and have the official scores sent to schools that interest you.
Ask for letters of recommendation. Identify teachers, counselors, employers or other adults who can attest to your achievement and abilities, and ask them to write letters for scholarship or admissions applications.
Make a timeline for your college and scholarship applications. Research deadlines now so you won’t be rushed when applications are due. Pay close attention to early decision deadlines if that option interests you.
Fill out the FAFSA4caster at fafsa.ed.gov to get an idea of how much need-based federal aid you might receive.
Review coursework with your school counselor to be sure you have taken (or are scheduled to take) all the courses you need for your preferred colleges.
If you plan to take the ACT or SAT again, register for a date at least two months before the application deadlines for all the colleges and scholarships you are considering.
Prepare a final list of colleges and submit admission applications. Most early decision and early-action college applications are due October 1.
Complete and submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at fafsa.gov as soon after October 1 as possible. Check with your schools of interest for their priority deadlines.
Ask your high school to send your official transcripts to the colleges where you are applying.
Compare acceptance letters and financial aid awards. Upon admittance, each college or university listed on your FAFSA will send you an award letter that shows the aid you are eligible to receive.
Take AP exams for any AP subjects you studied in high school. Some colleges might award college credit based on your exam score. Go to collegeboard.org for AP exam information.
Decision time! Choose your college and notify them by mailing your commitment deposit check.
For families and high school students, having a good gameplan for getting to, paying for and succeeding in college is valuable. That’s why we’re here to help.
Iowa College Aid’s annual “Your Course to College” guide will ship to schools and families later this month, but we’re taking the opportunity to preview some highlights and some of our favorite tips found in the guide. This week, tips to finding the best sources of funding for your college education. To find more previews and sign up to receive your copy of “Your Course to College” in print or download, visit our “Your Course to College” page at IowaCollegeAid.gov.
There are many ways to pay for a college education, and the financial aid process is not as complicated as most people think. Most students attending Iowa colleges and universities receive some form of financial assistance.
After you submit your college applications, complete these four steps:
1. Submit the FAFSA
To qualify for most financial aid, you must complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The fastest and most accurate way to apply is online at fafsa.gov. The FAFSA will gather information about your finances, your family’s finances and your college plans. You can complete the FAFSA for 2018-19 beginning October 1, 2017, using 2016 tax information.
2. Submit the Iowa Financial Aid Application
The Iowa Financial Aid Application allows you to apply for multiple state-administered aid programs with one application. Click the Iowa Financial Aid Application button at IowaCollegeAid.gov.
3. Decide on a College and Accept Aid
All colleges that you list on your FAFSA will send you a financial aid award letter if you are offered admission. Award letters will describe the financial aid package each college can offer. When comparing aid packages, consider how much assistance is from scholarships and grants (which do not have to be repaid) and how much is from loans (which must be repaid).
To accept the financial aid package offered by a college or university, follow all instructions. This might involve entering aid amounts you intend to accept in an online form or signing and returning a paper award letter by a specified deadline. Talk to the financial aid office at the college or university if an unusual circumstance delays your response.
To officially accept a college admissions offer and reserve your place, submit your deposit by the college’s reply date. May 1 is the date for most colleges.
4. Apply for Scholarships
Continue seeking and applying for outside scholarships. Think of it as a part-time job. If you spend 20 hours on scholarship applications and receive one worth $1,000, you just made $50 an hour for your efforts!
Reputable education organizations will NOT charge for scholarship searches.