Common Pitfalls when Filling out your FAFSA

The FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ is one of the most important documents you’ll fill out during the college planning process. This key document is required for any family wishing to be considered for federal and or state college grants and loans. Financial aid is based on first come first serve, so it is vitally important to not only get your form in early (forms are released on January 1st) but also to fill it out correctly to avoid costly mistakes. Here’s a checklist to make sure you submit a correct form and thus increase your chances for aid.

  1. Apply
    The government is not going to just knock on your door and offer you aid – you need to ask for it! Don’t refrain from applying because you feel you make too much to receive aid. A lot of merit scholarships require you to still fill out the form.

  2. Proofread
    It’s a basic writing skill…proofreading and editing. Apply it to ensure you’ve filled out the form correctly and completely. Many students are denied aid each year due to a basic typo like misspelling their legal name, transposing their social security number, or even forgetting to enter the student’s PIN number serving as their signature. These are easy mistakes to make and to avoid just by going slow and proofreading your work!
  3. Estimate
    So much of the FAFSA form is tied to data we put on our tax returns. But, unlike your tax return, you don’t want to file an extension as you wait to compile all the data. Remember, aid is offered on a first come first serve basis. If you wait too long, there won’t be anything left! You do not need to file your taxes before applying for aid, instead estimate based on bank receipts and pay stubs. There’s even a section on the form that you can check to indicate you have not yet filed your taxes. This tells the colleges you are estimating. Once you’ve filed your taxes you can use your PIN number to go back in and update your financial information.12-professor-graphics-check
  4. Disclosure
    Be sure to answer every question on the form. If you don’t know the answer to an income related questions, insert a zero instead of leaving it blank. While it is required you answer the questions posed, you do not need to provide more information than is requested. For example, FAFSA doesn’t need to know how much you have in 401k or Individual Retirement Accounts. They also won’t ask you about your home equity, vehicles, RVs or boats so don’t waste their time disclosing that. But, the financial aid form does inquire about real estate investments and second homes, so be sure to disclose that information.
  5. Parent
    Students with divorced or separated parents want to make sure the correct parent fills out the form. The correct parent isn’t necessarily the legal guardian, but rather the parent with whom the student has lived with the majority of the year.

The FAFSA is the primary form that all colleges ask for, be aware however that it’s not the only form. When looking at private schools that use the CSS Profile or Institutional Forms not all of the guidelines above apply to these other forms. We want families to understand there are many ways to save for college and some will allow you to maximize financial aid at colleges. If you would like to talk about ways your family can build a college savings plan that maximizes financial aid call us at (425) 242-5179.

What’s the Deal with Early Action?

Early Action, like Early Decision, is an accelerated college application process in which students typically must complete their applications in November. In most cases, students will then receive a decision from the college before the New Year. Some schools even have a second Early Action deadline that comes after the first but before the regular decision deadline.

If Early Decision is a 10 on the stress-o-meter, Early Action, which doesn’t have the added pressure of the required commitment, is around an 8. With Early Action, you won’t need to withdraw other applications if you get accepted. Also, if accepted, you can wait until May 1st to respond.

On the downside of Early Action, you better make sure to familiarize yourself with the term “contingency plan.” Plan A is always nice, but sometimes life hands you a few lemons, and you get stuck with Plan B. Unless you don’t have a Plan B, in which case, you’re probably going to get stuck with Plan Live in Your Parents’ Basement. That should be like Plan W… minimum. You will find out if you got in to your dreamy dream school two weeks before the deadline for most Regular Applications, so we recommend you work on your other applications just in case you don’t get in. What we are saying here is make sure you are still applying to 6-10 schools. And don’t be like Jonny Slackoff (it’s Slavic). Jonny had everything going for him. 3.7 GPA, half-ride to Purdue… but he came down with a bad, bad case of senioritis. Stopped showing up for class, homework was turned in with nothing more than doodles and his girlfriend’s name written in various fonts. Those guys from Purdue caught wind of his declining performance and turned that half-ride into a… no-ride. Oops.8-professor-graphics-worm

Let’s talk money, shall we? Some colleges are giving preliminary scholarships for Early Action applicants – you may have received emails from colleges telling you to apply now and they’ll waive the fee and you’ll get first dibs on scholarship money. It’s true and we’ve seen clients get anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 per year in scholarships – so pay attention!

In general, early action is a much more attractive option than early decision. Some reasons to consider early action include:

  • At many colleges, the acceptance rates are higher for early action than for regular admission
  • Students who are not accepted early are still considered for admission with the regular admission pool
  • Early action is not binding — students are free to apply to other colleges
  • Students can apply early to other colleges
  • Although students receive early notification of an acceptance, they do not need to make a decision until the usual May 1 deadline. This allows time to figure out financial aid
  • If accepted early at a college, the spring of a student’s senior year will be far less stressful
  • More money!

Content derived from the following articles:

Grove, Allen: What is Early Action? Learn the Benefits of Applying to College Early, About.com, College Admissions 2013 ©

Article: Early Decision vs. Early Action vs. Regular Decsion vs. Rolling Admission, http://www.shmoop.com/college/early-decision-early-action-regular-decision-rolling-admission.html

SAT or ACT? That is the Question…

It’s no secret that the SAT and/or the ACT are important. However, most people don’t understand why it is so important to focus on these tests. Your SAT/ACT score is the only thing that is still completely in your control. By the time you are a junior in high school, significantly raising your GPA is mathematically impossible, and improving class ranking has you relying on other people’s failures. With the right amount of studying, you can see a tangible increase in your SAT/ACT test score. Improving your test score can generate thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars in college savings.

It all goes back to the rankings, such as those done by US News and World Report or the Princeton Review. The academic profile of incoming freshman classes plays a large part in these rankings. The logic is simple- if a lot of high-scoring students are attending a certain school, it must be a good school! And although there are a lot of problems with standardized tests, it remains the one thing that is a level playing field across the nation. While a GPA of 4.0 might be the equivalent of a 3.8 at a school across town, a 2100 on the SAT is the same from Hawaii to Maine. As a result, colleges are continually going after kids with better SAT/ACT scores in order to move up the rankings.

1-professor-graphics-blocksIncreasing your test score does more then increase your chances of getting scholarships- it increases the number of schools where you would be a good fit. Applying to schools where you are a good fit is absolutely critical. So how do you improve your test score?

First, determine which test is right for you. Each test requires two different test-taking strategies- the way you study for the SATs will not equate to the ACTs. If you end up taking both tests multiple times, you’ll invest a lot of extra studying time. To make the most of your study time and improve test scores, take a diagnostic test. The diagnostic test is 3 ½ hours long and will determine if you are stronger at the SAT or ACT. The results will also break down each section to show you where you need to improve. You can then focus all of your efforts studying for just that one test!

Your sophomore or junior year is the perfect time to take the Diagnostic Test, schedule your test date and start studying. Once you’ve determined which test is right for you, we suggest you schedule your SAT/ACT test the first time in early spring/winter (Dec/Jan) and then again in late spring (March/May) of your junior year. This will give you plenty of time to improve your score if you are not happy with the first one. If you are a sophomore, once you’ve determined your test strength, start studying for that specific test and schedule your testing dates as early as the Fall of your junior year.  When the award letters start rolling in, you’ll be happy you put forth the effort!

If you would like to learn more about how you can have your student take the Diagnostic Test give us a call at (425) 242-5179.

SAT or ACT? That is the Question…

It’s not a secret that the SAT and/or the ACT are important. However, most people don’t understand why it is so important to focus on these tests. Your SAT/ACT score is the only thing that is still completely in your control. By the time you are a junior in high school, raising your GPA significantly is mathematically impossible, and improving class ranking has you relying on other people’s failures. With the right amount of studying though, you can see a tangible increase in your SAT/ACT test score. As a high school student trying to help pay for college the number one way to make money for college is by improving your SAT/ACT scores. This can generate thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars in savings.

It all goes back to the rankings, such as those done 1-professor-graphics-blocksby US News and World Report or the Princeton Review. A large part of the rankings is the academic profile of the incoming freshman classes. The logic is simple, if a lot of smart kids are attending a certain school, it must be a good school! And though there are a lot of problems with standardized tests, it is still the one thing that is a level playing field across the nation. A GPA of 4.0 might be the equivalent of a 3.8 at a school across town. Where as a 1400 on the SAT is the same from Hawaii to Maine. As a result colleges are continually trying to get kids with better SAT/ACT scores in order to move up in the rankings.

Increasing your test score does more then increase your chances of getting scholarships at the schools on your list; it increases the number of schools where you would be a good fit. Applying to schools where you are a good fit is absolutely critical. So how do you improve your test score?

Determine which test is right for you. The two tests require two different test-taking strategies; the way you study for the SATs will not equate to the ACTs. If you end up taking both tests two times you’ll invest a lot of extra studying time. To make the most of your study time and thus improve test scores, take a diagnostic test. We have a diagnostic test at our office and this is how it works: it is a 3 ½ hour test that will determine which test you are stronger at and breaks down each section to show you where you need to improve. You can then focus all of your efforts studying for just that one test – SAT or ACT!

If you are a junior, now is the perfect time to take the diagnostic test. Then you can schedule your test date and start studying. Once you’ve determined which test is your strength, and you are a junior, we suggest you schedule your SAT/ACT test so that you can take it twice in junior year. That way you have an opportunity to improve your score if you are not happy with the first one. If you are a sophomore, we recommend doing the diagnostic test at the end of your sophomore year. Then once you’ve determined your test strength start studying for that specific test and schedule your testing dates as early as the Fall of your junior year.  When the award letters start rolling in, you’ll be happy you put forth the effort!

If you would like to learn more about how you can have your student take the Diagnostic Test give us a call at (425) 242-5179.

 

 

First Generation College Students: Best Practices

Trail blazing the college jungle as a first generation college student – you’re not alone.

You’ve applied and been accepted, and now you’re mentally preparing for college. But as a first-generation college student, you may not have a clear idea of what college will actually be like. Preparation is key. The best practice tips that follow are mostly about tapping resources that exist on campus. For even more resources tailored to exactly what the first generation student needs, check out this excellent website:  www.FirstGenerationStudent.com

What to Expect at College

Remember That You’re Not Alone! How to Find Support While in College

It’s important to recognize that attending college will be a new chapter in your life—one that can be daunting at times and frustrating at other times. Colleges are one step ahead of you. Many offer a wide selection of tutoring centers and support services, plus counseling centers where advisers are ready and willing to ease your transition between high school and college. However, only you can recognize when you need help, so don’t let a bad grade turn into a failing grade before you check out suggestions about where to look for an extra boost of encouragement and guidance to keep you on track toward earning your college degree.

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Designing the Best Schedule

Choosing your schedule in college is nothing like registering for high school classes. Unlike high school where you likely have pretty limited offerings, the average college catalog has a BIG variety of classes and times. So how do you choose what to take? The best practice idea is to meet with a college academic adviser who can give you a good idea of what you need to take and when. Advisers also are trained to recognize which courses have prerequisites that you need to meet prior to enrolling. And don’t forget to ask them for tips on how to create your perfect schedule while balancing study, work and personal time.

Deciding Your Major

First-generation college students are by definition driven. You’ve worked hard to get where you are and it’s likely that you think you know what major best suits you because you’ve not only planned for college, you’ve planned for your dream career. Nevertheless, be open to exploring other subjects. For those of you who are still undeclared, plan on settling in to a major by your sophomore year in order to complete the major’s prerequisites and the major course work without having to be a fifth-year senior.

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