Check Off Your To-Do List during Financial Aid Awareness Month

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November is financial aid awareness month. But what does it mean to be aware of financial aid? It means clicking off the to-do’s on your list of ways to pay for college.

All high school students
While most action items for financial aid apply to high school seniors, there are several steps that all high school students can take. First is to focus on building up the criteria that will qualify you later for scholarships and grants. Work hard on your grades and in the classes you are taking, and find extracurricular activities and community service projects. You can potentially earn scholarship money for both. You should also be putting every dollar you can into a savings account for college – every penny counts.

High school seniors
If you are a high school senior, your list is a little bit longer than the already mentioned items. In addition to those items, you also need to be working on your actual applications and determining a budget for college.

  • The most important application you need to complete is the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step towards earning federal and state aid, and in many cases the FAFSA is required for scholarships and aid provided by the college you attend. Visit www.FAFSA.gov to file the FAFSA. If you want help, you can take part in a FAFSA Ready Iowa event (www.icansucceed.org/fafsareadyiaevents), which provides free assistance in completing the FAFSA. You can also schedule a free appointment at an ICAN center by visiting www.icansucceed.org/apt. To make sure you are prepared, download a list of the documents you need to complete the FAFSA at www.icansucceed.org/whattobring.
  • Following the FAFSA, you need to be working on scholarship applications. As a senior you should talk to your school counselor about local scholarship applications. Also check with each college you have applied to about their scholarship process. Some colleges have a separate application for each scholarship; some have one form for all their opportunities, and some make the admission application the scholarship application as well. You need to clarify what additional steps you need to take at the colleges you are considering to make sure you take advantage of every opportunity available.

After local and institutional scholarships it’s time to start hitting the web. Visit www.icansucceed.org/scholarships to explore an online database and to take a look at a list of recommended scholarship search sites. You should also register for Raise.Me, which provides micro-scholarships to different colleges based on things you’ve done throughout high school such as taking certain courses, participating in extra-curricular activities, or attending an ICAN event.

  • The last, and perhaps most important, aspect of preparing for college financially is creating a budget. Your budget will help you determine how much you can afford based on current circumstances, as well as your future potential earnings. Your future career’s starting salary is your budget for student debt. You should not borrow more than you will make in your first year. Keep this figure in mind as you explore colleges and evaluate prices and award packages to keep you on the right track for a successful, financial future.

Contributed by: Iowa College Access Network

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What to Know About Financial Aid This November

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Download this infographic as a PDF.

With the earlier availability of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad recently proclaimed November as Financial Aid Awareness Month. Now is an ideal time for high school seniors and current college students to organize financial aid applications for the upcoming academic year.

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Gov. Branstad signing the November Financial Aid Awareness Month Proclamation in October.

Here’s what you should know about financial aid this month:

Total College Costs
You should be able to determine average costs for the upcoming school year by using your college’s website. Look for cost of attendance, which should include tuition, fees, room and board expenses for in-state and out-of-state students. You should also take into account variable costs such as transportation, books, personal and other expenses.

Types of Financial Aid
Some financial aid is awarded by colleges, some by the federal government and some by state agencies. Other aid includes scholarships awarded by private and community organizations, as well as your own and your family’s earnings and savings.

Learn more about the types of financial aid.

Each type of institutional and governmental aid is awarded after you fill out appropriate financial aid applications.

How to Apply for Aid
The FAFSA is the most commonly used application for financial aid. Use this checklist of items needed to complete the FAFSA to make sure you have all the appropriate information on hand. Before you begin, be sure you and your parents both request an FSA ID.

Your school may also ask you to complete the CSS Financial Aid Profile or another form to apply for financial aid from the school. These forms may ask for additional financial information or documentation not reflected on the FAFSA.

When to Apply for Aid
The FAFSA became available Oct. 1, so you can complete that any time, even if you are a currently a high school senior and unsure of your final college selection. You can list up to 10 schools on the FAFSA. You should try to submit the FAFSA and any other required forms as early as possible, but check the schools’ websites for information on priority aid deadlines and deadlines for scholarship consideration. Some aid is limited, so the earlier the better.

How to Get Help
Several online tips and resources are available for the FAFSA and for the CSS Financial Aid Profile if you get stuck while filling out the forms.

In addition, you can receive free assistance in Iowa. You may make an appointment at one of the Iowa College Access Network locations across the state for a personal session. The FAFSA Ready Iowa program also offers many free events staffed by volunteer experts in the financial aid community for families who prefer to drop in.

What Happens After You File
Your financial aid application will be processed to determine the aid available to you. Your school will provide a financial aid award packet that offers grants, work-study, scholarships and federal loans, as applicable.

You can use that information to estimate your total college cost over four years using the College Funding Forecaster.

By: Iowa Student Loan

It’s Not Too Late: Take Advantage of Financial Aid Options ASAP

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By this time, you’ve probably taken care of your fall 2016 college bill, but if you find yourself struggling to make monthly payments or you’re worried about next semester’s expenses, consider these options.

File the 2016–2017 FAFSA if you haven’t. If you didn’t fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid after it became available in January, you can still do so. The federal government will accept the FAFSA and consider you for available federal financial aid, like Pell Grants and other programs, until June 30, 2017. Keep in mind that while some programs are guaranteed, others are limited and you may have missed out on available funds.

You may have missed the deadline to apply for state-based aid through the FAFSA, but filing it now may still qualify you for aid from your school as well. Check with your financial aid office on available programs and funds.

While you’re at it, file the 2017–2018 FAFSA. The new FAFSA for the 2017–2018 year became available Oct. 1. File now to meet your college’s deadline for priority consideration for available financial aid. These deadlines vary by college but some are as early as Dec. 1, so file now to increase your chances of receiving aid for next year.

Consider a financial aid appeal. If your financial circumstances changed significantly since you filed the 2016–2017 FAFSA or since the tax year used to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for this year, you may be eligible for a review of your financial aid award. Contact your financial aid office for more information.

Apply for scholarships and grants. Search for scholarships and grants awarded by private entities that have upcoming deadlines. You may also ask staff in your department office about scholarships specifically for students in your major.

Get a job, or another one. If your expenses are outpacing your income, a part-time job can help make ends meet. Even if you didn’t qualify for work-study based on your FAFSA, now is a good time to look for jobs on campus not already filled by work-study candidates. If you will need to complete an internship or co-op to meet graduation requirements, search for paid positions that will boost your current finances as well as provide related career experience.

Even if you’re already working, consider an additional job that suits your schedule. Soon many retailers and seasonal employers will be looking for temporary employees to handle the holiday rush.

Break up your required payments. Your college may offer a payment plan that allows you to make smaller monthly payments instead of one large payment at the beginning of the semester. You may be charged a fee to take advantage of a payment plan, so ask your financial aid or business office about the details.

Consider school-based or private loans. If you’ve exhausted all other options but still cannot pay your full cost of attendance, consider private student loans offered through your college or outside lenders. The Partnership Advance Education Loan from Iowa Student Loan is one option.

By: Iowa Student Loan

6 Things to Know Before You Apply to College

Once you have decided on your top college choices, it’s time to start the application process. Here’s what to know:

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1. Know the types of applications and the deadlines for each
Many colleges and universities allow you to apply early, either with or without a commitment on your end. Know if the school offers early action, early decision, rolling admission or other types of applications and what you need to complete when.

2. Allow enough time
Will you need to complete a personal essay as part of the application process? Does the college require an admissions interview? Plan to complete each step in plenty of time to meet deadlines.

3. Understand yourself
Be prepared to explain your previous activities and academic achievements, as well as your goals and your motivations. Articulate what makes you different than everyone else, and make sure you focus on that uniqueness in essays or interviews. Also think about why each of the colleges on your list is a good fit for you.

4. Consider your online activity.
Some colleges may look up your social media profiles and pages. Make sure they don’t have a reason to discount your application because of what you’ve posted online. If your personal email address isn’t professional, create a new one that is.

5. Complete essays ahead of time
If you need to submit an essay online, have it written and saved beforehand, so you can copy and paste it into the application. This way, you won’t need to begin again if you experience technical problems, and you have a backup copy if needed.

6. Stay in touch
You should receive some confirmation that the college has received your application. If you don’t, reach out to the admissions office. Admissions representatives are also available if you have questions or need help completing the application process. Just make sure you contact the school; don’t ask your parents to do it on your behalf.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Know the Difference: Types of Financial Aid

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The variety of college funding sources often leads to confusion as students and parents plan for college. This financial aid primer can help you sort out and compare financial aid options.

Type of Aid Where It Comes From Awarded to Students with: Repayment Things to Think About
Grant Government and agencies

Colleges

Other sources

Financial need No Number of years available
Scholarships Colleges

Community, nonprofit and business organizations

Financial need

Academic merit

Specific accomplishments

Other qualifications

No Number of years available

Requirements for renewal

Work-Study Federal government Financial need No Expected overall earnings

Hourly wage

Available positions

Savings and Earnings Family and student contribution N/A No Availability of savings

Hourly wage

Available positions

Student Loans Federal government

Private lenders

Colleges

Financial need

Minimum underwriting criteria

Yes Ability to repay total amount of debt

Interest rates and terms

Grants
Grants are usually awarded to students with financial need or those with other special circumstances. Grants typically come from federal and state governments and agencies or from colleges; some are guaranteed to students who meet minimum qualifications. Some grants are awarded by private entities and other organizations.

Grants do not need to be repaid. Some are awarded only for freshman year; others are renewable for four or more years if the student continues to meet the qualifications.

Scholarships
Scholarships are similar to grants in many ways. A student may receive a scholarship for demonstrating financial need, but scholarships are also awarded for academic merit, specific accomplishments and a variety of other qualifications. Colleges are the source of many of the most substantial scholarships, but community organizations, nonprofits and businesses also make awards.

Scholarships also do not need to be repaid. Some are one-time awards; others are renewable if the student continues to meet qualifications. Students who qualify for renewable academic scholarships from colleges should especially be aware of the requirements to continue receiving the award and if they can requalify later if they temporarily fall below minimum guidelines.

Work-Study
Work-study is a federal aid program awarded by colleges to students with financial need. Estimated wages for jobs on or near campus are included in the college’s financial aid award packet, and colleges often provide assistance in locating these positions.

The award is a projected amount based on the student working a set number of hours, and the student is expected to use earnings to offset college expenses. Students who receive work-study should consider their ability to work the established hours, the pay compared to non-work-study positions and the work-study jobs available to them. Most colleges that offer work-study have job boards listing available positions.

Savings and Earnings
Although not technically awarded as part of a financial aid package, students are often expected to provide some funds to pay for the cost of college, either from existing savings or from continued earnings during college. This is reflected in the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number that is generated when a student files for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid or specific financial aid applications required by the college.

Families may not be able to contribute the expected amount, either because the funds are designated for the parents’ retirement or siblings’ education or otherwise unavailable.

Students who don’t receive enough other aid to cover the cost of attendance may plan to work to earn at least part of the shortfall. Again, students should be aware of the jobs available to them during school terms and breaks and an expected wage. Sometimes, on-campus jobs are limited to those who receive work-study awards and other students may need to look further afield.

Student Loans
Federal student loans are included in a student’s financial aid award package if the student and parents filed the FAFSA. These loans do need to be repaid but do not require payment until the student has left school. Students are guaranteed a certain amount of federal student loans, and parents may supplement that amount by taking out federal parent loans for the student’s benefit. (Parent loans enter repayment immediately, but borrowers may be able to delay payments if they meet certain criteria.)

Private student loans can be obtained from private lenders if students, or their cosigners if required, meet minimum underwriting criteria. Some colleges also lend student funds through their own programs.

Students who take out student loans should consider their ability to repay the total amount they’ll need to borrow for their entire college career. A general rule of thumb is to not borrow more in total than the student can realistically expect to make in his or her first year after leaving college.

By: Iowa Student Loan