Archive for the ‘Financial Aid’ Category

6 Things to Know Before Filing Your FAFSA

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016
Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

It’s that time of year again—the time of year when high school seniors need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to be considered for financial aid to help pay for college. The FAFSA is available after January 1 each year for students to fill out. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you fill out (or consider filling out) the FAFSA form.

1. Colleges may require you to fill out FAFSA in order to receive aid or scholarships. Some schools offer merit-based and/or need-based scholarships, or scholarships that incorporate both need and merit. Filling out the FAFSA and sending the information to a college demonstrates you’re serious about considering that school, and it also helps the school find all the potential aid and scholarships you may qualify to receive, getting you the best financial aid package possible.

2. The earlier you submit FAFSA, the better. Many schools have priority dates for filing FAFSA (such as sometime in March through May of your senior year of high school). At many schools, financial aid packages are awarded in the order FAFSA applications are received. That means, there could be more aid available if you’re one of the first students to file FAFSA, than if you’re one of the last. So, don’t procrastinate and get the FAFSA in as soon as possible to maximize the amount of federal and other aid you can receive.

3. Remember to enter college codes before you file. You can send your FAFSA data to up to 10 colleges at a time. Before you submit the form, add the FAFSA school codes for the colleges you’re considering or have already applied to.

4. Gather all necessary documents before you begin. Before you start filling out the FAFSA form, collect all the documents you’ll need to enter information from. Those documents include your parents’ W2s, your parents’ most recent tax return, records of any untaxed income, mortgage information and current bank statements. Also have social security numbers available, and family and student asset information.

5. There’s an online tool to help import tax information. FAFSA has what’s called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This tool automatically transfers data from IRS tax returns to the FAFSA form. If you’re eligible to use this tool, it can help speed up the FAFSA filing process.

6. Errors may delay processing. Before you submit the FAFSA, double check the form to ensure it doesn’t have any errors in it—from a simply typo in a name to transposed numbers on social security numbers. And make sure if you used the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that any information imported matches what’s on your parents’ copy of their tax returns. Any errors could delay processing, and delay the time when you get to learn the amount of your financial aid awards.

For more information, visit the FAFSA website.

Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

Subscribe to our blog via RSS or email and stay on top of everything college!

2015-16 FAFSA Now Available Online

Thursday, January 8th, 2015
Financial Aid

FAFSA Now Available

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available online for 2015-16. High school seniors and their parents should fill out and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible to be considered for financial aid and college scholarships.

Why is it important to file early? Many colleges award financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis. Keep these additional tips in mind as you fill out your FAFSA.

1. Check for errors before submitting. Before you file your FAFSA, check to make sure all the information is correct. Make sure names are spelled correctly and social security numbers are accurate. Confirm that all required fields are filled in appropriately. Errors may delay processing of aid or result in incorrect amounts of aid.

2. Enter college codes before you file. You can send your FAFSA data to up to 10 colleges at a time. Before you submit the form, add the FAFSA school codes for the colleges you’re considering or have already applied to.

3. Get help if you have questions. Contact the financial aid office at the colleges you’re considering if you have questions about filling out the FAFSA. They should be able to answer your questions, or point you to the right resource. Also check out the FAFSA website’s Help section to find answers to frequently asked questions.

4. Submit it by your college’s deadline. Most colleges have FAFSA filing deadlines or priority filing dates. Getting your FAFSA form in as early as possible will help ensure you’ll get the most financial aid possible.

Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

Subscribe to our blog via RSS or email and stay on top of everything college!

5 Resources to Help You Understand College Student Loans

Thursday, August 7th, 2014
College Loans

College Student Loan Resources

Do terms like subsidized, unsubsidized, FAFSA, EFC, annual percentage rate, capitalization, consolidation and forbearance make your head spin? Well, you’re not alone.

As you prepare for college, it’s a good idea to become acquainted with these important student loan terms and resources for student loans. To help you understand more about college student loans (what they are, how to get them, how you pay them back and more), we’ve rounded up a list of five excellent resources for you to check out.


The FederalStudentAid website is a good place to start to learn about your student loan options. It explains the types of federal student loans available (direct subsidized, direct unsubsidized, Perkins Loans, PLUS Loans), how much money you can borrow and how to get a federal student loan. It also has a glossary of terms and tips on avoiding financial aid scams. is the federal government’s student loan website. This is the place you’ll go when you want to get your federal student aid personal identification number (PIN) and get info on filing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s also where you’ll go to manage your loan after you get a federal student loan. (Also check out site for more details.)

The Project on Student Debt

The Project on Student Debt is an initiative from the Institute for College Access and Success, an organization that works to increase public understanding of the implications of student debt on families, the economy and society. Under the site’s Resources tab, you can access information on special topics such as net price calculators, private student loans and Pell Grants. It also has a glossary of financial aid terms and advice for you about borrowing money for college, including questions to ask before taking out a private student loan.

Although may be best known for its college scholarship listings, it also has information about student loans as well as helpful tools and resources, including a college budgeting calculator, info on the FAFSA and info on private student loans. Check out its Quick Guide to Financial Aid Terms (PDF) and its financial aid videos on maximizing financial aid. walks you through all the types of student and parent loans available, private educational loans, student loan consolidation and more. It also provides a glossary of financial aid terms. Plus, check out the Loan Payment Calculator to estimate your monthly payments once you graduate from school.

Image credit: Stuart Miles/

Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

Subscribe to our blog via RSS or email and stay on top of everything college!

5 Tips for Keeping Track of Your College Student Loans

Thursday, May 8th, 2014
College Loans

College Student Loans

According to recent news reports, a mix-up related to college student loans at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee may end up costing hundreds of former students big bucks. Some graduates had thought they had paid off their loans, only to get a notice telling them one loan had been overlooked for several years, racking up thousands of dollars in extra interest.

How can you make sure you’re not paying more on your student loans than necessary? Use these tips to ensure you understand what you owe and when you owe it.

1. Get acquainted with financial aid terminology.

Grace period. Interest rate. Principal. Subsidized vs. unsubsidized. Consolidation. Origination fee. Promissory note. There are a lot of financial aid terms that may sound Greek to you when you begin the process of looking for and taking out student loans. Become familiar with the terminology so you can make educated decisions about the best types of loans to take out for your financial situation.

2. Know what loans you’re taking out.

The Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the Institute for College Access & Success that seeks to increase public understanding of the impact student loans and debt have on families and society, recommends you keep track of the lender, balance and repayment terms for each of your student loans.

Before you take out a loan, talk with your university financial aid counselor to make sure you understand all the terms. Once you graduate, double check that any billing statements or other paperwork you receive do not omit any of the loans. If they do, call the school and/or the lender to confirm no loan is being overlooked.

3. Learn when interest begins accruing.

The time period when interest begins accruing on student loans is critical in determining how much interest you’ll need to pay over the life of the loan. For example, a federal direct subsidized loan does not charge you interest while you are in school at least half-time—the U.S. Department of Education actually pays that interest for you. A federal direct unsubsidized loan starts charging interest from the date the loan is taken out until it is paid in full. Learn more about the difference between federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans.

4. Keep your contact info current.

Tell your lender immediately if you move, change your phone number or change your e-mail address. The Project on Student Debt also recommends reading every piece of mail you receive about your student loans and don’t ignore bills or phone calls. If there is an issue, it’s best to resolve it right away before you default on a loan, which can have long-term consequences.

5. Communicate with your college’s financial aid office.

If you have to take out a private student loan, talk to your school’s financial aid office first. Ask them to recommend reputable lenders and ask them if there’s any other way to fix the gap between what you can afford to pay and how much tuition costs. Some colleges may work with you to discount your tuition if the gap isn’t too large, or they may help you find college scholarships or grants to cover the gap.

If you still need to take out a private loan, shop around for the best interest rates and terms. “Your education is an investment: borrow smart and only borrow what is necessary to cover your educational expenses,” advises Michelle Hemmer, assistant director of financial aid at William Peace University (NC).

Learn more about finding money to pay for college.

Image credit: Courtesy of ddpavumba/

Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

Subscribe to our blog via RSS or email and stay on top of everything college!

4 Things to Know About This Year’s FAFSA and Financial Aid

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

FAFSA and Financial Aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available online for 2014-15. Most colleges encourage high school seniors and their parents to fill out and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible, since financial aid awards may be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Several changes have recently been made to federal financial aid forms and processes. We talked with university financial aid professionals and here’s what they’ve noticed about changes in this year’s FAFSA and trends in financial aid.

1. Submitting the FAFSA early is important. You can file the FAFSA anytime on or after January 1. Check with your intended college to find out its deadlines and to learn your state’s FAFSA deadlines. “Many states and schools have made their [FAFSA] deadlines earlier as funding for financial aid programs has decreased. This makes it important to file the FAFSA early,” says Nick Mulvey, dean of admissions at Carthage College (WI).

When filling out the FAFSA, you’ll need income and tax information available (including tax returns, W2 forms, social security numbers, family and student asset information).

“We recommend that if a family is able to file their taxes early electronically, that they file their FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool,” says Vicki Hendrickson, director of student financial services at The University of Tulsa.

It takes about three weeks after filing taxes electronically before you can use the IRS Data Retrieval. “It simplifies filing the FAFSA and reduces the family’s chances of being selected for verification,” Hendrickson adds.

2. FAFSA parent information has changed. According to Patrick Bonones, director of financial aid at Agnes Scott College (GA), a new change in completing the FAFSA for 2014-15 is the definition of parent. “Students should read the instructions carefully when determining the parent(s) whose information is to be used on the FAFSA,” Bonones recommends.

For the first time this year, families will be required to provide income information for both parents regardless of marital status if the parents live in the same household, says Mulvey of Carthage College. “The 2014-15 FAFSA will provide a new option for students to list their parents’ marital status as ‘unmarried and both parents living together.’ This year’s FAFSA also will use terms like ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’ instead of gender-specific terms like ‘mother’ and ‘father,” Mulvey adds.

3. Congress made new rules for setting student loan interest rates. Federal student loan interest rates are now tied to the financial markets. “They are ‘fixed-variable’ rate loans, where the interest rate for each year’s loan will be established each year in June,” says Mulvey. “While the rate is fixed for that particular loan, next year’s loan could potentially have a different rate, which would also be fixed for the life of that loan.”

Find information on current federal student loan interest rates on the Federal Student Aid website.

4. More focus on loan borrowers’ accountability. Scott Thum, director of financial aid at Indiana Tech, says a big trend he’s seeing in financial aid is accountability. “In the last few years, there has been an increased focus on a student’s Satisfactory Academic Progress, a decreased timeframe to receive Pell [grants] … and monitoring of successful completion of credit hours.”

Thum says these safety checks are in place to ensure that legitimate students can receive aid and students who struggle academically have an appeal process to keep their aid.

For details on available federal financial aid, check the Federal Student Aid website and the FAFSA website. Additionally, check with your school to see what type of college scholarships are available to help you pay for college.

Image credit: Courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

Subscribe to our blog via RSS or email and stay on top of everything college!

Budget 101: How To Keep Your Finances in Order in College

Thursday, August 8th, 2013
College Budget

College Budget

As if moving away from home and entering college for the first time isn’t hard enough, now you need to worry about how to handle any money that comes your way!

Stay calm and know that you aren’t the only student trying to get their finances figured out. With a little planning ahead of time you will be on your way to financial success.

How To Keep Your College Finances in Order

Create a Budget — This is the very first step you should take when you are preparing to move out and move into college. It’s how you will control your money–and your spending! Learning to manage your finances from the beginning should set you up for a lifetime of budgeting success! Look online or visit your local library for information on how to create a budget for a college student.

Show Me the Money — Do you understand how your bills are going to be paid? Who is taking care of your college textbooks? Tuition? What about fees for extracurricular activities or Greek life? Ask your parents now how they plan to handle your time away to lessen any surprises.

Credit Cards — Many college students fall into the credit card trap but very few have the self control to really limit their spending! The bottom line is this: if you can’t afford something now, the very last thing you should do is open a credit card! Instead, consider taking on a part time job or talk to your parents about your financial pinch. You don’t want to tack on credit card debt on top of any future school loans.

Make Do — It can be tempting to go out and blow money on new clothes, dinners out, and all the fun things there are to see and do in a new place. Instead, try to make do with less. Stick around on campus as often as possible. Many clubs have pizza nights or other evenings where they provide dinners so you don’t need to feel tied to the college cafeteria. Get involved in things on campus, find clubs and activities that you care about and fill up your free time (when you aren’t studying, of course) with projects that are meaningful to you.

After School Job — While it may not be possible for every student, if you can spare a little extra time and really need some extra cash, you can look for an on-campus job! By sticking around on campus, you avoid any extra commute, as well as wear and tear on your car and the gas that goes in it. Just don’t work so much it interferes with your grades and college classes, since that is the reason you are in college in the first place! If you redo your budget and don’t see any way to come out on top, then an after school job may be in order. Check with your school about how to find a job at college.

It’s not easy but if you can resist the urge to spend beyond your means, and avoid a call home for money, it will not only make a big impression on your parents but help set you up for a future of handling money the right  way!

Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

Subscribe to our blog via RSS or email and stay on top of everything college!

Creative Ways to Pay for College

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

The cost of college tuition is rising at a rate that is alarming to most experts.  The end result of this process is that millions of students have been saddled with far larger student debt and student loans than past generations of college goers.  Many older people don’t readily realize this fact.  However you, as a younger person in college or headed there soon, need to face that at least for you and your generation, there is a different economic reality where paying for college is concerned.  The purpose of this article is to get you thinking about how you can keep the high cost of college under control and at the same time give you some pointers to help get the ball rolling.

Consider Community College

Community college has a great deal to offer students.  Community colleges stand as one of the few remaining excellent deals in education.  If you want to save a great deal of money on your college education, start at a community college, pull excellent grades, take the classes very seriously, get great letters of recommendation and then transfer to a four-year institution to finish off your degree.

Research All of Your State Schools Very Thoroughly

You might be able to save a bundle just by opting for a state school; however, you might even be able to save a whole lot more by selecting the right school.  This may mean attending a school that wasn’t your first choice, but that isn’t exactly the end of the world if you are saving a “king’s ransom!”  The difference between one state school and another in your state could make a difference over the course of your degree.

Skip Student Housing

If you are willing to “rough it” a bit, you may very well be able to save a considerable amount of money every month by forgoing student housing and campus life and living off campus.  In fact, you might need to live way, way off campus and commute if possible.  Finding cheap rent and sharing that apartment or house with roommates is something that students all around the world do everyday, and you might need to do it as well.  Those willing to live in the “middle of nowhere” will be rewarded with cheap rent.

Hi Mom, Hi Dad

Then there is the “Mom and Dad Option.”  While you may be ready to leave the nest, your future bank account might really appreciate it if you were to stay at home just a little bit longer.  If your situation is such that you can live at home and go to college, then this could be another way that you save a bundle.

The Little Things Add Up

“Small” purchases, such as books, are not really that small after all.  When you factor out how much books can cost over the course of a 4 year degree, the fact is books cost you dearly.  Instead of buying your books at your campus bookstore, look for other, less pricy options such as buying online, finding used books or going the ebook option when possible.

Just How Much Money Should You Spend on College Anyway?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

College is expensive, and it’s getting far more expensive every year.  This situation is leaving many young people with the daunting task of trying to determine just how much debt they should take on at a very young age.  Is this unfair?  You bet it is unfair, but it’s also the reality of the situation that most of you may find yourself in.  Until the day comes that a college education is free (don’t hold your breath), students will have to wrestle with not only how much to pay for a college or university degree, but also whether or not it is worth it.

Debt Versus Brand Name

Big name colleges and university degrees do not come cheaply.  This issue has left many students asking if they should pay the “big bucks” for that brand name degree instead of selecting a less expensive option.  There is a real and legitimate argument to be made that when it comes to many majors, it just doesn’t make sense to pay what it costs to go to a big name university or college.

There are intangibles, of course.  For example, you have to consider the connections you might make at a certain school and being able to impress others with a school’s name recognition.  But if you are planning on being a teacher, do you really need to spend an extra $30,000 or $50,000 or more for your degree?  In general, the type of degree that you are planning on receiving should be taken into consideration before you opt for a mountain of debt!

Weigh Your Options Carefully

Just because you were accepted to a big name college or university, doesn’t mean that you have to attend that educational institution.  Many students say, “Well I got in, so that is where I will go…” Your thought process should be more comprehensive, as you should weigh the options carefully.  Selecting a less expensive university or college could open up different opportunities.  For example, you could opt for graduate school, or get a professional degree such as a law degree or an MBA with the money you save. Some schools even offer scholarships to attract higher-level students, while others turn those students away.

Consider Your Degree When Deciding How Much to Spend

If you are planning on earning a degree that ensures great pay down the road, then you might not need to worry too much about the debt that you accumulate in college.  However, you should keep some issues in mind.  Many people earn degrees in certain fields, only to discover that they hate the profession that goes along with the degree.  This means that they often switch to careers that pay less, often far, far less.  At this point, the high paying career they believed they would have doesn’t materialize.

Determining how much to spend on college isn’t necessarily easy to figure out.  If you know exactly what it is that you want to do for a career, then this decision may be easier for you than it is for others.  Taking your time and thinking about how your college debt may impact your future is a savvy move and one you are quite unlikely to regret.

Get a Head Start on Your FAFSA: Things You Can Do Now

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011
Get a head start on your FAFSA

Ready to get a head start on your FAFSA? Here's what you need to know. Photo Credit: frozen jek

If you’re hoping to get financial aid when you head off to college next year, you probably already know you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But do you know what you’ll need to get started?

You’ll need quite a few financial documents. So even though you can’t officially complete the FAFSA until January 1, 2012, it pays to start planning now. When it comes to financial aid, the more organized you are, the better off you’ll be.

So what information will you need to start your FAFSA?

As the student, you’ll need:

    1. Your social security card
    2. Your driver’s license number
    3. Your 2011 W2 forms
    4. Any other financial records that apply (investment accounts in your name, etc.)
    5. Your 2011 tax return (it’s easier to finish it before you apply. Otherwise, you’ll have to estimate your income and then return to complete the form after your return is completed)

If you are a dependent student (i.e. your parents will be claiming you on their tax return), you’ll also need their financial information. Documents you’ll need include:

  1. Your parents’ 2011 W2s
  2. Your parents’ 2011 tax return
  3. Records of untaxed income in 2011 (IRA deductions, child support, etc.)
  4. Mortgage information (both for your home and any businesses or rental properties your parents own)
  5. Current bank statements

Is there any way to get an estimate of how much financial aid you can expect before January 1, 2012?

Short answer? Yes. You can use FAFSA4Caster to get an estimate of how much financial aid you might be able to expect from the federal government.

Obviously, since you won’t have the most recent financial information available to you yet (since 2011 W2s won’t be available until January), the numbers you get will not be set in stone. But they should give you a good place to start, in terms of deciding how much other financial aid you need to seek out.

When should you complete the FAFSA for real?

Well, the deadline isn’t until June 30,2012. But generally speaking, the earlier you apply, the better. After all, the early bird gets the worm, as the saying goes…

By taking these steps, you’ll be well on your way to financial aid success when official FAFSA-filing season begins. For more helpful information about filling out the FAFSA and getting through the college admissions process with your sanity intact, subscribe to our blog today!

How To Find the Right Type of Scholarship: Understanding the Lingo.

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011
Dictionary of college scholarship terms

You don't need a dictionary to understand college scholarships. Just this handy blog post! Photo credit: GadgetGirl

Last week, we had you do a little homework to determine what kind of scholarships could be right for you. This week? We’re going to define the most common types of scholarships for you so you know how to tell when you’ve found the right one!

Merit-based scholarships

These are the most common types of scholarships. They are awarded to students who can demonstrate high levels of achievement in a certain area. Often, that simply means they go to people with a really great GPA or rock star test scores. But merit scholarships can also be awarded on the basis of athletic ability, extracurricular involvement or even volunteerism.

Need-based scholarships

As you might expect, these scholarships go to students who really need them, financially speaking. The majority of need-based scholarships come from the federal government and are awarded based on information you’ll supply in your FAFSA. However, there are also tons of organizations with need-based scholarship programs. It’s just a matter of finding them.

Student-specific scholarships

These are the scholarships you can get just for being you! Student-specific scholarships are given out to people who satisfy the specific requirements of the organization giving out the scholarship. So, a scholarship awarded because of your ethnic background would be considered a student-specific scholarship. So would a scholarship you get because of where you live or what you’re interested in.

Career-specific scholarships

Have you known what you want to do for a living since you were 10? Do you know what you want to major in, where you want to intern and what company you want to work for? If so, our hats are off to you—you’re quite the planner! Career-specific scholarships are made for people like you—or at least for students who know what they want to major in. They’re awarded by industry-specific and career-oriented organizations looking to help the next generation of professionals succeed!

College-specific scholarships

Once you know where you want to go to college (and get accepted), you could be eligible for a scholarship awarded by that college. These types of scholarships are sometimes given to help students who have a financial need, but can also be awarded  on the basis of personal or academic achievement.

And now you know what the five major types of scholarships are! Although there are many kinds of specific scholarships available, for the most part they fit into one of these buckets. Hopefully, this knowledge will help you as you begin (or continue) your scholarship search.

We’ll be bringing you information about how to find scholarships all year long, so subscribe to our blog today and make sure you don’t miss a thing!