How liable are parents of college bound students for tuition costs? It depends on the answers to some specific FAFSA questions. According to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the parents of new undergraduates are accountable for college costs considering household income and assets. However, according to some parents opinion, the costs are supposed to be carried by the student entirely. There are cases of well-to-do families that offer little to no financial support for college, instead encouraging the student to figure it out themselves. This is a blessing in the disguise of hard work for some students, but for others it could be a misguided disaster.
In the world of financial aid, most students coming out of high school and living with their parents are considered a dependent and any student that is 24 years of age or older is independent. If a student is a dependent they must include their parent income as part of household income on the FAFSA. An independent student no longer includes parent income, but would include the income of their spouse if married.
There are other qualifying questions on the FAFSA that can determine if a student can be classified independent, leading some inquisitive students to try and figure out ways to qualify for increased financial aid as a result of their answers. They realize that financial aid could be greatly increased if parent income were removed, but are unhappy when they realize that they will not qualify unless they meet the requirements. I had a lot of experience in dealing with this issue while working at a financial aid office.
“But my parents don’t help me with school!” is what I would hear from some students when I would explain financial aid methodology and why family income had to be counted. They had a point really. How fair is it to count the income of parents for financial aid eligibility if the parents do not offer any support?
While my sympathies were with the student, the policies of the Federal Department of Education offer no wiggle room. A student will have to answer Yes to one of the following questions in order to be considered an independent student.
- 1. Are you at least 24 years old?
- 2. As of today, are you married?
- 3. At the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate, etc.)?
- 4. Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
- 5. Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
- 6. Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014?
- 7. Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2014?
- 8. At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
- 9. Are you, or were you an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
- 10. Are you, or were you in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
- 11. At any time on or after July 1, 2012, were you homeless or were you at risk of being homeless.
Furthermore, if you do answer yes to any of these questions you will probably have to document the circumstances. For example, if declared an emancipated minor there will be court documentation confirming this. It will need to be submitted to your financial aid office if you are selected for verification review.
Generally, students that are young and declared independent qualify for more financial aid because parent income is no longer counted. There are a number of students that have persevered through harsh circumstances leading to federal aid entitlements. The federal aid program was designed to create college accessibility for exactly these students, whose parents were perhaps incarcerated or otherwise separated from their children by court order. This is a far cry from the circumstances of students who have had a stable and safe home life, but are suddenly thrust into a college choice conundrum.
Students: You should be aware of your circumstances and what options are available. If including parent income as part of your FAFSA puts you out of eligibility for financial aid, this is the reality you will have to deal with. As always, be prepared to decide on what school you will attend, accounting for what the costs are and what the benefits are. Consider other funding options, like getting a job and working your way through school with some elbow grease. It could teach you an even bigger and better lesson about life.
Parents: In my experience, the wisest path is through the middle ground between two extremes. On one side, parents who do everything and pay for everything “college”, leaving the student only responsible for showing up. On the other side, parents that are neglectful and careless, assuming that telling the kid to figure it out themselves is the best option. Neither extreme is the best way to handle such circumstances. Parents should recognize that a student must assume as much responsibility as possible over college selection and funding process within reason. Parents should play a supportive role to assist the student in this process, stepping in much like a life guard when trouble arises. The effort towards independence is valuable for a young person to harness lest it be wasted by parents that are no-shows or helicopters.
As Lynn O’Shaughnessy from “The College Solution” puts it, “If you’re a parent contemplating making your child pay for college on his or her own, please give it more thought.”
The skill of debt management has grown into a necessity for anyone completing college using student loans. Are student’s getting the help they need to deal with debt?
With about 2/3rds of all students finishing college with some kind of debt and
$25,000 $26,600 in student loans an average amount outstanding, it has become a common topic on personal finance websites, news media outlets, and blogs written by graduated students trying to pay it all back.
While student loans have assisted millions of students in gaining college access, after graduation those loans begrudgingly become another monthly payment due amongst other bills. For many, student loans have become a necessity equivalent to car insurance. Sure, no one wants to actually pay for car insurance, but it’s a necessity to owning a car just like no one wants to take a student loan, but many people want to attend college. The difference? Planning! College takes 4+ years to graduate before transitioning to the workforce while with car insurance no one “plans” for a car accident.
What can financial aid administrators, teachers, concerned parents and campus leaders do to raise awareness about this topic with students before they incur overburdening debt?
Facing the fact: College is a wholly unique experience from any other product or service because of the extended time involved and the unique nature of the ending result; a learned individual. With the time and options involved in higher education, the greatest challenge students face is reaping the benefits of the experience. It takes a combination of planning, patience, vision and reflection to make it work. Now more than ever this includes financial planning.
When we acknowledge the uniqueness of the situation, specific solutions can begin to be revealed. Fundamental debt repayment strategies are simple, reviewing the borrower loan statement is not complex, but these things take effort and students need a guide to get them started. Let’s take a look at what can be done on campus to help students learn about this subject.
The financial aid administrator has the power!: As financial aid has become more common, the role of the financial aid administrator has expanded. In order to deal with the ever increasing cost of college, schools have delivered funding options in the forms of grants, scholarships and of course student loans to help enable college attendance. The financial aid office has taken the lead in this role, and closely works with admissions each year to help students start at the college.
But after the student begins attending, how often is the subject of student loan debt readdressed? During the years between required entrance and exit counseling it’s a subject hardly considered, but all the while interest is accumulating on the loans outstanding.
Now student loans have become a hot topic, and students are learning more about it from any source they find, be it from the internet, Twitter, Face Book, Google image search or their friends. How can we know if the second hand knowledge gained about debt management is helpful and factually correct? As authorities on student funding, financial aid administrators should be concerned about the quality of information made available.
How can school leaders engage this topic with students?
Encourage repayment while in school: Start at the point of contact. When students ask about loan options, let them know about the benefits of beginning loan repayment while in school. Making payments on a student loan while still attending is truly an anti-debt weapon of choice. Nothing beats debt like making payments now, but it’s not so easy with many more fun ways to spend money while in college. Students must use critical thinking to consider the concept of delayed gratification to achieve debt elimination, an uncommon but valuable trait worth developing while in college. This healthy financial habit sets a strong precedence for the student’s future as they now associate incurred debts with immediate repayment instead of allowing it to grow uncontrolled.
Get active with student loan seminars: Get out in front of the subject and start talking to students directly about it. It’s a topic already on the minds of students everywhere, so this is an opportunity to reach out and make an impact on fresh minds. Ignoring it altogether leads to ignorance and a lack of focus on the importance of the issue. If student’s are being told to use student loans to attend college so they can learn, they should have the opportunity to learn about how to practically manage their debts. Extend seminars about financial aid and loans to high schools by coordinating with guidance counselors to connect to high school students before they start college.
Feature seminars in prominent areas: Take a look at your campus and figure out where the high traffic zones are and at what time they get busy. Areas like the student union building, cafeterias, and buildings with lots of classrooms in centralized locations are the way to go. Setting up the seminar in a hidden room, at a far walking distance at 9AM on a Friday means that zero students will show up. Prime time would probably be between 12 and 2pm on Monday or Tuesday, when the campus is flush with students.
“Your degree should help build a career that can enable loan repayment”: It’s the new and necessary mantra on campus. Students are easily distracted by the internet, smart phones, their friends, their families, boyfriends/girlfriends, spring break, video games, parties, concerts, and oh yeah…going to class. Getting caught up with the lifestyle associated with attending college becomes a predominant interest, as mentioned in an earlier article. Without a focus on why they are in school, students graduate without the tools to actually handle the debts they incurred. The message is clear; it’s all about debt suitability. Students need to connect debt to their outcomes, and need to consider what real income and employment prospects exist. For example, consider the student pursuing a career in social services that will complete a Master’s degree and will have about $72,000 in outstanding federal student loans. They should be aware of the federal income based repayment plan (IBR) combined with public service loan forgiveness where employment at a non-profit for 10 years can lead to the remaining Stafford loans being discharged. Is this what the student wants and does it fit with their life goals? Do they realize what kind of salary potential they have versus the debts incurred? They need to be thinking and talking about these things during the years before graduation, as matching up student loan debt to career opportunities is the new rule for student borrowers.
Talk about student loan refund management: Using refund money from student loans to pay for expenses is commonplace. The problem for students is when they go hog wild with the money, spending it on unnecessary items, luxuries or otherwise wasteful means. These students are even more likely to be shocked when their final loan balance is revealed. Take time to express the importance of proper refund check usage so students are spending their money wisely.
Don’t assume the students understand debt: Debt is now a pressing topic, but students will not learn what they are not taught until they are forced to learn it on their own. With debt so commonplace in and out of college, having even a basic grasp of the subject is important. If schools are admitting all types of students for all types of different majors, but rely on complex financial instruments like loans to pay their bill, they deserve a lesson on how to manage the debt appropriately. It should not be just finance and economics majors that “get it“.
Get athletes, club leaders, and social butterflies involved: To get something popular on campus, it needs to be popular with campus leaders. Gain influence by approaching these leaders about the topic and the far reaching impact it has. It will not take long for them to recognize the importance of the issue when many of them have student loans themselves. By building the relationship with campus leaders, the message will reach more students.
Combine instant gratification with worth while knowledge: Debt repayment used to be a dull topic. However, it’s become increasingly interesting as a result of necessity. Students need to know about how to manage debt because so many have it. As an added motivator, it is fun to offer a quiz for a chance at a prize. Pens, stress balls, T-shirts and flash drives can be awarded based on test scores, and are surprisingly effective at motivating students to excel on the test. If knick-knacks, and do-dads are not in the budget, find a creative way to recognize a student for doing something right. This is where good student counseling skills become so important.
Make sure students know about consolidation: While still in school, remind students about consolidation for federal and private loans. Consolidation is a great way to simplify repayment and predictably manage debt elimination. Furthermore, with interest rates low, it can be a huge money saver.
In college, students are confronted with a lot of new information. Trying to make sense of it all can be very challenging.
With today’s high costs of college, there is a very important area of information that students cannot afford to be ignorant about.
It’s financial aid terminology.
Are you a student wondering why you did not qualify for a specific grant? Ever wonder why the cost of tuition and the cost of attendance are two different things? Read on and impress your financial aid administrator by being conversationally competent with these key terms.
1. COA: In financial aid, you will run across a lot of acronyms. One of them is COA or the Cost of Attendance. This term is used to describe the maximum cost associated with attending a particular institution. This accounts for more than just the costs listed on a billing statement. It actually includes tuition, room, board, transportation, books and miscellaneous expenses. The total COA always exceeds the actual costs listed on a billing statement, and it represents the maximum amount of financial aid a student may be awarded during an academic year. Example: Tuition, room, board and fees at XYZ University is $35,000 per year. When including the additional costs of transportation, books and miscellaneous expenses the total COA is $39,000. This gap between the actual cost on the billing statement and the proscribed COA allows for students to apply for enough financial aid and student loans to receive a refund check. In this case $39,000 – $35,000 = $4,000. If the student’s total financial aid and loans add to $39,000, the student will receive $4,000 in refund checks from the school. I have a complete article about the cost of attendance here.
2. EFC: The Expected Family Contribution or EFC is the number given to students after they complete the Free application for federal student aid (FAFSA). It is used to gauge the students ability to pay for college costs out of pocket. The number takes into account family income and assets during calculation. Families with high income and assets have a higher EFC while families with lower income and assets have a lower EFC. The EFC is used in conjunction with need based grant programs like Pell to determine exact eligibility. It is important to know that the EFC is an amount of money the government believes you have available to put towards college expenses, but this does not necessarily mean that the cash is readily available to you sitting in a savings account. EFC is essentially a scale established to figure out how much financial aid can be awarded to a student with low EFCs qualifying for the most financial aid and high EFC’s qualifying for the least.
3. Financial need: Financial need is a number determined by the following; COA – EFC – any outside aid awarded = financial need. For example; student attends ABC college with a COA of $41,000. Student has an EFC of $16,500 and was awarded a $2,000 community service grant. $41,000 – $16,500 – $2,000 = a financial need of $22,500. Financial need is important because schools use it to determine eligibility for school originated need based grants. Schools recognize that many students may have an EFC too large to be eligible for federal or state based education grants, so they use financial need to determine eligibility for grant money from the school itself. It’s further reason why everyone should file the FAFSA even if they do not think they will qualify for aid. In fact, a student will have a different financial need for each school due to the varying costs of attendance. If a school has a very high cost of attendance, then the financial need for a student would be much greater than school carrying a lower cost of attendance. Financial need is also used to determine eligibility for subsidized Stafford loans and the Perkins loan. A student may have a high EFC but still qualify for these subsidized loans because the cost of attendance for their school is high.
4. Verification: If you have been selected for this procedure, you may be very well familiar with it. Verification is when the school requests copies of family tax and asset information to confirm that it is the same as what was put on the FAFSA. If there are discrepancies, the school adjusts the FAFSA info to reflect exactly what the taxes say. If you completed the FAFSA correctly, this should not be a problem. However, if there are radical differences, a student could lose financial aid eligibility.
5. SAP: SAP is satisfactory academic progress. At least once during every academic year, usually after the end of the spring semester, the school’s financial aid office checks over the grades of students to confirm the GPA and total credits completed. A student must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA to stay eligible for virtually all financial aid and must complete a certain number of credits on-time to maintain pace towards a timely graduation. If the student falls behind, they are deemed “Not making Satisfactory Academic Progress” and are no longer eligible for financial aid. Students are allowed to appeal this through a written/typed letter explaining what academic challenges they had and a plan of action for improvement in the next semester. If approved, the student is deemed eligible to receive financial aid again, but if they continue to fall behind the required standard the financial aid will again be revoked, leaving the student to pay for college out of pocket. If deemed not SAP and an appeal is not approved, students generally drop out of their college because they have no way of paying for it. Student loan providers generally do not provide loans where the student is not SAP as well.
There are a lot of terms that need explaining in financial aid. If you run across something you do not understand, email me at Ken@LendKey.com and I will get an answer for you!
As reported in the Los Angeles Times, 529 plan contributions saw a 75% increase in the past two years, although contributions are still below the 2006 level.
From the article, “U.S. families poured a net $9 billion into 529 plans last year, up from $5.1 billion in 2008, and the pace accelerated in the first quarter of this year, according to Financial Research Corp. in Boston. The annual peak was $13.9 billion in 2006.”
The increase is reflective of two major considerations. First, the apparent recovery and stability of markets have brought back many investors who waited out the past few years. Second, the cost of college just continues to increase striking worry into families with younger children.
Parents with younger children are taking note of students entering college now. They realize that college is a major financial commitment and want to help as best they can. Saving in a 529 plan is most effective when started early because it gives savings time to grow.
The problem that faced many students attempting to start school 2008-2009 was that any 529 money saved may have been reduced due to market performance. This is another reminder to periodically review your portfolio. As a student matures, any money saved in a 529 plan should shift assets away from volatile stock based investments and moved to fixed income. This way any money saved can be more predictably managed by the academic year.
If you have a student starting school now and have not been able to save much in a 529 plan, the next logical choice is student loans. Of course financial aid and scholarships should be tapped before applying for any additional student loans, however not all families qualify for these funding sources.
As mentioned in an earlier article, parents may be tempted to withdraw from retirement savings to help pay for college costs. With stiff penalties in addition to taxes due, parents should NOT pull money for retirement to pay for student tuition. You can borrow for college, but you cannot borrow for retirement.
Thinking about taking classes this summer? If so, they should be getting started very soon, so you need to get it together, get registered and figure out a way to pay for it.
Why summer classes? They are a great way to get ahead and ensure you graduate on time. An undergraduate degree usually requires 128 credits or an average of 16 credits in 8 semesters to complete. That means any semester where you register for 12 or 15 credits still puts you slightly behind schedule. You will need to get an extra class or two in there to finish on time. Additionally, try getting these extra summer classes completed between freshman and sophomore years, and sophomore and junior years. This leaves your junior year summer open for important internship opportunities.
Finding the right class: Summer classes can be tricky. That’s because they follow a much different schedule than regular semester classes. Usually summer classes extend for five weeks and meet twice a week for about 4 hours. They squeeze a ton of instruction into a very short period of time. Needless to say, you need to be motivated to handle this blast of education. Consider your options by making sure you are taking a class you really need to get out of the way. For example, you may not be a science major, but you really need to finish a science class to stay on track for graduation. By taking the class within 5 weeks of the summer you can just get it out of the way, and use the regular semester to study the things that interest you.
Paying for it: Eligibility for financial aid for summer classes varies from student to student. For example, federal Stafford loan eligibility is used by most students to pay for the Fall and Spring semesters, leaving no funding available for the summer. Also, the summer of 2011 will be the last year of eligibility for extended Summer Pell grants. Over the past two years the Pell grant program was extended to offer students more funding options to take additional summer classes. However, because of budget constraints, this additional Pell funding is being cut. If you received Pell grant funding during the Fall and Spring, talk to your financial aid office to see if Pell can be extended into your summer session. This will be the last time you can get extra Pell funding for a very long time.
You may also need to apply for a private student loan to cover the remaining bill for summer. Just make sure that you meet registration eligibility requirements to retain the loan. If your private loan requires at least half time registration for a disbursal, that typically means you must be registered for 6 credits during the academic period in question. Make sure you confirm with your financial aid office and your lender that you meet the requirements to get a private loan for the summer.
When Summer classes do not make sense: If you receive a high amount of grants, scholarships and other financial aid during the Fall and Spring semester, but would need to take out additional loans to complete a summer class, you may want to reconsider your plans. Taking out more debt than is necessary should be avoided. Instead, try and complete 18 credits during the Fall and Spring semesters putting you on track for timely graduation. If you receive a lot of financial aid during the fall and spring, your out of pocket costs per credit would probably be much lower than the out of pocket cost per credit in the summer. It might be a more stressful schedule during the Fall and Spring, but if you are heavily subsidized by financial aid it makes more financial sense to take 18 credits.
Living in an apartment off school campus can be a lot of fun during college years. Having your own space can provide for some awesome experiences and is one of the coolest lifestyles to live while in college. However there are some important things that have to be considered when deciding on living arrangements while in college. Here is a quick list of things to think about when preparing to live in an apartment while attending college.
1. Location Location, Location: Where your apartment is located is key to its usefulness during college years. It would be great if your apartment were within walking distance of the campus but locations like this tend to be very expensive. Depending on how far away the apartment is, you may need a car to commute. You need to find the apartment location that is going to make sense for you.
2. Responsibilities: Managing your own apartment can be some extra work. Just keeping it clean will be a big chore. Because the apartment will probably have more room than a dorm, there is more space for clutter to pile up. Keep a schedule of chores for specific days to stay on top of it. Dishes, vacuuming, bathroom, and trash removal are all things that need to be dealt with regularly.
3. Party time: A big reason why students want an off campus apartment is because they don’t have to deal with campus security or resident assistants breaking up dorm parties. Having access to a place like this will make you more popular with many people on campus, but you need to be smart. Keep parties a bit more exclusive and avoid opening them up to everyone as too many guests can be troublesome. You need to be mindful of your neighbors and the local police as well. Avoid eviction by preventing apartment parties from going out of control.
4. Staying safe: Being off campus means living in a different neighborhood. You may not be around a bunch of college friends all the time. Use common sense about your living area. Is it safe at night? Should you avoid certain areas because of crime? Be mindful of your surroundings. Remember to keep your doors and windows locked and secured to avoid becoming a robbery victim.
5. Keeping on budget: Rent can be very costly. This can make living in an off campus apartment very expensive. Having a room mate to split costs with is very important. After rent the next biggest bill should be food. You will have an option to join the school’s meal plan but they can be expensive. With an off campus apartment, it would be cheaper to buy your own food and cook it yourself, saving a ton. Don’t bother with Cable TV either, but you will need a high speed internet connection unless you plan to do all your homework on campus. Beyond that, you are a college student so keep the rest of your expenses low. Be aware that college life is as expensive as you make it. As a student you should learn how to function with as little money as possible. Practice frugal living and focus your mind on learning and mental exploration.
6. Relying on refund checks: Because an apartment can be very expensive, many students rely on student loan refund checks to pay for expenses. This is when things can get financially tricky. If you plan to live in an apartment using loan refunds to pay rent, you need to make sure you secure all your loans and financial aid to pay your college bill. Remember, student loan refund checks are only made available after the entire account balance is satisfied. A common problem is when the refund check takes longer than expected to be delivered to the student. This can occur because financial aid and student loan applications are incomplete and funding has not fully paid. If you are relying on the refund, make sure you are in close communication with your school’s financial aid office. Stay in contact and check your account. Get an estimated date as to when the loan refund will be made available. Before moving into the apartment, have enough cash on hand to clear at least two months rent, giving you enough time to secure the refund from the school. By doing so, you can avoid trouble with your roommate and/or land lord by having rent ready, even if the refund check is not.
7. Add it all up; where is the value?: It might be a better idea to live at home than get an apartment simply because of the costs involved. Getting an apartment can look like a step towards independence, but if not managed correctly it could be a big waste of money. Weigh the costs and benefits. Does living in an apartment at this point in your life really help you grow? The answer is different for everyone, but you need to come to your own conclusion. That being said, there will always be students that want to move into an apartment and live it up, without much regard for school. If your parents are willing to handle the bill, by all means take advantage of the opportunity.
A recent survey from Adecco and Braun Research revealed what recent college graduates wish they had done while still in school.
71% of the College graduates surveyed said they would have done something differently while in college to better prepare for the job market, along with many other findings.
Here are some highlights from the Reuters press release:
• 43% of respondents currently employed hold jobs in areas which don’t require a bachelor’s degree
• 57% of respondents work full time, and only 40% are employed in a field they studied
• 33% of respondents live at home
• 55% of respondents overall, and 32% of unemployed respondents, said they have only applied to 0-5 full-time positions since graduating
These are some eye opening statistics that current and soon to be college students need to take note of. When a whopping 71% of students wish they did something different in college there is a major disconnect between intentions and outcomes of attendance. Students have an expectation that college will provide them with employable skills, but after graduation they realize quite the contrary; they are completely under-prepared. It’s downright silly to assume that once the required 128th credit is awarded towards a Bachelor’s degree the student is made instantly employable, yet this remains the assumption for many. The economic downturn serves to reveal the truth to students, much to their wallets dismay.
“Regardless of how the economy is fairing, graduates who proactively pound the pavement well before they finish their studies are more successful in landing a full-time job after graduation,” said Joyce Russell, EVP and president of Adecco Staffing US. This advice falls into the commonly prescribed “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” category. The need for “pounding pavement” is quaintly inspirational, but comes no where near close to describing what college grads are dealing with. That’s because most of Gen R (R for recession) described in the press release are turning to social media rather than wearing out their shoes and sense of self worth walking from business to business trying to find work. However, students that believed the college experience would help fast track them into employment after graduation are starting to wonder what the point of college really was.
Take note College students: This is a wake up call. While in school, you need to prepare for life after school. This is a refreshing change for students that have grown accustomed to reduced study time in favor of student activities, and relating more to a college party scene than anything vaguely academic. For many, this economy takes the wind out of the sails of the SS College Party Boat, but it certainly is not over forever. Something tells me that Lake Havasu will still attract spring breakers next year….
Beyond having fun, college students need to get ready for life after graduation.
Get a job now: Nothing beats “on the job” training, and you can get plenty of it by being employed while in college.
The Challenge: There are jobs everywhere, but rarely do they match the far flung interests of students. Waiting tables and serving coffee is usually the most available options. However, ego can get in the way of job opportunities. Some students do not want to be bothered with what they deem a lowly service job because they have lofty dreams of something better. They say “I’m going to college to avoid jobs like this.” They miss the point. Any job worth doing is worth doing well, and no one is above or below any station of employment. If you do not want a job that involves telemarketing or a “soup of the day” then go out and find something else, but by no means should a student completely opt out of work while in college.
The benefit: EXPERIENCE DOING SOMETHING. College degrees are very common. Less common is the student who combines academic ability with work experience. Holding a job while attending school is a signal for future employers that you are responsible and understand time management and the importance of labor. Having a former manager as a reference is also important.
Having any work experience at all puts a former student light years ahead of similar college graduates without work experience, rightfully so. Employers demand more, and realize that a degree does not account for the little things that make a big difference in work. Even if the work you are doing does not correlate directly to your field of interest, the disciplined habit of showing up on time and performing duties is a sign of mature temperament.
The best part about small jobs during college years is knowing they do not have to last forever. Times change as you grow and learn to be productive in new ways, but it all begins with experience outside the classroom. Learn to handle a job while in college so you are positioned to get a better job after graduation.
The heat of admissions season is finally ending. Students are making final decisions. The time of quoting employment statistics, student loan debt analysis and college rank babble have ended.
The answer to the question “where are you going to school” must now be made. Students are ready to get the pressure of choice off their back, and may be quick to decide. Now more so than ever making a rushed or poorly contrived school choice can actually be disastrous.
The bane of a college student today is their lack of experience in life and money. They make up for it with enthusiasm and energy and want the college experience to complement their life. However, times have changed. The excitement of college youth has met a beleaguered economy and uninspiring job opportunities. While degree holders historically have higher wages and employment rates, the new generation of recent grads are facing tough economic realities. The difference between students that thrive and students that flounder from college come down to the recognition of a few key concepts:
Being sure in unsure times: How can anyone expect an 18 year old to be really sure about anything? I don’t expect a 36 or a 54 year old to know everything either, but at least they have the experience to understand life/career/school challenges in context. But when we put super high expectations on a student to conform to academic rigor, perform at a maximal level and get admitted to the top schools, we have to admit that there is not much “thinking for yourself” going on in the young person’s mind. They might be completely sure of their academic brilliance, and may have had everyone around them providing hefty encouragement, but without life experience a student is blind in knowing how their abilities are best served. The best thing a young person can do is to take their life one day and one question at a time. What is it that get’s you excited? What keeps you motivated? What makes you happy? It’s normal if you don’t know the complete answer at 18. Many go through their entire life without an answer. College presents an opportunity in your life to find these answers, but the big secret is that these answers can be found anywhere and paying too high price to pursue them is not necessary.
Financial literacy is the unspoken requirement to college success today: Why is it that many students start, but fail to complete a degree? One reason is that the student is not academically fit to complete a degree, but a bigger reason is simply financial. Poor decisions early in the college selection process can sabotage degree completion. Many students make the mistake of commiting to an overly expensive school their freshman year, but realize after it is too late that it is unaffordable.
What are you paying for?: A “college experience” is very subjective. For some, it’s about a college lifestyle (a lot of fun). For others, it’s about preparation for the future. As a result, learning opportunities are abound in traditional and internet based college options. Think critically about these options as higher education has become very expensive and there are a wide variety of schools available. People make the often false assumption that high cost must equate to improved education and superior employment outcomes, but this is not the case. Employment is not guaranteed after graduation for anyone no matter how high tuition is. Students have the option of the traditional live-on-campus college experience, but many students realize it is impractical due to cost. If using student loans to pay for college, stick to the basics and avoid paying too much for a “college experience.”
Don’t be a lemming: Going with the flow and following the herd is a sure route to mediocrity. Students get caught up with the prestige that some degree institutions may bestow but forget about the big picture. Having talent and ability is not everything. In order to build a career and life, you need to know how to apply your talents and abilities appropriately. College can educate the student but it is up to the student to figure out what to do with the education. Students make the mistake of assuming that a “world class” education from a name-brand institution is enough to guarantee future success. As an intelligent student you need to recognize real benefits gained from an education. If you are attending a top school, do not become complacent. Keep your eyes on the true prize; life outcomes after graduation. Students get so much pressure to get admitted to a top school they forget the reason for attendance; it’s to grow and develop into a productive human being.
When I originally started to create this article, it was the intention of rolling out a list of “Wacky Scholarships”. You know, scholarships like Duck Brand Duct Tape Stuck at Prom contest, the wildly successful scholarship awarded to high school students that creatively use duct tape as a Prom Dress/Suit like this…
Except something happened along the way when I was researching all of these scholarships. I typed in the word “scholarships” in Google to see what would come back. This was done to put myself in the shoes of a student or parent just trying to find a few extra dollars for school right now. What I found out is that the term “Scholarship” as a search keyword has been been completely saturated with spam on Google, much to my disappointment. But in fairness, it is not just Google. I looked on Yahoo and even Bing and found the same results.
So how bad is this spam you ask? Well lets just say the first 3 pages of any search engine results are jam packed with enough useless articles and non-advice to make a high school student bored to tears, and send parents to fill out tons of personal information only to be bombarded with spam emails without any hope of receiving a scholarship. What happened?
“Scholarships” have become the biggest carrot waving keyword in the higher education sector today. This is obvious, but the many stakeholders involved have a different interest in the term. Let’s start from the beginning.
Traditional Colleges: Scholarships are used by colleges to encourage the enrollment of preferred students by discounting the tuition. Also the word “Scholarship” sounds nicer to the ears of prospective students and their parents because of the aura. It is exciting to say “I got a scholarship to ABC University for Fall 2011!” Everyone wants a scholarship, and a school looks good for giving them out. But schools can also cover their tracks with scholarship offers. Unlike need based grants that are awarded considering household income, scholarships can be held to a higher academic standard. If the student drops below the required GPA, the scholarship can be canceled.
It’s a big money equation for a school. Colleges issue scholarships each year already anticipating a percentage of them to be canceled due to low academic performance. As a result, scholarship offers are used as a “sweetener” to boost freshman enrollment figures year-to-year to hit budgetary quotas. The school always balances it’s books to make tuition discounting through scholarships a financially viable endeavor.
Even when the College offers a scholarship there is usually a substantial balance outstanding that the student needs to pay. Students turn to scholarships from outside organizations to help cover the remaining costs. So the race is on for students to search, apply and compete for any scholarships available. The first step is hitting search engines online to find a scholarship, and this is when the SPAM gets heavy.
There are scholarships, and then there are promotions for scholarships; know the difference to know your odds: To an internet search engine, the term “scholarships” is very general. Internet marketers understand this very well, and as a result a plethora of websites that promote “scholarships” have sprung up. They typically offer registration to a scholarship search engine where they claim access to millions of dollars. Because it’s for a scholarship, students have no problem turning over all of their personal data in order to increase their odds of being connected to the right award. However, most of these websites have an ulterior motive, namely the collection of data on a very focused 18-24 year old demographic. Because the student is filing out detailed scholarship application data about themselves, it is extremely accurate and honest. This is a marketer’s goldmine far beyond name and location, as information like interests, GPA, hobbies, sports, age and school preferences are all revealed.
What really happens is that many people apply and only a small number actually receive awards. One website was promoting how they issued about $130,000 in scholarships last year. I can respect that, but if the average award were $2,000 just 65 students would actually qualify out of the 20 million college students out there. This is a case of lots of sizzling interest in scholarships, but little in the way of delivery. A website that promotes a scholarship search engine is able to stay in business by collecting fresh demographic data and selling it to other marketing firms, and only needs to connect a handful of students to scholarships to maintain a social good.
The results of searching Google for “Scholarships” are website after website full of these offers. Some are legitimate like FastWeb but many are just blatant SPAM pages full of annoying advertisements and centered around a nearly irrelevant article that repeats the keyword “Scholarship” a dozen times.
Additionally, even monster databases like Fastweb that can be very helpful are having challenges delivering results. As a scholarship search engine grows in popularity, more and more people apply for scholarships further decreasing the odds of success.
As a result, students need to rely on creativity, and a detective like ability to get the scholarship funding they need.
Get focused on improved odds of winning: A good scholarship search engine is able to connect your key personal traits to scholarships applicable to you. However, your key traits may match you to a scholarship that thousands of others apply for, knocking your odds out of the box. But what if you found a unique scholarship applicable to you that few people know and apply for? You may be in luck!
Get lucky in your own backyard: Increase the odds of winning a scholarship by finding one that is off the internet grid. A community based scholarship requiring that you live within a geographic area already eliminates all the college students outside of your neighborhood. Same thing for school district awards.
Wealthy Benefactors: This is another “off the grid” idea that requires investigation and planning. Start researching into the alumni of a school you plan to attend by contacting a school’s alumni development office or through personal research. You should be able to identify a few Alumni that have the bucks to spare. Establish contact by sending a personal letter to the Alumni to share your story. Highlight your respect for the quality of the College you’d like to attend and how the Alumni was able to benefit from the same education. Send similar letters to any other alumni that may be able to make a difference. This is a great way to build recognition with influential people at your school, and may lead to a scholarship.
Try Twitter, before it gets too popular: Twitter is a surprisingly explosive environment for scholarships on a day-to-day basis. Most of the scholarships offered are heavily marketer driven, however because Twitter is still underutilized by much of the public you may locate an opportunity before anyone else. Get ahead of the curve by locating a scholarship on twitter before too many people start applying to better your odds.
Keep searching for new outlets: Use knowledge of current events to stay on top of new scholarship programs being offered. The longer a scholarship program is in existence, the more people tend to apply for it further reducing individual odds.
Yes, use scholarship search engine, just don’t get your hopes up: Scholarship search engines can work, but don’t wait for responses. Instead, use them as a way to collapse search time frames. Create a designated email address for the search engine so that when the Spam starts to flow it does not go to your primary email address. While the scholarship search engine does its work, you should take the time to explore more scholarships close to home in your community.
Now that many colleges have sent out admissions and financial aid packets to their would be freshman, a sigh of relief can be universally heard from the many families wondering about their college prospects. Whether accepted or rejected, the decision made by the school allows for the student to no longer be left wondering about their future. They know exactly where they may attend based on acceptance. But now the issue moves to paying for college. As many students now understand, the admittance to an exclusive school without sufficient financial aid and scholarships is not cause for great celebration, but rather a reason for great consideration and preparation. Additionally, there may be verification.
What is verification? Verification is a review of a family’s tax and asset information to confirm the accuracy in comparison to the data supplied on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is done to ensure the accuracy of financial aid awards being given to students, and to correct mistakes that may have been made on the application.
Reasons for being selected include:
- Very low, or zero family income listed
- Failure to sign the application
- Incorrect or missing data like social security number or birth date
- Randomly selected
Each year about 1/3 to as much as half of all college students are selected for verification. When selected, the student is required to submit to their school’s financial aid office copies of family tax returns, W-2′s, certain investment statements, investment property information and other documents where required.
The financial aid office then reviews the information to confirm accuracy. As long as the family financial information matches to what was data entered onto the FAFSA, financial aid eligibility should be retained. However, if income and assets are greater than what was stated on the FAFSA the student could lose financial aid eligibility. If income and assets are less than what was stated on the FAFSA, the student may increase financial aid eligibility. However, more often than not it is found that income and assets were understated, and therefore financial aid eligibility is reduced.
Verification is a critical process for incoming freshman: The process of admitting new freshman into a college is a major project that the admissions and financial aid offices work together to complete. Schools send out admission and financial aid confirmations in an integrated packet to quickly confirm the student’s commitment. That is because colleges recognize that financial aid offered is a major college choice decision point.
However, the financial aid that is offered is subject to potential changes if selected for verification. Schools begin sending out requests for family tax information to new freshman as early as April to expedite this review. Each year at every college there are students whose financial aid eligibility is reduced as a result of the verification process. Suddenly, the financial framework backing attendance to a specific school has come unraveled. This leaves students in a tough spot, just when they thought their college search has concluded.
What to do if you are selected:
- 1. Make sure to honor the request ASAP: As soon as you find out you are selected for verification, submit all documentation immediately.
- 2. If the tax and asset information is identical to what was stated on the FAFSA, you have nothing to worry about: Just make sure you get all your ducks in a row!
- 3. Make sure all required documents are submitted: Sometimes a verification request can be extensive, especially for families that own real estate or a business. If possible, hand deliver all verification documents to a counselor to confirm they have everything needed. A counselor should know based on review if additional documents are required.
- 4. Follow up soon:Financial aid offices can operate very slowly. However as a new freshman you need to know as soon as possible about funding changes. After submitting a verification request, contact the financial aid office within five business days to get an update on processing. If it takes longer than five business days to complete, you need to get an estimated completion date established. This way if faced with bad news about a funding reduction, there is still time to deal with it.
- 5. Keep options open: Have a back up plan ready in case things fall through financially with the primary school choice. Good backup schools are ones that are geographically close to home, or have low enough costs to make them affordable.