Posts Tagged ‘Student Aid Report’

10 Items You Should Research Before Ever Committing To A College

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

High school juniors will begin to look seriously at colleges soon and some of the key factors that these students will look at in their college search is 1) the looks and size of the campus, 2) the quality of campus life, 3) the honors and study-abroad programs, 4) fraternities and sororities, and 5) the sports programs. However, before the student makes a commitment to any college, here are ten other areas to consider:

1. The number of course requirements

Course requirements vary widely from school to school. You don’t want to find yourself mired in courses that don’t interest you, while you’re unable to take electives in the areas that do interest you.

2. The flexibility of course requirements

Schools that require specific courses can put you in a bind if you’d rather take more advanced courses, or if you need to take more remedial courses, to fulfill that requirement. Be sure to check that the school allows a choice of course levels to satisfy the various requirements. Also, keep in mind that many top professors avoid teaching required courses that route hundreds of students through the course.

3. The availability of your college major

Never assume that your college of choice offers every possible major, especially if you have a very specialized major in mind. It’s critical to check the list of majors at each college. At certain colleges, some majors are not open to all students, especially those majors that require talent or training (music or art), or those majors that are extremely popular (psychology or journalism).

4. The availability of your desired classes

In the past few years; college enrollments have risen, but the faculty size has not grown commensurately. As a result, there may be very long wait lists for some classes and shortages in first-year classes for students who did not register on the first possible date. Be sure to check the availability of your desired courses before sending in your acceptance letter to the college.

5. The availability of professors teaching the course

At many state universities, a significant number of instructors are graduate students. It’s important to know how much of your instruction, especially in the first years of college, will be designated to graduate student teachers. It’s ok if a regular professor gives the lectures and the grad student leads discussion sections; however, the real issue arises at schools where grad students are allowed to teach entire courses on their own.

6. The student/faculty ratio

If you attend a school with 10 to 20 students per faculty member, you’re likely to get a lot of individual attention from the faculty. Once the number of students per faculty member goes above 20, you may not get much hand-holding from a professor.

7. The percentage of students who graduate

A school with a graduation rate over 80 percent is good and a graduation rate of 60 to 80 percent is quite normal; however, a school whose gradation rate is under 60 percent is not good. Also check out the average time a student takes to receive a degree. You may want to avoid schools whose students take an average of six to seven years to graduate.

8. The quality of the career placement department

Very few students even think to ask about the career placement department, but this should be a key item on your checklist assuming the student would like to graduate with a job. Students should ask questions such as, what job placement services are provided by the placement office, what percentage of graduates will be employed prior to graduation, and which companies and organizations recruit your graduates?

9. Are you required to take computer–taught or on line classes

To save money, some colleges use computer programs for course instruction, or have their lectures posted online, rather than use live instructors. It’s the new do-it-yourself method of instruction, which may not be the best learning experience for the student.

10. The total cost of college

If you plan to attend college then you should know up front what the total cost of college will be to get a degree. The student should also research any opportunities to receive financial aid to help offset that total cost. You will need to find the answers to questions such as, how does the college financially reward a good student, what forms are used by the college to determine financial aid eligibility, what non-need or merit grants and scholarships are available from the college, and what is the average debt incurred by each student upon graduation?

How can a student get this much needed information from the various colleges? Check out the college guides and the college websites themselves. Ask admissions officers, students, and recent graduates of the schools. Send e-mails to the appropriate college contacts. Regardless of how you get this information, it is very important in order to make the best possible college choice and get the most out of your college experience.

The author of this newsletter is Brock Jolly.

If you have any questions about the information contained in this newsletter, or any questions about college funding in general, please contact our office.

The Private Scholarship Game (Part 1) – The Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Dartmouth_552x240Most college scholarships and grants are available through the Federal and State governments, which are ultimately controlled by the colleges themselves.

However, there are a few Private scholarships that are available through outside, private sources. These private scholarships are very competitive though, and scholarship judges may spend just a few precious minutes or even seconds reviewing the scholarship application.

With such a finite amount of time to make a lasting impression on these important decision makers, it’s crucial that the student make the most of this opportunity. If not, the application may be on the fast track to the circular file.

Here are the Top 10 Scholarship Do’s & Don’ts that you must know to increase your chances of winning a private scholarship:

The Do’s

Search in your own community first . Your community is one of the biggest sources of scholarships. Find out about these kinds of awards by contacting your local chamber of commerce, community chest, Rotary, etc. and by reading your community newspaper, or searching the Yellow Pages under Foundations.

Choose quality over quantity . You’ll need to prioritize which scholarships to apply for. Instead of trying to apply to as many scholarships as possible, try to apply to the scholarships that best fit your strengths, interests and qualifications.

Understand the purpose of the scholarship . Scholarships may be designed to encourage students to enter a specific career field, to reward students who contribute to their communities or to help underserved students enter higher education. Use this information to guide how you write your scholarship application.

Follow the directions . Make sure you take the time to ensure every “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed. Include all the information and forms requested, and answer every question.

Write an essay that demonstrates why you should win . The scholarship application gives the scholarship judges a sense of who you are and what’s important to you. Think about what skills and qualities the scholarship judges seek and then describe how you match them.

Get feedback from editors . You can’t write a strong scholarship essay in a vacuum, and editors are the best people to help. Friends, teachers and even parents can make great editors.

Proofread . No matter how strong of an applicant you are, it would be difficult for a scholarship judge to overlook spelling or grammatical errors. Proofread your application and essays carefully, and have your editors do the same.

Practice for interviews . Ask a friend or parent to do a mock interview with you to prepare for the real thing.

Ask your parents for help . Mom and Dad are capable of doing more than writing the tuition check. They can help you find scholarships, keep track of deadlines and give you feedback on your applications and essays.

Brag a little about yourself . You need to let your best self shine through in your scholarship applications – don’t be bashful about discussing your accomplishments.

The Don’ts

Don’t overlook your high school guidance counselor . Helping students pay for college is not their job, but you can take advantage of the knowledge they’ve accumulated over the years.

Don’t ignore the Internet . Use the many FREE scholarship searches available on the Internet to find more scholarships.

Don’t ignore small awards . When there are scholarships worth tens of thousands of dollars, you might think you shouldn’t bother with the “small potato” awards. The truth is that a $1,000 scholarship is $1,000 less that you will need to come up with for college.

Don’t think that you have to be an academic or athletic superstar to win . There are scholarships based on leadership, art, music, theatre, community service and more.

Don’t be a victim of a scholarship scam . Never pay for an online private scholarship search. You can find private scholarships on your own, and applying for these private scholarships should always be free.

Don’t use the shotgun approach . Remember that all organizations that award scholarships have different selection criteria. This means that the same application won’t work for all of them.

Don’t forget to answer the question in your essay . There’s a reason why the scholarship organizations provide the essay questions. They want to know your answer. An essay can be very well written, but if it doesn’t answer the question asked, then it’s not going to win.

Don’t wait until the last minute . You may think that you do your best work on the day before the deadline at 3 a.m., but if you review your work you’ll probably see that you don’t. Take the pressure off, and allow yourself more time to complete an application.

Don’t turn in an application that is incomplete . Scholarship organizations receive far more applicants than they can support. Don’t give them a reason to take you out of the running for not having a complete application.

Don’t think that it’s impossible for you to win . Every student who has won a scholarship has thought this. And guess what? They won, and you can, too!

The author of this newsletter is Brock Jolly.

If you have any questions about the information contained in this newsletter, or any questions about college funding in general, please contact our office.

The Verification Process

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

dreamstime_xxl_24696837Once the government calculates your family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), it will then be displayed on your Student Aid Report (SAR). And once the colleges receive their copy of your SAR, they may decide to do a verification (audit) of the financial information provided by your family. Verification is a simple process for families and if your financial aid application is selected for verification, the school will require you to submit additional documentation, such as signed copies of your IRS tax returns, W-2 and 1099 forms. The federal government selects 30% of the FAFSAs for verification. However, some public and private colleges will select as many as 100% of the FAFSAs for verification.

The Financial Aid Award Letter

Once the verification process is completed, each college will begin the process of issuing financial aid award letters to all deserving students. This includes many high income families whose students will attend higher-priced private colleges. Private colleges often provide tuition discounts to reward good students from high income families.

The family should compare the financial aid package from each college. Do not look just at the total amount of aid, but conduct a bottom-line analysis of the net out-of-pocket cost of attending each school. Different schools, for example, may have different costs for room and board.

Depending on the type of college (private vs. public), you can appeal your award letter after finding out what your financial aid package entails. Private schools have institutional grant money that can be negotiated, but state schools are funded by the state and have less flexibility. Unfortunately, even private college financial aid packages can fall short of what you anticipate. You may also receive an award from a second-choice school that is more generous than the one from your first-choice school. But a school’s first financial aid offer doesn’t have to be its last. Improving your aid award is possible.

If you are appealing an award package, you should be able to demonstrate that there is a legitimate need for additional aid. For example, you may have had a change in employment or an unusual family circumstance, since completing your initial financial aid application. Since May is the standard time to notify colleges of your decision, you’ll need to take some swift action.

As financial aid offers turn up in your mailbox, you must first do three things if you want to try for an improved aid package:

  1. Understand the Components – First, you have to fully grasp what each school is offering you. Although, the financial aid award letter varies in format from school to school, it should contain the following items:
  • Your cost of college
  • Your family’s expected financial contribution (EFC)
  • Your family’s need (the cost of college minus your EFC)
  • A listing of each aid source and dollar amount
  • A date by which you must return the award letter
  • Information on “appealing” any detail in the award letter
  1. Compare Packages – Next, compare your aid packages carefully. They can be as different as night and day. Consider the amount you have to pay out of your pocket now and how much you’ll eventually have to repay in the future. In other words, be wary of how much of the award is in the form of loans.
  1. Respond to the Award Letter – Don’t delay in responding to this award letter just because you’re still waiting to hear from other schools. If you don’t reply on time, the aid package can be revoked. Responding to an award letter does not commit you to attending the school(s); it merely safeguards your award. In responding, you have three choices – you can accept the award in its entirety, you can accept some components and reject others, or you can reject the offer entirely and request a revision in the composition of the package.

If you’ve decided to ask for additional aid, you will need to persuade the financial aid administrator () of the college. Be sure to contact the FAA as early as possible because the school’s extra discretionary aid runs out fast. Present your case in a well-thought-out and diplomatic manner. If you have a legitimate argument, you should support it with documentation.

Time is of the essence and an improper award letter appeal could cost you thousands of dollars. Contact our office as soon as your receive your award letter and we’ll help you develop an appeal strategy, prior to discussing your appeal with the FAA .

The author of this newsletter is Brock Jolly.

If you have any questions about the information contained in this newsletter, or any questions about college funding in general, please contact our office.

The Confusing Student Aid Report (SAR)

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

The Student Aid Report (SAR) is a confusing government-type report that summarizes the information that you provided on the FAFSA financial aid form. The following are some guidelines involving the SAR.

Your SAR will usually contain your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the number used in determining your eligibility for federal student aid. Your EFC will appear in the upper right-hand portion of a paper SAR and at (or near) the top of an electronic SAR. If there is an asterisk positioned next to the EFC figure on the SAR, then the data you submitted has been selected for verification (audit). If you do not have an EFC number on your SAR, then more information may be needed from you to process your data.

If you provided an e-mail address when you applied for aid, you will receive your SAR by e-mail 3-5 days after your FAFSA has been processed. This e-mail will contain a secure link so you can access your SAR online using your FSA number. If you did not provide an e-mail address when you applied for aid, then you will receive a paper SAR by mail in 7-10 days after your FAFSA has been processed. Regardless of whether you applied online, or by paper, your financial data will automatically be sent electronically to the schools you listed on the FAFSA.

Once you receive the SAR, review it carefully to make sure it’s accurate and complete. The school(s) you’ve selected to receive your SAR will use this information to determine if you’re eligible for federal – and possibly nonfederal – student financial aid funds.

If you need to make corrections to your SAR, you can make them online using your FSA number. Go to and select “Make Corrections to a Processed FAFSA.”

If you received a paper SAR, make any necessary corrections on that SAR and mail it to:

Federal Student Aid Programs

PO Box 4038

Washington, DC 52243-4038


If you do not receive your SAR, call the federal processor at 1-800-4-FED-AID . Once your SAR is accurate and complete and you are eligible for federal student financial aid, each school will send you an Award Letter.


The author of this newsletter is Brock Jolly.

If you have any questions about the information contained in this newsletter, or any questions about college funding in general, please contact our office.

It’s Time To Complete The 2016-2017 FAFSA Form

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016


Financial aid applications, such as the FAFSA, should be submitted as soon as possible after January 1, but no sooner . You cannot submit the form before January 1, because the need analysis process uses your financial information from the prior tax year when calculating eligibility for the upcoming award year.

To meet the deadlines for most states you should submit the form no later than March 1 . Do not wait until you’ve filed your income tax returns with the IRS. You should either estimate your income – you’ll have a chance to correct errors later – or complete your tax returns early. (Your December pay stub should contain information about your total income for the year. You’ll find this helpful in estimating your income.)

When estimating your income, try to be as accurate as possible. Use your actual pay stubs from December. If your estimates are inaccurate, it will have a significant impact on your Expected Family Contribution. If there is a sizeable discrepancy, you will then need to correct the financial information when the Student Aid Report (SAR) arrives.

These financial aid deadlines and procedures are important if you hope to qualify for financial aid. If you have questions about completing the FAFSA financial aid form, please contact our office and we can help.

The 10 Most Asked Questions About Financial Aid

1. I probably don’t qualify for aid. Should I apply for aid anyway?

Yes. Many families mistakenly think they don’t qualify for aid and prevent themselves from receiving financial aid by failing to apply for it. In addition, there are a few sources of aid such as unsubsidized Stafford and PLUS loans that are available regardless of need. The FAFSA form is free. There is no good excuse for not applying.

2. Do I need to be admitted before I can apply for financial aid at a particular university?

No. You can apply for financial aid any time after January 1. To actually receive funds, however, you must be admitted and enrolled at the university.

3. Why can’t I submit my financial aid application before January 1?

The need analysis process for financial aid uses the family’s income and tax information from the most recent tax year (the base year) to judge your eligibility for need-based financial aid during the upcoming academic year (the award year). Since the base year ends December 31, you cannot submit a financial aid application until January 1.

4. Do I have to reapply for financial aid every year?

Yes. Most financial aid offices require that you apply for financial aid every year. If your financial circumstances change, you may get more or less aid. After your first year you will receive a “Renewal Application” which contains preprinted information from the previous year’s FAFSA. Note that your eligibility for financial aid may change significantly, especially if you have a different number of family members in college. Renewal of your financial aid package also depends on your making satisfactory academic progress toward a degree, such as earning a minimum number of credits and achieving a minimum GPA.

5. How do I apply for a Pell Grant and other types of Federal need-based aid?

Submit a FAFSA. To indicate interest in student employment, student loans and parent loans, you should check the appropriate boxes. Checking these boxes does not commit you to accepting these types of aid. You will have the opportunity to accept or decline each part of your aid package later. Leaving these boxes unchecked will not increase the amount of grants you receive.

6. Are my parents responsible for my educational loans?

No. Parents are, however, responsible for the Federal PLUS loans. Parents will only be responsible for your educational loans if you are under 18 and they co-sign your loan. In general you and you alone are responsible for repaying your educational loans. On the other hand, if your parents (or grandparents) want to help pay off your loan, you can have your billing statements sent to their address. Likewise, if your lender or loan company provides an electronic payment service where the monthly payments are automatically deducted from a bank account, your parents can agree to have the payments deducted from their account. But your parents are under no obligation to repay your loans. If they forget to pay the bill on time or decide to cancel the electronic payment agreement, you will be held responsible for the payments, not them.

7. Why is the family contribution listed on the SAR different from the family contribution expected by the university?

The federal formula for computing the expected family contribution is different from those used by many universities. In particular, the federal formula does not consider home equity as part of the assets, yet many private colleges will take home equity into consideration for their institutional funds.

8. If I take a leave of absence, do I have to start repaying my loans?

Not immediately. The subsidized Stafford loan has a grace period of 6 months and the Perkins loan has a grace period of 9 months before the student must begin repaying the loan. When you take a leave of absence you will not have to repay your loan until the grace period is used up. If you use up the grace period, however, when you graduate you will have to begin repaying your loan immediately. It is possible to request an extension to the grace period, but this must be done before the grace period is used up. If your grace period has run out in the middle of your leave of absence, you will have to start making payments on your student loans.

9. I got an outside scholarship. Should I report it to the financial aid office?

Yes. If you are receiving any kind of financial aid from university or government sources, you must report the scholarship to the financial aid office. Unfortunately, the university will adjust your financial aid package to compensate. Nevertheless, the outside scholarship will have some beneficial effects. At some universities outside scholarships are used to reduce the student loan level.

10. Are work-study earnings taxable?

Yes, the money earned from Federal Work-Study is generally subject to federal and state income tax, but exempt from FICA taxes (provided you are enrolled full time and work less than half-time). The student should be careful to report amounts based on the calendar year, not the school year.

The 5 Most Asked Questions About The FAFSA Form

1. How do I file the FAFSA financial aid form?

You may choose any of these three methods to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA):

Apply online at (Recommended), or

Complete a PDF FAFSA (Note: PDF FAFSAs must be mailed for processing), or

Request a paper FAFSA by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-319-337-5665. If you are hearing impaired, please contact the TTY line at 1-800-730-8913.

2. How soon after January 1 should the FAFSA form be sent in? Is it better to wait until the income tax forms have been completed?

Send in the form as soon as possible after January 1. Do not wait until your taxes are done. Although it is better to do your taxes early, it is ok to use estimates of your income, so long as they aren’t very far off from the actual values. You will have an opportunity to correct any errors later on the Student Aid Report. If you wait too long, you might miss the deadline for state aid. Most states require the FAFSA to be submitted by March 1, and some as early as mid-February.

3. My parents are separated or divorced. Which parent is responsible for filling out the FAFSA?

If your parents are separated or divorced, the custodial parent is responsible for filling out the FAFSA. The custodial parent is the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months. Note that this is not necessarily the same as the parent who has legal custody. If you did not live with one parent more than the other, the parent who provided you with the most financial support during the past twelve months should fill out the FAFSA. This is probably the parent who claimed you as a dependent on their tax return. If you have not received any support from either parent during the past 12 months, use the most recent calendar year for which you received some support from a parent. Note, however, that any child support and/or alimony received from the non-custodial parent must be included on the FAFSA.

4. My parents are divorced, and the parent I’m living with has remarried. Does my step-parent have to report his or her income and assets on the FAFSA?

Yes, provided that the parent you’re living with is the one filling out the FAFSA (your custodial parent). If the step-parent is married to your custodial parent at the time you fill out the FAFSA, they must report their income and assets, even if they weren’t married to them in the previous year.

5. My custodial parent remarried and signed a prenuptial agreement that absolves the step-parent from financial responsibility for my education. Why does my step-parent have to provide financial information on the FAFSA?

Prenuptial agreements are ignored by the federal need analysis process. After all, two individuals (parent and step-parent) cannot make an agreement between them that is binding on a third party (the federal government). The federal government considers the step-parent a source of support regardless of any prenuptial agreements to the contrary. If a step-parent marries the parent, he or she is considered responsible for supporting the parent and children, even if he or she is unwilling to do so.

The author of this newsletter is Brock Jolly.

If you have any questions about the information contained in this newsletter, or any questions about college funding in general, please contact our office.