Crunch time for college finances
The bareness of the house without holiday decorations, the removal of twinkling white lights in the neighborhood, and the re-entry back into the every day routine are all stark reminders that the month of January has arrived. This month also signifies the start of the second semester in school, and for high school seniors, a sudden “reality check” commences.
January is a pivotal month for seniors, their parents, counselors, and teachers. The pace is notably different between first and second semesters in a high school. It’s as if someone picked up the slow-moving wind-up toy and twisted it tightly, forcing it into overdrive mode. There are now pages of to-do’s for everyone. The relaxing holidays have ended, and students and parents are both hit hard by the fast-approaching high school graduation and college planning, admission, and financial aid deadlines. No more procrastinating on scholarship research and submissions for students. And the financial fear factor for how to pay for college is in full swing for parents. Our family is currently experiencing the these realities.
With a little prodding, Jake (our son) submitted and applied for two scholarships during December. That brings his scholarship submissions to a total of four for the first semester. Each month we have reviewed his school’s scholarship bulletin that is published from their counseling office. Together, we select scholarships for which he is qualified. It’s a good vehicle for him to objectively assess his attributes, hard work, and reflect on why he may or may not meet specific qualifications required.
For example, at the beginning of Jake’s junior year when we started talking about researching scholarships, importance of community service, and leadership opportunities at school, Jake shared with me that his (older) friends told him that community service really didn’t matter for scholarships. “Quite the opposite,” I quickly responded. “It’s very important – for several reasons.” Even though he was involved in some community service activities and enjoyed them, he didn’t see the need for expanding those. Now as he’s reviewing scholarships his senior year, when he doesn’t meet some of the community service criteria, no words are spoken between us, just an exchange of smiles (okay, I might be smiling a little bit more than he is). Suggestion: start reviewing the school’s scholarship bulletins when your son/daughter is a sophomore so you know what requirements are expected. You can then coach, remind, or nag them about obtaining the necessary qualifications that will position them well for their senior year!
January is also a key financial aid month. Tomorrow night, the four of us (my husband and me, Jake, and our other son, Mike, a high school junior) will attend their high school’s “Financial Aid Night.” Counselors, college representatives, and financial aid experts will discuss the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Financial Aid) and other financing options available through the universities/colleges (e.g., private scholarships) and educational loan partners.
The FAFSA is required for all prospective college students seeking Pell grants, scholarships, work study programs, and student loans.
A couple of recommendations regarding the FAFSA are:
During the month of December, do some homework. In between holiday shopping and baking cookies, research the FAFSA and other college financing options. (I spent a few nights in December mulling through all the information on this site and learned a lot! Check it out for yourself. ) Also, go to the FAFSA website to register for a pin number (the response is immediate, but may take longer if you wait until January). You must have a PIN to submit the FAFSA electronically. Since I was already on the web site, I printed a copy of the FAFSA Worksheet to use as a reference for the information that we were going to need to complete the FAFSA application.
Complete your taxes in January or as early as possible in order to apply for FAFSA. While we’re waiting to receive our W-2s, we’re reading through the worksheet to see what else we need to locate. Things DO need to be located as we moved this past year! Set a time in advance with your son or daughter (we’re in the process of getting on his calendar) to sit down together and complete the FAFSA worksheet. The worksheet serves as a facilitator in the discussion about finances, EFC (Expected Family Contributions) and many other topics (and acronyms).
Once the worksheet is completed, the information can be transferred easily and quickly to the online application for submission. (So I am told anyways … I’ll let you know in my next article!)
Additional assistance in completing the FAFSA application is available through college financial aid offices. Also, during the month of February each year there is one Sunday (Feb. 9th, 2008) where parents and students can get answers to questions and one-on-one help with the FAFSA. Visit College Goal Sunday; click on your state/location for details.
I have already invited my niece, who graduated from college 3 years ago, to join us for dinner on the date we plan to complete the FAFSA worksheet. Recent grads are a great resource for knowing the ropes, especially if they applied for and received financial aid or scholarship assistance. It’s also helpful to have a ‘young’ voice at the table, too.
Well, that’s all for now. I need to go and text Jake to remind him about picking up this month’s scholarship bulletin. I’ll let you know how our FAFSA experience turns out.
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