The FAFSA is Open October 1st!

Completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) doesn’t have to be confusing. Read on for advice from our college advisor and one of our trusted college counseling partners to help you navigate the FAFSA with confidence. First, let’s dispel a few myths about FAFSA:

  • I should wait to complete the FAFSA until I have decided on my chosen college — NO, you can submit the FAFSA now so that you will have a more accurate financial aid package for each of the schools you have applied to. This can help you to feel more confident in your decision, without leaving the financial questions up to chance.
  • I should not complete the FAFSA if my family may not be eligible for need-based aid — NO, in fact, many scholarships require a FAFSA application on file, even though they do not require a certain score to determine eligibility. Completing the FAFSA, regardless of the income situation of a family, is a good idea because colleges may still require it in order to finalize a financial aid package that includes merit-based scholarships.
  • I cannot submit the FAFSA until 2020 taxes have been filed — NO, actually, the FAFSA can be submitted as early as now with an estimated family contribution, but then would be finalized after taxes are filed.

We recommend that all students complete the FAFSA – it is only part of what colleges review when they create a financial aid package for a student, but for many colleges, it is essential that the FAFSA is completed.

Here is some expert advice offered by one of our partner college counselors, Marina Glava of St. Dominic Savio Catholic High school.

WHEN:

The FAFSA is open beginning October 1. Which means that it’s time to gather up your materials and fill it out – the sooner, the better!

This year, you can even file the financial aid form straight from your mobile device.

WHAT:

It’s important to gather all the necessary information and materials beforehand. Trust me, if you do have the necessary information on hand, filling out the form will become much simpler.

Depending on your circumstances (when you filed taxes or what tax form was used), you may or may not need the following information or documents as you fill out the FAFSA.

  1. Your Social Security card and driver’s license, and/or alien registration card if you are not a US citizen.
  2. Your most recent federal income tax returns (you don’t have to wait – you can use the most recent returns you have from last year), W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
  3. Your parents’ income tax returns, W-2 forms, and 1040 forms if you are a dependent (“dependent” means that you were claimed by your parents/guardians on their taxes; you are a dependent unless declared otherwise). If you or your parents have not completed your taxes yet, you can estimate your income and other tax return information, and then correct your application after you have filed your taxes.
  4. Records and documentation of other non-taxable income received, such as welfare benefits, Social Security income, veteran’s benefits, military or clergy allowances (if applicable).
  5. Any additional applicable financial information, such as taxable work-study, assistantships, fellowships, grants, and scholarship aid reported to the IRS, combat pay or special combat pay and cooperative education program earnings.
  6. Records of any additional nontaxable income, examples include: child support received, veterans’ non-education benefits, money received or paid on your behalf, etc.
  7. Current bank and brokerage account statements, including records of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments (if applicable).
  8. Business or investment farm records (if applicable).
  9. Records relating to any unusual family financial circumstances, such as anything that changed from last year or anything that distinguishes the family from the typical family in terms of unusual marital situations, living situations, separations, etc. Examples include: high unreimbursed medical and/or dental expenses, unusually high dependent care costs (e.g., for a special-needs child or an elderly parent), death, divorce, salary reductions, job loss, and private K-12 tuition. *With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions, there may be significant changes for tax year 2020 that you may need to take into consideration. Remember that you can update/finalize the FAFSA after taxes have been filed for 2020.
  10. Title IV Institution Codes for each school you are applying to. You can get this code from the school (some have them listed on their websites) or you can use FinAid’s Title IV School Code Database.

HOW:

When filling out and submitting your FAFSA electronically, you’ll need an FSA ID to sign the form. If you don’t have one, you can create a FSA ID online. If you are applying as a dependent – and again, you are dependent unless declared otherwise – one parent is required to sign as well. To electronically fill out your FAFSA online, your parent should also apply for a FAFSA ID at the same site. 

Download the 2020-2021 FAFSA information sheet during your preparation process, to doubly ensure you have all of the information you need. https://studentaid.gov/sites/default/files/2020-21-fafsa-worksheet.pdf

Utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which allows applicants who have already filed their federal income tax returns to prefill the answers to some of the difficult FAFSAquestions by transferring the necessary data directly from federal income tax returns.

If you are a man, age 18-25, you must be registered with Selective Service.

According to the Selective Service System website, “men, born after December 31, 1960, who aren’t registered with Selective Service won’t qualify for Federal student loans or grant programs. This includes Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), Direct Stafford Loans/Plus Loans, National Direct Student Loans, and College Work Study.” Ensure your eligibility by following the guidelines detailed on the Selective Service System website!

Additional Advice:

I’d advise you to gather your materials and fill out your forms sooner rather than later because the entire process can take a while. Putting off your financial aid is not something you want to do!

Once you complete your FAFSA, save copies of your completed FAFSA form, along with copies of all the information you gathered in order to fill it out.

Make sure to keep all documents in a safe place – you never know when you’ll need to reference them. It’s also a way to prove that you’ve submitted the form on time, since no late applications are accepted!

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

*Information from Fastweb, FAFSA Checklist

 

FAFSA articles

https://blog.ed.gov/2018/09/7-things-you-need-2019-20-fafsa/

https://www.edvisors.com/fafsa/eligibility/filing-fafsa-deadline-2019-2020/

Overview of the financial aid process

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fz9j-g1FIHQ

FAFSA mobile App

https://www.youtube.com/user/FederalStudentAid

FAFSA and FSA tips for parents

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdaGZASwjZU&index=4&list=PL23B9A23CD8DD82DD

After the FAFSA, what to expect

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1c1gNefSw78

Great website for lingering FAFSA questions

https://studentaidhelp.ed.gov/app/home/site/fafsa

SUBMIT YOUR INFORMATION:

When you are ready to complete your FAFSA, head to https://fafsa.ed.gov/

Understanding the National Merit Scholarship Process

Do you have questions about National Merit and the PSAT? Read on to learn more about what National Merit is and how students can qualify for scholarships. At the end of this post you will find a list of colleges that have a reputation for offering generous scholarships to students who have earned National Merit recognition. Please note, colleges adjust scholarship awards every year, so it is always important to verify any information with the college directly.

WHAT IS NATIONAL MERIT?

National Merit is the largest private scholarship corporation in the country. The first qualifier for earning National Merit recognition is earning the qualifying score on the junior-year PSAT/NMSQT. Qualifying scores vary from year to year and state to state. High scores can also be linked to other scholarship opportunities. Read our blog post The PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index Demystified to learn more about scoring.

 

NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP MYTHS

MYTH: ALL NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARS ARE GUARANTEED HUGE SCHOLARSHIPS FOR THE COLLEGE OF THEIR CHOICE.

TRUTH: Students must select their top-choice schools from the schools that offer NM scholarships. And even then, they are competing with other NM scholars for those awards.

 

MYTH: THE ONLY WAY TO GET MERIT AID FROM IVIES AND ELITE COLLEGES IS THROUGH THE NM SCHOLARSHIP.

TRUTH: Most elite universities offer very little merit aid. If they offer merit aid, it is generally privately endowed, offered by the university (not NM), and competitive. There are ZERO ivy-league schools that offer NM scholarships.

 

MYTH: NM SCHOLARS DON’T NEED TO HAVE AN EXCELLENT SAT/ACT SCORE IN ORDER TO BE AWARDED SCHOLARSHIPS.

TRUTH: Many universities offer merit-based aid for SAT/ACT scores. And when compiling a financial package for students, universities will consider both a student’s NM Scholar status and their SAT/ACT scores to see what the best fit for the university and the family is. Need-based aid can also factor into how much NM scholarship money a student may be offered. It’s important for students to apply for multiple scholarships as NM aid is never a guarantee.

 

HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES OF EARNING NATIONAL MERIT?

  • Plan to do Summer and Fall Prep of some kind.
  • Take ALL the practice tests.
  • Take an official SAT in August, September, or October
  • Prep! (Choose from any combination of MTAT Courses, Boot Camps, Tutoring, Study Groups, or free online prep.)

NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP TIMELINE

FALL SOPHOMORE YEAR: Indicator PSAT

  • Scores of 200+ on Selection Index show potential for NM achievement. Score of 180+ shows potential for very high PSAT scores (1300/1400+).

SUMMER BEFORE JUNIOR YEAR: Prep begins

  • Students should plan for a minimum of 20-30 hours for a 100-point improvement.
  • Students should plan to take ALL of the College Board released practice PSAT and SAT tests.
  • Students should plan to take the official August SAT. Order QAS report for $12; it will show every missed question for review.

FALL JUNIOR YEAR: PSAT NMSQT Test administered in October

  • Students must continue ongoing prep.
  • Students will test in either mid- or late-October.
  • Scores are released in December (digital) and early January (paper).
  • Take the SAT (or ACT). Students should test in the fall and only retest in the spring if needed to increase admissions qualifiers or scholarships.

FALL SENIOR YEAR: PSAT Finalists/Semi-finalists announced

  • Students must complete the NM application, essay, and short answers and submit everything on time (the deadline changes each year). Official SAT/ACT scores must be submitted to NMSC by Dec 31st. “Comparable” score will be calculated using the selection-index score model, even for ACT (when converted to SAT using concordance).
  • Submit high school paperwork: endorsement and transcript.
  • Submit college coursework if applicable.
  • College Choice: students will need to select their top-choice school for NM consideration but may declare “undecided” and then notify the NMSC as soon as possible.
  • Sponsor College as First Choice: students should research schools with National Merit scholarships to ensure that they make a wise choice. These schools are often considered target or safety choices for a student.
  • College-sponsored NM awards are NOT transferable if a student later decides to transfer schools, so they need to feel confident in their choice.
  • All Finalists will be awarded the NM Finalist $2500 scholarship. Additional corporate-sponsored scholarships and stipends are awarded based on the NM finalist application.

 

WINTER SENIOR YEAR: NM Scholarships Awarded

  • February: students will be chosen as finalists and will receive a Certificate of Merit from their high school. Students should submit NM sponsor college as first choice college by March 1st in order to be considered for the first round of applicants.
  • March and May: scholarship winners notified.

 

SPONSOR COLLEGE AWARDS BASED ON REGION (subject to change!)

The following information is current as of January 2020. Colleges make changes to their National Merit Scholarships each year. Check the university webpage for the most up-to-date NM scholarship info!

TEXAS

ACU: National Achievement (full tuition), National Hispanic Recognition (up to $6000/yr), Semi-Finalists and Finalists guaranteed full tuition + $1500 stipend, Commended $2000

BAYLOR: Invitation to Excellence (competition for full tuition scholarships)

A&M: Finalist, must name A&M first choice ($42,000 + $1000 study abroad stipend + $3000 NMRA supplement for 5th year)

TEXAS TECH: Finalist, must name Tech as first choice for full tuition, fees, room/board, transportation and personal stipend

UTDALLAS: Automatic admission into Honors College, full tuition, $4000 semester cash stipend, $3000 NMSC scholarship, up to $6000 for study abroad, $1500 semester on-campus housing stipend

UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON: Finalist, full tuition and required fees, one-time $1000 undergrad research stipend, one-time $2000 study abroad stipend; must select as first choice

OUT OF STATE

ALABAMA: Full tuition up to 5 years, four years of on-campus housing, $14,000 stipend, $2,000 allowance for research or study abroad, $1,000 technology enrichment allowance

BOSTON UNIVERSITY: Finalist first-choice, $80,000 (over 4 years)

BYU: Full tuition, limited availability

FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY: Cost of attendance, regardless of residency

FLORIDA STATE: Cost of attendance ($80,000+), guaranteed admission to University Honors Program

FORDHAM: Full tuition with A/A- average and top 2-3% of admitted students, competitive

ILLINOIS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY: Up to three scholarships up to $160,000; $16,000 otherwise

IOWA STATE: Full tuition for residents, varies for non-residents

LOYOLA: Full tuition for one student, $8,000 if not selected

NORTHEASTERN: Competitive merit-based award

OKLAHOMA STATE: Finalists who select OSU as their first choice, up to five-year full tuition waiver

OLE MISS: Full tuition + room ($54,776 for residents, $118,592 for non-residents)

OU: Semi-finalists with 3.5 GPA earn $4000/yr; Finalists who name OU as first choice gain $68,500

UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA: $72,000 (full tuition plus) + $1,500 for study abroad for residents, varies for non-residents + $1,500 for study abroad depending on GPA and test scores

UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS: Finalists, first choice, $40.000

UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI: Full in-state tuition, guaranteed admission to honors program and $1,500 one-time allocation towards purchase of computer, research or study abroad. 60 available, first-come, first-served

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: Finalist, cost of attendance (full ride)

UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO: Basic cost of attendance ($66,976 for residents, $137,520 for non-residents)

UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS: $40,000 for residents

UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY: Full in-state or out-of-state tuition and housing stipend

UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE: Full in-state tuition + $32,000 allowance for room, board and books or $80,000 for out-of-state students

UNIVERSITY OF MAINE: Full tuition and most fees

UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: Cost of attendance (for Florida residents only)

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Up to $40,000

UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA: Full tuition + $8,000

UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO: $75,212 for residents, $137,792 for non-residents + iPad

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA: Full tuition/fee waiver for ND and MN residents

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA: $40,000 for residents, up to $104,000 with tuition reduction for non-residents

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA: Full cost of attendance, guaranteed admittance to honors college and on-campus housing

UNIVERSITY OF TULSA: Full tuition and basic room and board

USC: Finalist, half tuition (limited)

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH: Cost of tuition/fees + room and board

WASHINGTON STATE: Finalist, full tuition

WHEATON COLLEGE: Finalist, merit-based coupled with need-based aid, $68,000-$72,000

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