Plan For College

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Top 7 Reasons Why FAFSA is for Everyone

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The Plan For College Guest Blog Post Series, Article 1:
Michael Szarek, is the Plan For College's first guest blogger. Michael is the Founder and Director of College Counseling for the Rest of Us, an independent counseling service based in New Jersey that helps families plan for college. You can connect with College Counseling for the Rest of Us on its website, or on Facebook.

FAFSA, the Free Application for the Federal Student Aid, is a form developed by the U.S. Department of Education that “ensures that all eligible individuals can benefit from federally funded financial assistance for education beyond high school.”   Regardless of your family's income, or where you’re thinking about going to college, filling out the FAFSA may enable you to qualify for:
  • Gift money for college
  • The best educational loan program available 
  • Work-study funding so you can get a job on-campus
Each year, the US Department of Education gives away billions of dollars of financial aid to students enrolling in educational programs beyond high school. Don’t miss out on your opportunity to get thousands of dollars of assistance to pay for your college education. Here are some of the most commonly-asked questions I get about the FAFSA and what you’ll need to get started with the application.

(1) What if my parents make too much money?   I’m telling you - fill out the FAFSA!  The information provided from the FAFSA helps colleges expedite packaging non-need scholarships, as well as the institution’s own funding to supplement your own family’s contributions.  And - starting this year - even if your parents are just applying for a PLUS loan, you are required to fill out a FAFSA. 

As a former Director of Financial Aid, I can’t tell you how many families I’ve worked with that lost out on institutional grants and were delayed in receiving needed loan funding because they thought they “made too much money”.

Regardless of your economic status, regardless of the college you are attending or the state in which you live, the best financial aid advice you will ever get is to complete the FAFSA form.

(2) Well, where do I get the FAFSA?  It’s available online, at

(3) When do I fill this FAFSA out?  It is available on January 1 each year for the following academic year.  You should complete it as soon as possible to ensure that you meet college deadlines.

Once you have all of your family’s income and asset information for the prior calendar year, start filling out the FAFSA application. Although direct loans from the government to students will be there later in the process, grants (which don’t have to be paid back), are typically distributed closer to a first-come, first-serve basis.

(4) Will I need to fill it out again?  You will complete it for every year you are expecting to be enrolled in college. This is an important piece to remember, because a good plan for college goes beyond senior year of high school.

(5) How hard is it to fill out?  If you compile the proper paperwork beforehand, the form should take about 60 minutes to complete.  Take your time, though, families make mistakes every year by rushing through the application for financial aid.

(6) What is the “proper paperwork”?  You should have prior year tax returns, most recent bank statements, current investment records, records of any untaxed income, your driver’s license (if you have one), your social security number and (if you are not a U.S. citizen), your alien registration or permanent resident card.

(7) What if our financial situation has changed in the past year?  Colleges can use what is known as “professional judgment” to adjust your financial aid, as appropriate.  But do not send any such information to the FAFSA processor; this issue should be discussed with the colleges.

Well, those are the basics.  But, whoever you may be, if you are going to college in September – the FAFSA is for YOU.

What are your thoughts on FAFSA? Comment below.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Top Ten Questions to Ask a College Admissions Officer

Whether you're a high school student seeking to learn more about the schools you're applying to, or a parent seeking to help your child plan for college, here's a list of ten great questions to ask a college admissions office. These will help you determine important college facts when planning for college.These questions were developed after interviewing two college admissions officers in New England.

Keep in mind that these questions go beyond questions like "What SAT scores do I need to get in?" "How many students attend your school?" and "What are the most popular majors at this college?" which can be easily found in college guidebooks, The College Board website, or on individual college or university websites. It's important, especially if you're a student in a college interview, to not just ask questions for the sake of asking questions, but to ask the right questions that show you're serious about where to go to college and how to get in to college.

These questions are good to print out and bring on a college tour, or to ask when calling or emailing an admissions office. Understanding exactly what admissions offices are looking for is a key aspect to your plan for college:

1. What is the best way to prepare for your school?

2. What unique programs are incorporated into your school's curriculum?

3. What is the school culture like?

4. What do students like most about this college/university?

5. How does your career planning department compare with other colleges/universities?
      a. What are the results of graduates job placement surveys? What percentage of students find summer internships before graduating? What percentage find jobs upon graduation?
      b. What companies recruit on campus?
      c. How many companies recruit on campus?
      d. Where do students typically work after graduation? 
      e. Are there internship fairs on campus? Are there job fairs on campus?
6. What is the ratio of deans to students? How much time are they required to spend with each student?

7. Are professors available to give individual attention to students if requested?

8. What type of tutoring programs are offered to students?

9.  How many liberal arts classes do students take and how many classes will they take towards their major?

10. What do students do for fun?
      a. What events does the campus activities board plan for students? 
      b. How often do students go off campus and where do they go?
      c. What are some popular clubs, events, activities? 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Join our College Planning discussion!

The Plan For College blog will be a resource for high school students and their parents who are going through the college application process. Each post will fit into a helpful and extensive plan for college for both students and parents.

We are building a network of college admissions and financial aid experts who will be writing blog posts about the following topics:

- Where to go to college
- Guidelines for HS freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors
- Financial aid (FAFSA)
- Insights from admissions offices
- Valued extracurriculars
- Interviews with guidance counselors
- Steps to Success in College
- Conquering freshmen home sickness

Here's The College Planning Group's President, Stan, on developing a good strategic and financial plan for college:

Tune in Monday morning for the first blog post, or follow us on Twitter to join the discussion now @ Plan For College!