Q: At what age/grade should our college search begin?
A: If you're asking at what age a student should begin actively researching college websites and set up an account with a search engine like the one provided by the College Board, my recommendation is no later than the beginning of his/her junior year of high school. However, with more and more young people beginning to think about college sooner in their high school career, there's no reason not to start searching toward the end of your freshman high school year; especially if you plan on touring schools in your sophomore year or perhaps with an older sibling already in the process. Most public and private high schools won't introduce students to Naviance until their junior year, but that doesn't mean that you have to wait. There are plenty of FREE college search engines to choose from to get you started.
Tuition & Financial Aid
Q: Our daughter was recently accepted at several schools and received some scholarship money. We are also looking for some loans. I filed the FAFSA form. What happens next?
A: When you receive her formal financial aid package/letter/award from each school (which usually arrives in March/April), all forms of aid will be itemized: loans, scholarships, grants, work study. At that time, you'll be asked to accept or reject each. The most any school will offer her in federal loans will be $5500. That is the max for a freshman. (Sophomores max out at $6500; juniors and seniors max out at $7500.) If you're interested in loans above the $5500, research the Federal Parent PLUS loan. It will allow you to cover the remaining cost of attendance as long as you have a good credit history. Visit the Federal Student Financial Aid website for detailed information on federal loans including the ones mentioned herein. Outside of that, you'd need to research private loans.
Q: When you've been awarded one or more scholarship(s), how does a college receive this info and apply it to your invoice? Are you limited to a specific number of scholarship dollars that can be applied toward your tuition bill?
A: Once you receive a scholarship, make sure to notify your school’s financial aid department. The department will apply the scholarship award to your semester tuition invoice. If you have other grants, scholarships, or certain student loans, the total aid cannot be more than the cost of your tuition. Prior to the start of each new college school year, you should receive a tuition package that itemizes the costs of tuition, room, board and other associated fees for the year. Likewise, it will itemize your various sources of aid including federal loans, federal grants, work study amounts, college offered need-based and/or merit-based awards, and any private scholarships of which you've informed them. You have the opportunity to accept or reject each individual offer of aid. Do not accept more than you need. Additionally, note how and where specific funds are applied. Certain scholarships specify the funds be used for tuition ONLY, or room and board, or books, or other expenses, so make sure you understand the terms and that specific monies are applied and allocated appropriately. Also, be aware that as of nex tax legislation in 2017-18, certain scholarships may be subject to taxation as if they were income. Any college financial aid office should be able to assist you through this process and more specifically, with the details of the packages they offer.
Q: How can I tell a legitimate scholarship opportunity from a scam?
A: There are so many different types of "scholarships" available these days that some of those that are legitimate can sometimes appear as if they aren't. For example, there are legitimate scholarships that don't require a minimum GPA and test scores, a written essay, a copy or your official transcript, letters of recommendation or anything other than your willingness to provide your name, age and email address and the press of a SEND button. These types of scholarships are more like lotteries where the scholarship provider enters you into a random drawing after you've provided your personal info which they may use for data mining purposes. There's nothing inherently wrong with such a scholarship as long as you always read the fine print and understand that your data may be used and/or passed on for purposes unrelated to the actual scholarship. My rule of thumb is to stay away from any organization that requires a fee (this is different than a dues which may be required for membership to legit organizations that only provide scholarship opportunities to their members - e.g., the National Society of High School Scholars) in order for you to apply for their scholarship and to run the other direction should someone guarantee that they can get you a scholarship provided you pass on a percentage of it to them (which is actually illegal).
Q: A friend told me that if you apply and get into UCONN and they don't have your major, the state will give you money towards another school that has that major? I find this hard to believe. Is it true?
A. It sounds like your friend is refering to the tuition-break program offered by the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) known as the Regional Student Program (RSP). According to their website, "the New England Regional Student Program (RSP) enables thousands of New England residents to enroll at out-of-state New England public colleges and universities at a discount. Students are eligible for the RSP Tuition Break when they enroll in an approved major that is not offered by the public colleges and universities in their home-state. New England includes the following six states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont." For a complete list of current eligible programs broken down by each New England state, click here. Additionally, similar programs may be found in other areas of the country. For those living in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Wisconsin, check mhec.org. Residents of sixteen Southern states will find similar programs offered by the Southern Regional Education Board at sreb.org. Similarly, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education does the same for sixteen Western states and territories. Refer to wiche.edu for greater detail.
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