Monday, February 25, 2013

"So Once I Heard..."

"...That if I didn't like my financial aid package, I could negotiate for a better one. Is this true?"

This is a question that I've only heard a couple times. More often, instead of asking that question, the student or the parent just tries to negotiate. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Financial aid isn't like haggling in a pawn shop for a good price on a night stand that has some scratches and duct tape.

Financial aid amounts are determined by strict sets of guidelines given to the financial aid offices by the federal government. There is very little wiggle room as far as if the financial aid administrator is able to change the amounts of aid a student can receive.

The same goes for interest rates. The federal government determines the interest rates for their student loans, and there is nothing a school can do to change those. I once had a parent try to talk me into matching the Unsubsidized loan's interest rate in the PLUS loan. It's not possible. They are set amounts. Unlike home loans, car loans, and personal loans, there is no qualifying for a better interest rate since there is no credit taken into account. It is what it is.

When you are applying for a school, the school will try to give you the best financial aid package that they can. Remember that schools have different rules and different sources of financial aid, but also remember that your entry to the school will have them getting you the best package available to you for that school. They won't give you a bad one on purpose for two reasons: 1. they want to give you the best so you'll attend their school, and 2. the best they can give you is what their job is. They are only packaging you for what you qualify for that school.

It may not be what you want, but it's their best offer. Your only option is to check other school's financial aid packages. Some schools, you will find, will have different amounts. The other thing you have to consider is the degree you are going for and what you want to invest in it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

FAFSA vs. Renewal FAFSA

"I got this notice in my emails to renew my FAFSA. What's a Renewal FAFSA? Is it different than a regular FAFSA?"

These are questions I heard every year. But to answer them, you have to remember how a FAFSA works. The FAFSA is only good for a certain period of time. It isn't good for your first year, but rather from July 1 of one year to June 30 of the next year. If your school year is during this time, then it's more coincidence than anything. Some schools don't start in August or September. Let's say you start in January. Then your FAFSA will still only be good until June 30 of that same year.

If you will still be enrolled after June 30, then you will need to complete the FAFSA that picks up July 1. You will receive renewal notices about this as early as January.

Actually, there is no difference between a FAFSA and a Renewal FAFSA. The only thing different is how much easier it is the second time. Not only will you have more experience filling out your second one, but because of your PIN, you'll probably have some of the information already completed for you. You will just have to update any out of date information and enter the new income information based on the new year's taxes.

But unless you are enrolled in a short program (typically a certificate), and are only enrolled in a period of time that begins no earlier than July 1 of one year and ends no later than June 30 of the next year, then you will have to fill out a minimum of two FAFSAs. And if you're in a longer program (like a bachelor's degree), prepare to fill it out four or five times. One easy assumption is that you will fill it out the same number of years you will be enrolled.

For more information about how many times you will have to complete a FAFSA, talk to your Financial Aid administrator. Also, keep in mind that any alteration in your length of program can result in the number of times you'll have to complete the FAFSA.

Monday, February 11, 2013

New 2013-14 FAFSA Award Amounts Announced

Just released recently was information about the new 2013-14 FAFSA. Must to the surprise of many an FA person, the Pell Grant will actually be going up. Originally, there had been talk of trying to find ways of keeping the Pell Grant maximum at the $5550 per award year. Now, it will raise $95 to a maximum of $5645.

However, keep in mind, this will be interesting in that seemingly almost any way you divide this new Pell Grant, almost none of it comes out exact. What I mean is splitting it into semesters and quarters and splitting into the less than full-time amounts.

For two full-time semesters, it's going to be $2823 for one and $2822 for the other. For three quarters, it'll split into $1882, $1882, and $1881. It's been quite a while since the Pell Grant wasn't split into even disbursements for full-time students (and for that matter, the less than full-time students).

You should also remember that until the award year starts, they can change things. It isn't likely, but a couple years ago, the Dept of Ed released the Pell Grant charts in January, then in April changed what some of the EFC's correlated to.

Speaking of EFC's, the other news is that the maximum EFC to still qualify for any Pell Grant funds went up for the 2013-14 FAFSA. This is good news for the borderline students. The 2011-12 FAFSA allowed an EFC to be slightly over 5000 in order to qualify for Pell Grant funds. The current 2012-13 FAFSA has an EFC cutoff of 4995, but the 2013-14 FAFSA will have an EFC cutoff of 5081.

Monday, February 4, 2013

How Do I Increase My Odds of Winning a Scholarship?

This is a question that has come up a few times in the Financial Aid Office that I thought you might be interested in.

Remember that scholarships are awarded based off of some form of merit, ethnicity, talent, or need. Basically, you have to do or be something to be awarded a scholarship. Some examples would be your writing an essay, your living in a specific location, your being a member of a specific ethnic background, or your grades. Obviously you have control over your grades, but you can't change most of the other elements. So, how do you get ahead of the competition?

The simplest way of helping yourself out is by trying to obtain scholarships with the smallest opposition. What does that mean?

Think of it this way. If you are a female, and you enter a scholarship contest that is open to women, then you will have a lot of competition: women of all ages across the country and maybe the world. But if you enter a contest that is open for women, age 18-22, in the Santa Fe region, for Native Americans, then you will have much less competition just because there will be fewer that will be eligible. Any of those specifics will eliminate a number of applicants, which will raise your odds.

You definitely will want to enter both competitions in the examples above, but your odds of winning the first is much less than that second, so don't be surprised if you don't win the first. Also, typically, unless there's a special competition, the second scholarship example will dole out more money since fewer applicants can be awarded for it.

However, when in doubt, apply for every scholarship you can. The worst that will happen is that you won't get it. They cost nothing, and they cost nothing to enter, so you're losing nothing by trying. Also, the hard work and the researching will be good practice for college. So good luck in your searches!