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Welcome to the College Admissions HQ Blog where we present tips, information, and resources to help students and parents further their college admissions education.

You’ll get the best college admissions results when you fully understand how the parts of this process are entwined. With this knowledge, you can take thoughtful, deliberate action along the way. We call this Applying with Purpose, and it’s our powerful method to tackling this intimidating task. Whether in our blog, our free resources, or our course materials , we’ve got the essential information you need.

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FAFSA Verification: Who Gets Selected and What to Do if It’s You

Students who would like to be considered for federal, state, or college need-based financial aid are almost always required to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  The FAFSA application opens on October 1 for the following academic year, but that is not the deadline for submission. There are definitely things you can and should do, before you file, to get the most aid possible, (See “Don’t File the FAFSA Until You Read This.”), but cheating is not one of them. You must be fully honest and accurate with your information. Intentionally providing false or misleading information on your FAFSA is considered fraud and carries penalties of fines up to $20,000, repaying all financial aid received by the student, and up to five years in jail.

However, even if you have done nothing wrong, you can still be selected for a financial aid practice called FAFSA Verification.

What is FAFSA Verification?

The US Department of Education requires a selected group of students to give their college’s financial aid office supporting documentation for some or all of the financial or other information reported on the FAFSA. FAFSA Verification prevents ineligible students from receiving aid, and ensures eligible students receive all the aid they qualify for.

Who Gets Selected for Verification?

The methods used by the Department of Education to determine who and what data points are selected for verification are not made public. But we do know that about one third of all applications are selected each year and the main reasons include:

  • You were chosen randomly
  • Your FAFSA was incomplete
  • Your FAFSA contains estimated information
  • Your information is inconsistent

Colleges have the authority to select additional FAFSAs for verification and to verify additional data elements. Some colleges, typically small ones that award a large amount of their own money, verify 100 percent of financial aid applicants.

What Gets Verified?

Information that might require verification includes:

Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)
U.S. Income Tax Paid
Untaxed Portions of IRA Distributions
Untaxed Portions of Pensions
IRA Deductions and Payments
Tax Exempt Interest Income
Education Tax Credits
Income Earned from Work
Household Size
The number in College Students in the Household
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps
Child Support Paid
High School Completion Status
Applicant Identity and Statement of Education Purpose

Information that was imported into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool will not be selected for verification unless you have modified it.

How Do You Know if You are Selected?

If you are selected for verification, an asterisk will appear next to your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) on your  SAR (Student Aid Report), which is a summary of your FAFSA submission. You may also be notified by the school you plan to attend, either through your online account, university email, personal email, or letter.  Students should check their communications regularly after filing the FAFSA.  Missing the notice that your FAFSA was selected for verification isn’t a valid excuse.

What Happens if You are Selected?

College financial aid administrators have the legal authority to request additional information and supporting documentation such as tax return transcripts, siblings’ college registration forms, and proof of income.  They can also ask you to complete one or more verification forms. Double check each form to ensure it is complete and accurate.  It’s important to take the verification process seriously. If you don’t comply or meet the deadline, the college is prohibited from disbursing federal student aid funds to you.

What if You Made a Mistake on Your FAFSA?

Sometimes people make innocent mistakes when filing the FAFSA. If you discover an error after filing your FAFSA, you should correct it as quickly as possible. However, if you discover a mistake during the verification process, speak with the college’s financial aid office so they can advise you on the best way to correct it.

How Do You Correct Your FAFSA?

The quickest and easiest way to correct your FAFSA is to log in to your online account and select “Make FAFSA Corrections.”   Tax return information you transferred via the IRS DRT (IRS Data Retrieval Tool) cannot be changed on your online FAFSA form.  If you amended your tax return and need to update your FAFSA contact your schools’ financial aid office.

If you did not file online, write the corrections on your paper SAR, sign it, and mail it to the address provided on the SAR.  Alternatively, it is also possible that the college’s financial aid office can make the changes for you electronically.

Most of the financial information that was accurate as of the day you originally signed your FAFSA may not be changed. For example, if you spent your savings after filing your FAFSA you cannot change the amount you reported.  This is why it’s important to do everything you can before you file, to reduce your EFC. However, if there is a significant change in your or your parents’ financial situation (such as a loss of income or significant medical bills) that occurred since you filed, contact the financial aid office.

What if Your Financial Aid Award Changes?

Going through the verification process doesn’t usually affect how much aid you receive. However, it might, and you could end up with less aid than you were originally awarded. If this happens, contact the college’s financial aid office to see what options you have.

Can You Avoid FAFSA Verification?

Many FAFSAs are selected for verification randomly so there is no sure way to avoid it. But you can reduce your chances of being chosen if you follow these guidelines:

  • Be honest (People who try to game the system usually get caught.)
  • Be accurate
  • Use the IRS Data Retrieval tool to download income tax data into your FAFSA
  • Correct errors on your FAFSA as soon as you find them

If you’ve reported your information honestly and accurately, a verification notice should be nothing to worry about.  It’s just another hoop you need to jump through in the financial aid process.


Learn More!

Download Your FREE Pocket Guide to College Financial Aid
Get the Guide

Watch our FREE 12-minute Mini-Course to Learn How Colleges Build Financial Aid Packages
Enroll Here

Untangle Financial Aid and Get the Critical Information You Need to Save Thousands of Dollars. Take the Full Course, only $39
Sign Me Up

College Admissions HQ provides powerful tools, information, and insights so you can take thoughtful and deliberate action throughout the college application process. Applying to college with a sense of purpose lets you chart your own individual path and achieve the best college admissions results academically, socially, and financially. Learn how to Apply with Purpose at www.collegeadmissionshq.org.






Don’t File the FAFSA Until You Read This!

On October 1, 2018, the Federal government will release the 2019-2020 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and with it will come an onslaught of warnings that students and parents must submit their FAFSA as soon as possible or they’ll miss out on much-needed dollars.

This is mostly true, but here’s the rest of the story.

Yes, ALL Students Should File the FAFSA

The FAFSA analyzes parent and student income and assets to calculate your EFC, Expected Family Contribution, the minimum amount of money your family is expected to pay each year toward the cost of college. The size of your EFC determines your eligibility for federal, state, and college need-based aid.  The smaller the EFC, the more aid you qualify for.

All students should file a FAFSA, no matter the family income. This is because:

  1. Some scholarship and financial aid programs require a FAFSA, even if the award is not income-based.
  2. Filing may give you an admissions edge. Colleges believe that students who don’t submit the FAFSA are less likely to enroll and they don’t want to waste an acceptance on a student who is unlikely to attend.
  3. Most students DO qualify for some form of need-based aid–grants, loans, and/or work-study.
  4. All students who file the FAFSA qualify for Federal Direct student loans which come with the most favorable terms.
  5. Parents of dependent students who file the FAFSA will qualify for Federal PLUS loans.
No, You Don’t Have to File Immediately

There are two deadlines you must meet in order to get all the aid you qualify for: the colleges’ and your state.

College deadlines may be early but rarely come in October. Learn the deadlines for every college of interest and make sure you file before the earliest.

The next deadline to note is your state of residence. You can discover your state deadline here.

While there is a federal deadline, it is very late, and if you meet the college and state deadlines you will be well within the federal deadline.

Yes, Some Aid is Awarded on a First-Come, First-Served Basis

This is definitely true. There are some types of federal, state, or college aid that can run out, and even a student who qualifies can miss out if all the money is gone by the time he or she applies.

However, don’t submit the FAFSA until you take action to qualify for the most financial aid possible.

Your Action Plan
1. Understand what’s behind your EFC!

While you can get a good estimate of your EFC with the government’s free EFC calculator, the FAFSA4caster, this tool just spits out a number. You really need to go beyond that and see what’s in the formula behind the EFC so you can discover what steps you can take to reduce it. We are often told our article is the best explanation of EFC around: Your EFC: What It Is, How It’s Calculated, and Why It Matters. And, to get a full understanding of financial aid, check out the course Untangling College Financial Aid.

2. Examine Income

Income reported on the FAFSA is prior-prior year (two years prior to the college year for which the student is applying for aid). If you are entering college in 2019, your first FAFSA analyzes income from 2017. Although it’s too late to change either parent or student income from 2017, consider that you may be able to affect 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Assuming a 4-year college graduation plan:

Some important things to keep in mind about parent income:

    • Parent Income has the greatest effect on EFC, as shown in this graphic.
    • The EFC goes up about $3,000 for every $10,000 earned over the Parent Income Protection Allowance ($18,000 – $39,000)
    • Capital gains and stock options are counted as income
    • Contributions to retirement accounts made in the year being reported still count as income on the FAFSA.
    • Income earned after the student’s sophomore year will not be reported

Avoid parent income balloons until after the sophomore year.

Some important things to keep in mind about student income:

    • Half of every dollar earned above the Student Income Protection Allowance ($6,600) goes into the EFC until after the student’s sophomore year.
    • A hidden danger is untaxed student income (cash gifts or any money received or paid on the student’s behalf by anyone other than the custodial parents), which can quickly exceed the income protection allowance and balloon the EFC

Be cautious about the student earning income over $6,600 until after the sophomore year.

Ask relatives to wait until after the sophomore year before giving the student large cash gifts; or have the gift-giver make the cash gift to the parents, which is not reported on the FAFSA

Don’t allow anyone other than the parents pay tuition until after the sophomore year.

3. Examine Assets

Income reported on the FAFSA is from prior-prior year, but assets are reported as of the day you file. This is something many families can take advantage of for all four years. Consider the following:

Tuition Savings Accounts

Parents’ 529 accounts

  • Reported as a parent asset on the FAFSA
  • About 5% will go into the EFC
  • Distributions do not count as student income

Non-parent 529 for which the student is a beneficiary

    • The value of the account will not be reported on the FAFSA
    • Distributions, which may be very large, must be reported as untaxed student income

Switch ownership of 529 to the parents or wait until the student’s junior year in college to begin taking distributions from a non-parent owned 529

Parent Assets

Parent assets include savings and checking balances, stocks, bonds, CDs, businesses, real estate investments, education savings accounts, etc. Excluded parent assets include the value of your retirement accounts, primary residence, insurance policies, and annuities.

Only a maximum of 5.6% of parent assets is included in the EFC. But it can still help to reduce them as much as possible. Before filing the FAFSA each year consider whether you can:

Pay down consumer debt

Pay off student loans, mortgages, and medical debt*

Make large planned purchases– new roof, car, home renovations, etc.

File the FAFSA right before payday to minimize cash on hand

Maximize savings in IRAs and other retirement accounts.

Student Assets

Student assets include savings and checking balances, savings bonds, other investments. With no asset protection allowance, 20% of the value of student assets goes directly into the family’s EFC. And, unspent student income is assessed twice–first as income and then as an asset. Excluded student assets include IRAs. Before filing the FAFSA each year consider whether you can:

Spend down student assets on things the student needs such as clothing, computer, books, supplies, a car, bedding, appliances for a dorm room, braces, money for an unpaid internship, or tuition for a summer academic program.

Move unspent earned student income into a Roth IRA

Use all student money before parent money to pay college costs

4. Other Strategies to Minimize EFC

The EFC formula has a few quirks that make college significantly cheaper under the following unusual, but not unheard-of situations. See if either of these could work for you:

More Than One Child in College at the Same Time

The parents’ yearly contribution to EFC is split between the children in college. This greatly reduces each child’s individual EFC and increases their eligibility for financial aid. If an older student is able and willing to take a gap year in order to increase the overlap years in college with a younger sibling, the family will see significant savings.

Student Becomes Independent (as Defined by the FAFSA)

If a student is already planning to get married or join the military, do that before filing the FAFSA. Married students and members of the military are considered independent for financial aid and are not required to report parent financial information. Usually, this drastically lowers a student’s EFC.

Not all these strategies will work for every family. But if you take the time before filing your FAFSA to understand the EFC and how it’s calculated, you may be able to discover ways your family can save real money in overall college costs.

*Special financial circumstances that aren’t taken into consideration in the EFC formula such as high medical debt should be discussed with each college’s financial aid office. While not guaranteed, colleges may consider special circumstances and reduce your EFC.


Learn More!

Download Your FREE Pocket Guide to College Financial Aid
Get the Guide

Watch our FREE 12-minute Mini-Course to Learn How Colleges Build Financial Aid Packages
Enroll Here

Untangle Financial Aid and Get the Critical Information You Need to Save Thousands of Dollars. Take the Full Course, only $39
Sign Me Up

College Admissions HQ provides powerful tools, information, and insights so you can take thoughtful and deliberate action throughout the college application process. Applying to college with a sense of purpose lets you chart your own individual path and achieve the best college admissions results academically, socially, and financially. Learn how to Apply with Purpose at www.collegeadmissionshq.org.




The College Financial Aid Roadmap When Parents Are Divorced, Separated, Unmarried, or Remarried

College financial aid is difficult enough to navigate, but it’s even murkier when parents are divorced, separated, unmarried, or remarried.  This is the situation for an increasing number of students and parents, who are often paying more for college because they don’t understand how the rules apply to them.

Basic financial aid literacy should be the goal of all college-bound families. You can register for our free, downloadable Pocket Guide to College Financial Aid to get you started.  This 10-page guide includes a full explanation of terms, forms, formulas, sources and types of aid, accessing aid, and more.

Here’s what students and their divorced, separated, unmarried, or remarried parents need to know, starting with a quick explanation of financial aid:

The FAFSA

Almost all colleges and universities require that students fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), www.fafsa.gov, in order to qualify for any need-based, and sometimes merit-based financial aid.  The formula behind the FAFSA spits out a number called “EFC,” or Expected Family Contribution. The EFC is the minimum amount of money your family is expected to contribute towards college costs each year. (Learn more about EFC)

Your EFC determines your eligibility for federal (and often state) grants and loans. Most colleges use EFC to determine your eligibility for need-based college grants (often the largest source of free money). Your complete financial aid package consists of your EFC, and any scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study you are awarded.  (Learn more about how colleges build financial aid packages.)

All students are required to report their income and asset information on the FAFSA. And, unless you are an “Independent” student, the FAFSA also requires income and asset information from your parent(s) (either biological or legally adoptive). To be “Independent” for financial aid purposes you must be either:

  • At least 24 years old
  • Enrolling in graduate school
  • In Active Duty or a Veteran in the US Armed Forces
  • Providing more than half the financial support for your child(ren) or other dependents
  • Orphaned since the age of 13 or are in foster care
  • An Emancipated Minor as determined by a court
  • Homeless

If you do not meet any of these requirements, you are considered a “Dependent” student and are required to report your parents’ financial information. However, the parents’ status as married, divorced, separated, unmarried, or remarried affects whose information is required. And the FAFSA definitions of marriage, divorce, and separation are not the same as legal definitions.

This can be very confusing, but it becomes clearer if you just look at living arrangements and/or support. The chart below summarizes which parent’s financial information must be reported on the FAFSA.

(NOTE: Legal guardians, foster parents, grandparents, widowed step-parents, or other relatives, do not have to provide financial information unless they have legally adopted the student.)

Parents’ Marital StatusParents’ Living ArrangementsInformation Required (Biological, same-sex, or adoptive parents)
Married, Unmarried, Separated, DivorcedLiving in the same householdBoth parents must provide financial information
Married, Unmarried, Separated, DivorcedLiving in separate households
(Different floors of the same house or temporary housing such as a hotel room do not count as separate residences)
The CUSTODIAL PARENT must provide financial information (see more information below)
Custodial Parent is RemarriedParent and Step-Parent Living in the same householdThe CUSTODIAL PARENT and the step-parent must provide financial information (see more information below)

Who is the Custodial Parent?

The “Custodial Parent” for FAFSA purposes is not the same as the parent who has legal custody.

  • The custodial parent is the one the child has lived with the most during the previous 12 months.
  • If the number of days and nights with each parent is equal or the divorce occurred less than a year ago, the custodial parent is the parent who provided more financial support during the previous 12 months.  (Financial support includes child support payments, but also money paid toward food, clothing, housing, medical and dental care, car payments, educational expenses, etc.)

Choosing the parent with the lower income for the parental financial section on the FAFSA creates the best chance of qualifying for maximum financial aid. But, the student needs to live with that parent at least one more day of the year or receive slightly more financial support from that parent to list them as their custodial parent.

More on Step-Parents

The income of a step-parent married to the custodial parent must be reported on the FAFSA, regardless of any prenuptial agreements to the contrary, or unwillingness of the step-parent to help pay for the student’s education.

If the custodial parent is remarried as of the date the FAFSA is filed, the student should answer questions about both the parent and step-parent, in the same way, you would report a biological or adoptive parent living in the same household.  This is true even if the marriage hadn’t occurred during the year for which income is considered (prior-prior year). For example, if the custodial parent married in 2018 before the student files the 2018-19 FAFSA, the step-parent must still report 2016 income.

If the custodial parent dies, the step-parent’s information is no longer reported on the FAFSA, even if the student continues to live with the step-parent (unless the step-parent has legally adopted the student). In this situation, financial support provided to the student must be reported as untaxed student income on the FAFSA, unless the support is part of a legal child support agreement.

If the step-parent’s financial information is required on a FAFSA for his or her legal child, and the step-parent provides more than half the support for his or her step-child, regardless of where the step-child resides, the step-parent may count the child and step-child as part of their household size on the FAFSA.

Students Living with Neither Parent

If a student lives with someone who has not legally adopted them (legal guardians, foster parents, grandparents, widowed step-parents, or other relatives), the adults’ financial information (including Foster Care payments) is not reported on the FAFSA.  However, cash support provided to the student or paid on the student’s behalf must be reported as untaxed student income on the FAFSA. This includes monetary gifts and money paid for housing, food, clothing, car payments, medical and dental care, and college costs.

Death of a Parent

If the custodial parent dies, the non-custodial parent’s financial information must be reported on the FAFSA. If the student has no meaningful contact with and receives no support from the non-custodial parent, the college’s financial aid administrator may make an exception to this rule.

If no legal parent (biological or adoptive) remains, the student is considered independent on the FAFSA.

If a surviving parent dies after the FAFSA has been filed, the student must update her dependency status and report income and assets as an independent student.

Newly Divorced

If a student’s parents filed a joint return for the tax year applicable to the current FAFSA but have since separated, divorced, remarried, or been widowed, only the custodial parent’s information should be reported on the FAFSA.  The student must also submit an IRS tax transcript and W-2 for the custodial parent and speak with the college’s financial aid administrator to be sure any misinformation is corrected. (This is the same procedure for an independent student who has recently separated, divorced, or been widowed.)

Planning to Divorce

It is widely advised that parents planning to divorce should spell out the burdens of college costs, for each child individually, in their divorce settlements. In states where this is required, if the parents cannot reach an agreement together, the court will decide. Consider carefully:

  • Where the money will come from (529s, savings, home equity, income, education loans, etc.)
  • What are acceptable expenses (tuition, room, board, transportation, supplies, study abroad, club fees, health insurance, etc.)
  • Who is responsible for which expenses
  • How many semesters of support are acceptable
  • What happens in the event of a gap year or the child does not attend or finish college
  • Child support payments through college graduation
  • Age limits on college attendance
  • Requirements the child must satisfy to receive continued support (such as a minimum GPA, or credit hours)
  • Restrictions on which colleges the student may attend
  • Is the money paid directly to the college or to the student
  • Who will take on, co-sign, and/or pay back private student loans

The CSS Profile

In addition to the FAFSA, about 200 colleges, usually the most generous ones, require that students file the CSS Profile, a much more exhaustive look at family finances that usually requires extensive financial information from both parents, and often, that of any step-parents. Depending on the larger family financial picture, it may be a financial aid advantage or disadvantage in applying to schools that require the CSS Profile.  Click for a list of schools that require the CSS Profile.

The Financial Aid Office’s Role

The college’s financial aid administrator has the final word on how much financial aid a student will receive. Many colleges use their own formulas to award financial aid and may require an institutional form in addition to the FAFSA (but usually not in addition to the CSS Profile). Even when they require financial information from both parents (and step-parents), they may still take the divorce into account in their financial aid calculations by factoring in the costs of living in separate households.  In cases where it cannot be determined who qualifies as the custodial parent, the college financial aid administrator will decide which parent is responsible for completing the FAFSA–usually the parent with the greater income.

Other Circumstances

Common-Law Marriage

  • If a couple meets the criteria in their state for a common-law marriage, they should be reported as married on the FAFSA.
  • If the state does not consider their situation to be a common-law marriage, they are not considered married on the FAFSA, and a dependent student would follow the rules for divorce to determine which parent’s information to report.

Domestic Partners

  • If a parent is living with, but not married to another person, the non-parent’s information should not be reported on the FAFSA.

A Parent Who Isn’t Willing to Comply

Call the financial aid office to ask about their specific policies under these circumstances.  Sometimes college’s will make an exception to what is required if it can be shown that the non-compliant parent has a history of non-support.

How to Report Alimony and Child Support

Alimony received by the custodial parent is considered taxable parent income and would be included on the FAFSA as such. There’s no need to report it again separately.

Child support is reported on the FAFSA as untaxed parent income.

How to Report a 529

529 Accounts Owned by the Custodial Parent

  • Reported as a parent asset on the FAFSA
  • Distributions are not reported as student income on the FAFSA

529 Accounts Owned by the Non-custodial Parent

  • Does not get reported as an asset on the FAFSA
  • Distributions are reported as student income on the FAFSA

The CSS Profile will require information about 529 accounts owned by both parents (and grandparents).

Who Gets the Income Tax Benefits

The parent who claims the child as a dependent may be eligible to take advantage of qualified education tax deductions and credits, whether or not he or she is the custodial parent.


Learn More!

Download Your FREE Pocket Guide to College Financial Aid
Get the Guide

Watch our FREE 12-minute Mini-Course to Learn How Colleges Build Financial Aid Packages
Enroll Here

Untangle Financial Aid and Get the Critical Information You Need to Save Thousands of Dollars. Take the Full Course, only $39
Sign Me Up

College Admissions HQ provides powerful tools, information, and insights so you can take thoughtful and deliberate action throughout the college application process. Applying to college with a sense of purpose lets you chart your own individual path and achieve the best college admissions results academically, socially, and financially. Learn how to Apply with Purpose at www.collegeadmissionshq.org.





Unpacking Your Financial Aid Award

8 Clues to Understanding What a College is Really Going to Cost You

April is an exciting time in the college admissions process. Colleges have made their choices and your decision letters are posted on your online portals or have arrived by mail.

You’ve probably also received your financial aid packages. Now is the time to carefully scrutinize them to figure out your Net Price at each school—the dollar amount you have to pay to attend.

Net Price includes your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) and, if present, any Federal Direct and Perkins Loans, State Loans, Work-Study (on-campus employment), and unmet need, otherwise known as the GAP.

Our Financial Aid Award Comparison Worksheet helps you pick apart your first-year awards and find your Net Price.

However, your first-year Net Price does not necessarily reflect what you’ll pay in subsequent years. Each year you’ll get a new financial aid package and, depending on the college’s financial aid policies, they may look VERY different than your first-year year award.

The truth is, your Net Price is almost certain to be higher each year you attend. It’s important to find out how and by approximately how much your Net Price may increase each year—information not revealed in your first-year award.

To get an accurate estimate of the TOTAL cost of your 4-year degree, pull out your calculator, call the college’s financial aid office, and get the answers to the following 8 questions:

Continue reading “Unpacking Your Financial Aid Award”

Are You On the Same Page About College Costs?

8 Essential Money Questions for Every College-Bound Family

There are many exciting things to talk about when you begin the college admissions process—what to study, which colleges to explore, and how to tackle college applications, plan college tours, prepare for interviews, and discover scholarships and other financial aid* that might be available to you.

But often completely left out of college discussions are critical questions about what college actually costs, who is responsible for paying those costs, and what student loan debt really means for the family.

Continue reading “Are You On the Same Page About College Costs?”

Seven Smart Ways to Save Real Money on College Costs

You don’t often see “good news” and “college costs” used in the same sentence, but here it is: We have some good news for families facing the burden of ever-increasing college costs. Yes, there are some simple, smart ways you can save real money, even tens of thousands of dollars, in overall college costs.

Not every option we offer is right for every family situation, but it is absolutely true that every family can find real savings using at least one of the following seven strategies:

Continue reading “Seven Smart Ways to Save Real Money on College Costs”

Your EFC: What It Is, How It’s Calculated, and Why It Matters

As families start to dip their toes into the murky waters of the college application process, there’s one thing that’s crystal clear—college is very expensive and getting more expensive every year. A family’s best safeguard against being pulled underwater by college costs is to become fully educated about the college financial aid system.

That education starts with an understanding of a special number, EFC, or Expected Family Contribution, a measure of what a family can contribute toward college costs each year. EFC is the base of your need-based financial aid package. 

Financial Need at a college is determined by this simple equation:

COA (Cost of Attendance) – Your EFC = Your Need

If your EFC is less than the COA, you qualify for need-based financial aid (grants, student loans, and work-study). The lower your EFC, the more need-based aid you qualify for.

Your EFC is generated through an analysis of parent and student income and assets as reported on the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Any family wishing to be considered for need-based financial aid must fill out and submit the FAFSA each year.

Most families are stunned when they see their EFC for the first time because they feel it’s much too high—that it would be impossible for them to contribute that much money every year toward college costs. And, in fact, they’re right. Today, the EFC actually reflects a combination of what you can pay now and what you can borrow and pay over time.

Continue reading “Your EFC: What It Is, How It’s Calculated, and Why It Matters”

Make the Most of Your College Visit

How to Make Your College Visit Really Count

Choosing the colleges you want to apply to is exciting! Your research brings to light opportunities, experiences, and a world of possibilities open to you at different colleges and universities. As you begin to whittle down your choices, consider how your college visit can significantly enhance your research.

Why Visit?

College visits let you see and feel for yourself what it might be like to live there. You gain information and insight you simply can’t get from brochures or websites. And, if you decide to apply to a school you have visited, your initiative demonstrates to the school that yours is a serious request for admission, and it may tip the scales in your favor (particularly if you have interviewed or spoken directly with admissions counselors, coaches, or professors).  

Get Your Visit Right!

College visits require an investment, sometimes a significant investment, of time, money and effort. So, make the experience worth your while! Follow this checklist to be sure you get the most out of your college visit.

Continue reading “Make the Most of Your College Visit”

Get the Best College Recommendation Letters

3 Keys to Amazing College Recommendation Letters!

Letters of recommendation are an important piece of the application for colleges that require them. The best college recommendation letters provide valuable insight into you as a student and person. They validate from an outside perspective that you have excelled in some way – demonstrated exceptional commitment, reached high levels of achievement, exhibited great character, shown generosity of spirit, or worked well with other people. An effective letter of recommendation might tip the scales in your favor for an acceptance or even greater financial aid.

Follow these 3 simple guidelines to get letters of recommendation that really make a difference:

Continue reading “Get the Best College Recommendation Letters”

Ace Your College Interview!

Four Steps to a Successful College Interview

The college admissions interview is a tremendous opportunity! Interviews add color and depth to the basic facts of your application. They allow you to ask questions that will help you decide if that college is right for you. It is a chance for you to set yourself apart from other applicants. With the right preparation, you can ace your college interview and tip the scales of acceptance in your favor.

Interviews are sometimes required as part of the application process, optional for interested students, or not offered at all.  An interview may seem intimidating but it is not meant to make you feel uncomfortable. Rather, it is meant to facilitate a conversation that helps you and the school learn more about each other.  Interviews almost always work in your favor, and if you have the chance to do an interview at a college of interest, grab it!

Follow these 4 Steps to a get the most out of your college interview:

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