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5 Must-Read FAFSA Facts

January 7, 2016

By Jessica Vician

5 Must-Read FAFSA Facts | If your child is planning to go to college in the fall, complete the FAFSA as soon as possible to see what kind of funding he or she qualifies for. Once you know, your family can decide whether or not to accept the aid.  While time is of the essence, it’s also important to ask questions so you know what your child needs to do. | A piggy bank with a graduation cap sits on top of a pile of cash.

On January 1, 2016, students planning to attend college during the 2016-2017 school year became eligible to complete the FAFSA. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If your child is planning to go to college in the fall, complete the FAFSA as soon as possible to see what kind of funding he or she qualifies for. Once you know, your family can decide whether or not to accept the aid.

While time is of the essence, it’s also important to ask questions so you know what your child needs to do.

What is Federal Student Aid?
Federal Student Aid is a part of the U.S. Department of Education and serves as the largest provider of student financial aid in the U.S. They distribute over $150 billion annually in federal funds for college, career school, and work-study programs.

What kind of funding do they provide?
Federal Student Aid provides three types of funding:

  1. Grants, which are funds that don’t need to be repaid if your student remains in class
  2. Loans, which are borrowed for school and must be repaid with interest once the student is out of school (regardless of earning a degree)
  3. Work-study, which is a work program that helps your student earn money to pay for school

Is my child eligible for aid?
Students must meet at least eight eligibility requirements, including:

  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • Have a valid Social Security number
  • Be enrolled or accepted as a regular student in an eligible program
  • Sign the FAFSA certification statement
  • Demonstrate qualification to obtain college or career school education
  • Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) in college or career school
  • Be registered with the Selective Service if your child is male

See the full list and details to these requirements on the Student Aid website.

When does my child need to apply?
Today!

The sooner your child applies for the FAFSA, the more likely he or she is to receive grants (if eligible) and other funding. Technically, the federal deadline is on June 30. However, many state and college deadlines are sooner.

For instance, many states have deadlines in early March. Illinois students are encouraged to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1, as the awards are available on a first-come, first-served basis in the state.

When does my child need to repay the loans?
It’s equally important that you and your student understand when and how to repay the loans.

After leaving school (with or without a degree), a student must start making payments on some loans immediately (like PLUS loans), while other lenders allow a six-month grace period before payments begin. Visit this page to learn more about repayment options.

Do you have other questions about Financial Aid? Ask in the comments below.

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My Story: How I Found Great + Affordable Daycare in Head Start

April 2, 2015

By Nikki Cecala

My Story: How I Found Great + Affordable Daycare in Head Start | Struggling to find affordable daycare? Depending on your household income, your child may be eligible for Early Head Start. | In the photo, a group of preschool kids join arms together and smile for the camera.

Like most parents, I want what is best for my child. One of those things is daycare. The benefits of daycare are well-worth the cost, which include developing social, emotional, and academic skills, providing supervised physical activity, and taking some of that responsibility off of a parent’s plate. But it can be a struggle to afford daycare, especially if you are a single parent, one-income household, or have multiple children. According to Michelle McCready of Child Care Aware America, a childcare advocacy group, “it’s the highest single household expense in most regions of the country.”

As I added up the numbers, I realized that three days of daycare a week for my son would cost me as much as a month’s rent. Some daycares cost even more. I became very discouraged that I couldn’t give my son the daycare and education I knew he would benefit from because I wasn’t making enough money. As my search continued, I discovered a program called Head Start.

According to their website, “Head Start promotes the school readiness of young children from low-income families through agencies in their local community.” There are two programs: Early Head Start serves infants, toddlers, and pregnant women; Head Start primarily serves three and four year olds. Together, these affordable programs support a child’s development from birth through age five, addressing mental, social, and emotional development.

You can learn more about these programs on their website, including locations, how to apply, and how much funding the state provides for the programs. Having gone through the application process, from initial research to acceptance, I can offer some tips to help you pick a program that fits your and your child’s needs.

Research
Take the time to research everything you can about the program you wish to enroll your child in. I found Yelp quite useful. The reviews are honest and most are directly from the parents.

Update your child’s information
Make sure your child’s doctor appointments are up-to-date, including their shots, dental visits, and anything else.

Plan a visit
Most Head Start programs will allow you to bring your son or daughter to sit in for a half day at the facility. This is a great opportunity to check out how the place is run, how the children act and most importantly, to see if it’s a good fit for your child. Observe and ask as many questions as you need to in order to make the right decision.

Timing + Pricing
Once you select a program, there may be a waiting period, but it might be quicker than you expect. I called a few facilities and was told I could bring my son the following week. The Head Start directors will ask you a variety of questions, including your living situation and monthly income, to help give you the best monthly fee they can. In my opinion, it is extremely affordable compared to a daycare and worth looking into.

Are you already using the Head Start program? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below.

Want to learn more about early childhood? Our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books help parents from birth through high school graduation and beyond. Now available on Amazon

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Scholarship Hunting: 3 Places to Find Them

March 26, 2015

By Judy Razo

Scholarship Hunting: 3 Places to Find Them | Don't go through a complicated maze to find scholarships for your teen. Try these three easy tips and remember to apply for both big and small scholarships. | The illustration shows a "find the tuition" maze.

Did you know that students should start applying for scholarships as early as eighth grade? That’s right, from ages 14 through 21, your child should be applying to about 10 scholarships for every $1,000 of college tuition that you would like paid regardless of how much Financial Aid you think your child will receive.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work. But graduating from college with no debt for either one of you will make it all worth it.

So where can you find these scholarships? I’ll warn you: you will need to dig for them. But don’t worry; I can teach you where to look.

Local Organizations
Many community organizations and local business in your town offer scholarships. Ask your employer and have your friends and relatives ask theirs. Some of these scholarships may be smaller, but there are fewer people competing for them and every dollar counts.

National Searches
Start looking for scholarships from around the country. Simply search for “scholarships” online or have your child sign up for scholarship search services such as College Greenlight, BigFuture by College Board, or Fastweb. These services are free and will match your child with scholarships for which he or she qualifies, taking some of the legwork out of having to research the scholarships one by one.

Skilled Competitions
Many talent competitions offer cash prizes or scholarships to the winners—all money that can go toward paying for college. Encourage your child to participate in contests and competitions using his or her talents, like writing, singing, dancing, and sports.

Always try to apply for smaller scholarships along with large ones. As I mentioned, competition for larger scholarships is a lot steeper than for small ones so the chances of winning a smaller or lesser-known scholarship is greater. However, don’t shy away from big ones like from Coca-Cola or Dell either; you never know what scholarships your child will win unless you try.

Lastly, remember to let your child do most of the work when applying to scholarships, but be available to guide him or her through the process, help with research, and proofread his or her applications. These tactics will help your child learn the application process so he or she can take initiative and apply alone once in college.

Find out everything you need to know about choosing a college, financing it, and college and career readiness in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books. 

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4 Last Steps for College Admission

January 21, 2015

By Kevin Rutter

4 Last Steps for College Admission | A student fills in a multiple-choice test with a pencil.

This time of year, I start receiving daily requests from my senior students for assistance in completing the final stages of the college application process. Keep your senior on track by making sure he or she has completed these four final steps. 

  1. Letters of reference
    Don't leave this step for the last minute. Teachers and counselors have a full plate and it's difficult to fulfill last minute requests to write a great letter of recommendation. Sit down with your child and write a general letter of reference that highlights positive characteristics, academic achievements, and extra-curricular activities. Give this sample letter to recommenders to help guide them so they can complete it faster.
  2. FAFSA Documents
    The Free Application for Federal Student Aid requires W-2 forms and your tax information. This application will determine how much state and federal aid will be available to defer tuition costs. Remember that it operates on a first-come, first-served basis. Since the money runs out, it is imperative that your child submit the FAFSA as soon as possible. Most high schools offer parent counseling sessions this time of year to answer questions and help navigate your tax situation.
  3. Interviews
    Several students of mine are currently having interviews to make the final determination on a scholarship opportunity or admission to an institution. Interviews can be tough, but there are some simple strategies that can help your child feel more confident about them.
    • Practice, practice, practice. Generally, interviews involve the same kind of questions: Tell me about yourself. Why do you want to go to school here? Tell me about a time when you were a leader. Where do you see yourself in five years? Review these questions with your child and offer suggestions to refine his or her answers.
    • Make a good first impression. First impressions also play big role in determining the outcome of an interview. Practice shaking hands with a firm grip and eye contact, have your student arrive at least 15 minutes early, and make sure he or she is dressed for success.
    • Send a thank you note. Sent after the interview, a hand-written thank you note is a nice touch that can separate your child from the competition.
  4. College Admission Test Prep
    These tests can produce a lot of anxiety. The best way to have your student feel better about them is to do some research about what specifically will be on the exam. Once that is determined, the student can put in some practice time. This is especially important for admission tests that involve timed essays. Getting the timing right takes rehearsal. Check with the school counseling office to see if there are any practice tests available so that your student can review the format and question types.
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Helping Your Child Choose a College

November 20, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

Helping Your Child Choose a College | Graduates toss their caps in the air.

Every year I work to support my students in finding the right college or university for their future studies. The most important thing I emphasize is that it is a process. It requires a great deal of planning, determination, and adult encouragement.

There are three areas in the college application process that cause the most trouble for students and provide the greatest opportunity for parents to assist.

Personal Statements 
A personal statement is a short and focused essay where a student writes about who he or she is and where he or she wants to be. These statements are often required as part of the application to a college or scholarship, as they help the selection committee get a better idea of the student’s academic and personal strengths. It is a great chance for the student to demonstrate who he or she is beyond what the transcripts show. Writing a good personal statement is also a process that needs plenty of time for thinking, writing, editing, peer review, teacher feedback, more writing, and more revision.

Parents, encourage your student to write a personal statement during junior year so he or she can get used to the process. Writing about oneself can be very difficult and I often have students who have no idea what to write about. As a parent, you are uniquely qualified to help define your child’s best qualities and provide a few examples of where you have seen your child using his or her positive characteristics.

FAFSA 
FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is the most important part of the college process because it will determine how much grant money will be available to your child. A grant is the amount of money a child can receive toward educational expenses without having to pay it back. There is a limited amount of government grant money and it operates on a first come, first serve basis. If you submit the application too late, the money will be gone.

Parents, you have a critical role in completing the FAFSA. The forms will require you to provide evidence of your family’s income by using your tax documents, W-2 and 1040 forms. You will be able to submit the FAFSA sooner if you have this information available. All schools offer free services to parents to help prepare these documents, so take advantage of them.

Comparison Shop
Students have no idea about how much things cost and often fall in love with a school or program without regard to the price tag. Shop around! For example, community colleges sometimes offer the same certifications at a very discounted price.

Before your child decides which school to attend, look together at every option and have a serious discussion with your parenting partner and child about costs. Taking these first steps should help get your child on the right path to choosing a college and financing his or her education.

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