It’s Not a Meme, It’s a Trend…

Are you the trendy type? Do you wear the latest fashion, have a presence on the latest social media app (I see you, Tik Tok), listen to the number one songs on the radio, see the latest movie? Trends are like that; they are the original memes where something hits and hits hard. And then in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, no one remembers them.

Rest in Piece Rubik’s Cubes, Pet Rocks, Tamagotchies, Fidget Spinners, Pokemon Go… you can fill in the blank.

It’s all so trendy…

Now don’t misunderstand me. Trends aren’t all bad. When everyone is focused on one product or idea, then that idea or product gains nearly universal acceptance. For a moment, everyone agrees that it is “in” (or “hot” or “cool” or “ill”). As you can see, even language can have trends!

So what does any of this have to do with financial aid? Bear with me, I’m getting there…

Every year, the College Board (yes, that College Board) releases several publications about college pricing and financial aid. You know about the College Board because of their work with the SAT, AP examinations, and – yes – the College Board’s CSS Financial Aid Profile, but I bet you’ve never seen their Trends publications. (See what I did there?)

There is a lot of great information in the three annual Trends in Higher Education series, but today I am going to focus on the information specifically from Trends in Student Aid.

I want to look with you at one particular table because I think it is really important to understanding how financial aid works, and how I manage this blog. This table visible below is Total Student Aid and Nonfederal Loans for Undergraduate and Graduate Students in 2017-18 and is expressed in millions on dollars adjusted for inflation.

If you look at the 2017-18 line in the chart, you will see some interesting things. First, who offers more grant or scholarship financial aid every year, the Federal government, State governments, Private sources (like scholarship agencies), or colleges and universities? Well, looking at this chart we can answer this. Colleges and Universities offer far more in grant and scholarship aid (in 2017-18, over $60 billion) than any other source (the Federal government offered $41.6B in 2017-18 and all states in the US combined only offered $11B combined).

Another important lesson from this chart has to do with student and parent loans. While it is certainly true that students and parents borrow a lot to support their own investment in higher education, it is not the primary source of funding for college. Even including graduate borrowing (represented by the Graduate PLUS in the table above), the total borrowing of students and parents in 2017-18 was $105.5B ($93.9B from Federal Loans and $11.6B from nonfederal loans). This represents less than half of the total money available for financial aid. Now, I am not arguing that this number shouldn’t be reduced (I would love more grant assistance for students), but I often hear people complaining that financial aid is all loans, and this chart shows that isn’t true.

As you look at this chart, what questions do you have? What do you find surprising? What information fits with what you thought about the national financial aid picture? Post your thoughts below.

And what trend should be next on the list?

I’ve done the FAFSA, Now What? (and other complications)

Maybe you’ve completed your FAFSA, maybe you’ve already done the IRS Data Retrieval, and you are sitting back thinking “I am so ahead of this!” Life is great, right? Well, sort of. Let’s make sure you’ve remembered the other financial aid forms. (And for those of you who haven’t done your FAFSA, you aren’t too late — click here to review).

Kickin’ back? Not quite yet.

Remember that if your college requires the CSS Financial Aid Profile, you must complete this second application form in order to qualify for institutional financial aid. As I stated in an earlier blog post, the single largest source of grant-based financial aid is educational institutions (more than the Federal Government and more than State Governments), so you always want to make sure you complete whatever form(s) your college or university requests. More information on the CSS Financial Aid Profile can be found here.

Just in case any of you who are reading this blog are still in high school (or parents of a high school student), the next financial aid application you want to be sure to complete is your state’s scholarship or grant application form (if there is a separate one). We discussed this previously here.

The fourth form you need to be sure to complete is actually school-based. Each college or university may have its own financial aid or scholarship application form and you want to make sure you have completed that form. Here is where we discussed this last. Some colleges may have their own application form (online with another example here or here). Some have listings of scholarship opportunities available at the college, while others provide a bulletin board with links to outside scholarship programs. Check your college to make sure that you complete any requested additional form!

And finally, there are always more private scholarship programs and opportunities to consider. We’ve spoken about this process before too; read all about the best way to research and apply for outside scholarships here. The list of possible matches is long, but the rewards are great. We’ll talk more about private scholarships in a future post, but don’t forget to keep up to date with them!

Help me FAFSA, Help, Help me FAFSA!

So this title is really for the parents out there (or the older students, maybe). Anyone remember the Beach Boys classic “Help Me Rhonda”? Maybe we need to write a spoof called “Help me FAFSA”?

I’m not the Beach Boys, but I do have some suggestions on where to get help for your FAFSA.

Help me, Beach Boys!

If you are stuck and don’t know where to begin, the best bet is to begin by completing your FSA (Federal Student Aid) ID. The FSA ID is your electronic signature and for many students (and parents) this can be the hardest part of the process. If you have questions about the FSA ID, this link provides many of the common issues and problems and gives the answers for them.

Once you have your FSA ID (remember, the student needs one and – for dependent students – at least one parent needs one), it is time to complete the FAFSA itself. FAFSA is a free application and you should never pay someone to complete the FAFSA for you! If you do need help, you can get free help in the following ways.

  1. Check with your local high school to see if they offer a high school financial aid night! Many local high schools have college nights (or college financial aid nights) where a local college representative will come to the school and talk about financial aid, answer your questions, and perhaps offer a FAFSA completion lab. You want to make sure that the person presenting at your high school is reputable (and not trying to sell you anything), so ask if they actually work at a college before you attend. Moneyman (that’s me) has presented at more than 300 of these nights, and they are a great way to learn the facts about financial aid and the FAFSA.
  2. Check to see if your state or college is offering a “Form Your Future” event. Many local colleges offer free events, often titled “Form Your Future” or “College Goal Sunday“. The free events allow you to come to campus, get hands on help completing your FAFSA, and hear from practicing financial aid administrators. Valencia College (in Kissimmee and Orlando), as an example, titles their event “FAFSA Frenzy” and it is held this year on October 15, 17, and 24 (check the web page for which day on which campus).
  3. Check out the free Florida Virtual Shines College Week events being offered by Florida’s Department of Education. This three day event (from October 28-30) offers a number of free online sessions each evening on Financial Aid and Admissions topics (and the best part is they are recorded for later playback). You never have to leave your computer to participate!

Of course, there is one more source! Moneyman is here to help!

Have you started your FAFSA? What questions have you run into? How can I help you complete the form?

With apologies to the Beach Boys, maybe you are singing this song:

Well since October first I’ve been thinkin’ ‘bout it in my head
I come in late at night and in the mornin’ I just lay in bed
Well, FAFSA you look so fine (look so fine)
And I know it’s gonna take some time
For me to do the FAFSA
Help me get it finished today!
Help me FAFSA
Help, help me FAFSA
Help me FAFSA
Help, help me FAFSA
Help me FAFSA
Help, help me FAFSA
Help me FAFSA
Help, help me FAFSA
Help me FAFSA
Help, help me FAFSA
Help me FAFSA
Help, help me FAFSA
Help me FAFSA yeah
Get it finished today

“Help Me FAFSA” by Moneyman

You can’t Escape the FAFSA…

So today is October 2nd. Have you filed your FAFSA for 2020-21 yet? Don’t panic, I’ve got you covered.

Some of you adults will get this joke: I am not just the president of the hair club for men, I am also a client. What I mean by that is that I am not just a financial aid expert, I also have a child who is in college, so I am doing the FAFSA right along with you.

I’m also a client…

In past years, I have made sure my child and I have logged into the FAFSA website and completed the FAFSA right on October 1 (the first day that the application opens, and the earliest the form can be done). But last night, our family did an Escape Game.

Orlando is the Escape Game capital of the world, and we love escape games. If you haven’t experienced one before, they are filled with mind puzzles, locks and hidden keys, things to solve, and fun exercises to puzzle your brain. We had an hour to solve the room, and we were done in 37 minutes. It was kind of like completing the FAFSA.

The FAFSA application is the puzzle you need to unlock so you can make it to college (or to graduate school, or trade school). By completing the FAFSA, you too can open the door to a new possibility. And I bet you can get it done in less than an hour (probably in less than 37 minutes).

So, tonight, my college-aged child and I are completing the FAFSA. Will you join us and complete yours too? The application opened yesterday and while many college’s deadlines are not for a while, you are always better having done your application early (the earlier the better, since some funds can run out and they tend to be awarded in order of application completion).

If you want more information on the FAFSA (and the other financial aid applications you need to complete), choose the category on the side of the blog entitled “Applying for Aid”. There are lots of posts there that will explain each of the different application forms which need to be completed.

And remember: while you may escape the room (and you might even be the president of the hair club for men), you can never escape completing the FAFSA (if you want financial aid for college that is).