By Cindy Percy
January is traditionally seen as a time of beginnings. As a school counselor, I see January as the time that the bell begins tolling for my seniors, a warning that there is only one more semester, 20 short weeks until graduation. January is the time when high school seniors need to be thinking about completing their community college, trade school or university applications, and begin to complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The FAFSA is the foundation for the majority of school financial aid programs and is the gateway to establishing eligibility for federal assistance. The first step in the FAFSA process is creating a FAFSA ID. While in the past students and parents had a four-digit PIN that they used to certify their electronic signature on their application, beginning in March 2015 the FAFSA program, in an effort to increase security, moved to a log in and ID program. Students and parents should login to https://fsaid.ed.gov/ and click on the ID tab.
Each year the FAFSA site opens on Jan. 1. Students and their parents submit information about their finances for the previous year and the program creates a Student Aid Report (SAR) that summarizes the information provided. The SAR gives students and their families some basic information about eligibility for federal student aid. Students learn their EFC or Expected Family Contribution toward the students’ anticipated expenses at their school of choice. Students also are given an estimate of the federal Pell Grant amount they may be eligible to receive.
It is recommended that students complete and send their FAFSA by Feb. 14 of their senior year in order to meet the March 1 priority date most schools have for student submissions. Different schools may have different priority dates, but a good rule of thumb is to have all information, both college applications and your FAFSA submission, completed by Feb. 14. Funding for many school programs may be limited and, as such, it is recommended that students apply as soon as possible after the FAFSA becomes available on Jan. 1.
There are many types of financial assistance available to pay for college or career training programs. Aid can come from the federal government, the state where you live, the college you plan to attend, or a nonprofit or private organization. Types of financial aid include:
* Grants. This is gift aid, which does not have to be repaid. Most are based upon need, but some may have a merit component.
* Scholarships. These do not need to be repaid. They may come from private individuals, companies or other organizations.
* Federal work study. This is a need-based federal financial aid program that provides part-time jobs for undergraduates and graduates.
* Loans. Special information on the various types of loans available at the school of your choosing can be found at the school’s financial aid office.
Schools also often offer merit scholarships. Typically, an admission application to your school of choice is also your application for that school’s merit scholarships. If you submit a completed application and your ACT or SAT scores by May 1, most schools will automatically consider you for their merit scholarships, which can range from $500 to $10,000 and may be renewable under certain conditions. Once again, it is important that you check with the financial aid office at your school of choice.
January is also when senior high school students need to focus on important deadlines. Schools frequently have deadlines for early admission, financial assistance, dormitory admittance and so forth. Listed below are deadlines I found for Grand Canyon University, Northern Arizona, Arizona State and the University of Arizona.
FAFSA deadline: Applications for assistance for the 2016-17 school year must be submitted by midnight on June 30, 2016.
GCU deadlines: Jan. 15, deadline for a Priority 2 Grant of $500 per year (early commitment to GCU); Feb. 15, deadline for Priority 3 Grant of $250 per year (early commitment to GCU); April 1, commit to GCU to register for 2016-17 courses and potential housing and dorm commitments; and June 1, FAFSA deadline to review potential Pell Grants and other financial aid/Stafford loans.
ASU deadlines: Feb. 1, ASU Scholarship Portal application deadline (This site collects your applications for several different scholarships and saves your responses to common questions. Complete applications for most scholarships at ASU must be submitted by this date. It is important to review deadlines carefully, as some donors may require an application to be submitted earlier.); and March 1, 2016-17 FAFSA filing priority date (ASU would like you to submit your FAFSA before ASU’s priority date each year to maximize the amount of aid you will receive. Eligible students who apply by this date have a greater chance of receiving need-based aid. The priority filing date is not a deadline, so still submit your FAFSA even if the priority filing date has passed.).
NAU deadlines: Feb. 1, 2016-17 FAFSA filing priority date. The earlier students submit their FAFSA, the better their chances for need-based state grant funding. NAU begins awarding mid-to-late March, and continues each week throughout the year. The NAU merit-based scholarships (President’s, Dean’s and NAU Merit) are all waivers, and as such can only be applied up to the amount of tuition. NAU automatically applies the award that is of most benefit to the student, since the various scholarships all have the same renewal criteria. Receipt of these awards does not waive school fees or other charges.
UA deadlines: For details and frequently asked questions about financial aid and scholarships, please visit the UA Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid. To qualify for financial aid, including grants, student loans or work-study, students must first complete the FAFSA at www.fafsa.ed.gov for the appropriate academic year, list The University of Arizona (Title IV School Code 001083) as one of the schools on the FAFSA and submit the FAFSA to the federal processor. After the financial aid office receives the FAFSA information, financial aid eligibility will be determined.
Whether students are considering a community college after high school, applying to a state university or thinking about a for profit career training program, January is already upon them and time is swiftly moving toward their high school graduation. Make certain you and your student are prepared for the challenges ahead by completing the FAFSA and submitting an application to their school of choice in a timely manner.
Cindy Percy serves as senior counselor at Holbrook High School.
By Cindy Percy