FAFSA FAQs

The year is flying by and October 1st is just one day away. That not only means that Halloween is right around the corner but the 2019-2020 FAFSA is opening!

We can all agree that the financial aid process can be daunting. To help you through the process, here are some Frequently Asked Questions about the FAFSA:

What is the FAFSA? FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The information from the FAFSA is used to award federal & state grants, need-based scholarships, subsidized loans, and work-study opportunities.  

What information do I need to complete the FAFSA? For the 2019-2020 FAFSA, you will need the following information from the student (and parents, if the student is younger than 24 years old):

  • Social Security Number

  • 2017 Tax Returns

  • Bank statements and records of investments

  • Records of untaxed income (ex. child support)

  • FSA ID

There is an IRS Data Retrieval Tool that can be used to access your tax returns.  However, it’s not always reliable, so it’s best to have the information handy just in case!

How do I get a FSA ID? Visit fsaid.ed.gov to register for a FSA ID.  If a student is younger than 24, parents will need their own ID. Tip: Connect a personal email address to your FSA ID, not your school or work email.  You’ll be using your FSA ID for 4 years of college and may lose access to your high school  or work email.

How do I submit the FAFSA? You can complete the FAFSA at fafsa.ed.gov. Part of the application asks which schools you would like to receive your FAFSA. You’ll add the colleges you are planning to apply to in that section. Students can select up to 10 schools for free.

When should I file my FAFSA? While the FAFSA deadline is not until June 2019, it’s in your best interest to file as soon as you can. There is a finite amount of federal money so the earlier you submit the more aid you may receive.  At the very latest, we recommend that you submit the FAFSA by Thanksgiving.  Tip: Many schools have a “priority” application deadline. Students who submit their application & FAFSA before that deadline are given priority in terms of financial aid packages.  Schools may set individual FAFSA deadlines as well.

When do I find out how much financial aid I will receive? Once you start receiving your acceptances from colleges, you’ll also begin receiving financial aid packages from each school. The timing will vary, with financial aid notifications ranging from a few weeks to a few months after acceptance.

My parents are divorced. Which parent’s information should I use on the FAFSA? If your parents are divorced and do not live together, you will use the custodial parent’s information on the FAFSA. If your situation is a bit more complicated, use this flowchart from the Federal Student Aid Office as a cheat sheet.

I believe that my parents make too much money to receive any financial aid.  Should I still submit a FAFSA? Yes! You should always submit a FAFSA regardless of household income. There are quite a few financial aid opportunities, with varying eligibility requirements, that will only be awarded to students with a FAFSA on file.  Examples include the HOPE Scholarship in Georgia and merit scholarships at certain colleges.

Simply Admissions is happy to help answer any financial aid related questions you may have! Please contact us for more information.


Rocking Your College Essay

Students are often intimidated by writing a college essay; perhaps they are self conscious about their writing skills or just not sure where to start. As they say in The Sound of Music, the best place to start is the beginning! If the application has more than one prompt option, choose the one that you’re able to relate to best. Consider which topic will give you an opportunity to show the college a side of your story and personality that’s not already expressed in your application.  

Once you’ve decided on a prompt, begin brainstorming! This can be done in the form of an outline or by simply writing down a list of ideas.  After you have a rough idea of the message you want to convey, take the plunge and start writing. Typing those first few words can be the hardest part - don’t overthink it, just put something down on the page. For the first draft, don’t worry about word count, spelling, or grammar - just write what comes to your mind.  When you have written as much as you possibly could for the first draft, put it aside for a few days.  This will help start the editing process with a fresh viewpoint.

While editing, focus on developing strong introduction and conclusion paragraphs.  The first few sentences of your essay are going to be most important.  Admission counselors read hundreds of essays every application season and an intriguing initial sentence can help grab their interest.  This may mean starting off with a question, statistic, or quote to pull the reader in. Glance through how you’re starting your sentences - are they all “I” statements? If so, how can you vary them? Think about the flow of your essay.  Do you have enough transitional statements? Are you using descriptive words, strong verbs, and details to really “show, not tell” the story? You may find reading your essay out loud helps you find sentences that sound awkward and need to be fixed.

Once you are satisfied with your essay, give it a final glance to proofread and to double check that it meets all of the college’s requirements. Then give your essay to someone else to read to check for any remaining sequencing or grammatical issues.  It’s recommended that this is a teacher, college counselor, or someone else with experience reading college essays. Remember that this is your college essay and it should be your voice - feel free to politely decline any advice they offer.

Using these tips will help you develop a strong college essay and hopefully have some fun during the writing process.  Take a deep breath and start tackling those prompts!

Testing My Patience: Preparing for the ACT or SAT

As you may have already heard, the June SAT scores were released and caused quite an uproar. Students found that they missed fewer questions than on previous tests but received lower scores.  The reason is that SAT tests are curved and this exam was easier than earlier versions. This allowed many students to have extremely strong raw scores, causing the curve to be steeper than usual.  

What is the lesson to learn from the June SAT? The degree of difficulty and curve will vary from test date to test date, which is one reason that we recommend that students take the SAT or ACT more than once.  This is also why it’s important to start the college admissions preparation process around your junior year, as it allows you to fully prepare for the ACT or SAT.

At Simply Admissions, we suggest that students begin the process by taking a practice full-length ACT and SAT test. Often students score higher on one test and having both scores allows an informed decision to be made about which test the student should focus on.  

What is the difference between the ACT & SAT?  Both tests are used to assess how well the student is prepared for college, specifically in the areas of reading, writing, and math.  The ACT also has a science section, which is meant to evaluate the student’s data analysis, scientific reasoning and interpretation skills. Students often think they will need to recall scientific facts and theories in this section, which is not the case.

Neither test is “better” and colleges truly do not have a preference.  Therefore, the choice depends on the student’s preferences and skill set.  

How many times should I take the ACT or SAT?  Once the student decides which test to take, the studying begins! The amount of preparation time needed will depend on the student’s needs and diagnostic test scores. When creating testing schedules at Simply Admissions, we recommend that students take the exam 2-3 times.  This allows the student to take advantage of superscoring and optimize their study efforts. After 3 tests, students tend to stop seeing a noticeable score improvement and their time is usually better spent elsewhere.

What is superscoring?  Superscoring is when colleges take the highest section scores students received across multiple test dates to create the highest possible composite score. This can be done for the ACT and SAT. Colleges may choose to superscore only the ACT or SAT, or both.  It’s important to note that many colleges do superscore and it should definitely be considered when creating a student’s testing schedule.

Standardized testing can be a frustrating and tedious part of the college admissions process. However, it’s important to remember that it’s only one part of the student’s overall application. Additionally, starting to prepare early allows students (and parents!) to minimize pressure and stress.  

Demonstrated Interest: How To Show Colleges You Care

Demonstrated interest is a hot topic within college admission circles these days.  It’s become clear that a growing number of colleges are using demonstrated interest as a tool when deciding which students to accept. So, what exactly is demonstrated interest?

Demonstrated interest is how certain colleges track if you’ve taken the time to truly research their school and how likely you are to enroll, if accepted. Many colleges automatically track a wide variety of behaviors, ranging from taking an official campus tour to interacting with the college through social media. The degree of this behavior is then quantified and taken into account when determining an admissions decision.  

Why do colleges care about demonstrated interest?  The world of higher education is changing rapidly.  Many colleges are reporting a record number of applicants each year.  Demonstrated interest is a way for colleges to separate the applicants that sincerely want to be admitted from those who randomly applied to a bunch of colleges without doing any research to make sure it’s a true fit. Additional reasons have to do with enrollment management, which is essentially a set of strategies colleges use to ensure they are meeting their enrollment goals. Demonstrated interest helps colleges determine how many acceptances they should send out, how many students will actually enroll, etc.  

How do I demonstrate my interest? It’s been confirmed that quite a few colleges track the following:

  • Attending an official college tour and/or information session

  • Participating in an overnight campus program

  • Interview with the admissions office or alumni

  • Reaching out to your region’s admissions rep via email

  • Visiting the admissions rep at a college fair or other local event

  • Sending thank you emails after meeting each admissions rep

  • Following the college on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter

  • Interacting with the college through social media (comment, like posts, etc.)

  • Adding yourself to the college’s mailing list

  • Opening emails from the college & clicking on a few links in the email

  • Spending 15 - 20 minutes looking through the college’s website

  • Showing your knowledge of the college through the supplemental essay

  • Applying early

Should I demonstrate my interest to every school on my list? While you should try to visit each school that is on your list, it’s certainly not necessary to spend the time demonstrating interest to 10+ schools. Once your college list is finalized, determine which 3-5 schools are at the top of your list and focus your energy on these schools.  

When demonstrating interest, it’s very important to remember not to go overboard.  You don’t want to bombard a college’s admissions counselor with daily emails. Make sure that you’re genuine when interacting with the college.  Are you wondering if they will be attending any local events and it’s not listed on their website? That’s a great reason to reach out to your region’s admission counselor.  Perhaps you’re interested in engineering and the college posted about a new engineering program on their social media account - that’s an awesome reason to comment and try to find out more information. Staying authentic will also help the admissions counselor understand if the college will be a great fit for you!

Can I Play? Student Athlete Recruitment

Many students are interested in playing a sport in college.  However, it’s often assumed that if a student is a strong enough athlete that college coaches will find them.  That’s not always true! Students often have to take the initiative to jump start their own recruitment process.

Prospective student athletes should first check the applicable sport organization website to learn about the rules related to their specific sport. These rules will include when college coaches can begin communicating with you and how official visits work. While you’re doing this research, register with the NCAA or NAIA.  You will be provided with an ID number to share with coaches – be sure to save this in a safe spot for future reference!

Most sport associations will detail academic requirements for their student athletes.  It’s important to take these the minimums into account when completing the your academic planning.

Potential early recruited athletes should also make sure to start studying for the SAT/ACT early, with the goal being to sit for your first test by the fall of junior year. Starting early helps assure coaches that their recruits have their testing under control.

While you’re waiting for the open communication period to begin, use the time to evaluate yourself. As it’s important to get a realistic assessment of your athletic skills, you may want to enlist a coach or private trainer.  

This is also a great time to create an athletic/academic resume.  The resume should list the following:

·      Personal statistics (age, height, weight, association ID, & DOB)

·      Your contact information

·      Parents’ contact information

·      Coaches’ contact information

·      Athletic statistics (rankings, awards, etc.)

·      Academic statistics (GPA, test scores, etc.)

When you’re ready, prepare an introductory email to coaches. Keep the email brief, while stating your interest in the school, expressing a desire to learn more about their programs, and attaching your resume to address your strengths.

Don’t be afraid to follow up with the coaches by phone!  Students often find it helpful to practice, or even write down, what they will say if they’re able to speak with a coach or in a voicemail. If you’re leaving a message make sure to include your name, phone number, interest in their team, and the best time to reach you.

As time goes by, be strategic about how you’re following up with the coaches.  While you don’t want to constantly be reaching out, you do want to trickle in communication to stay at the front of their mind.  Examples of good reasons to shoot coaches a quick follow up email would be new athletic or academic achievements, seeing the college’s admissions representative at a college fair, or visiting campus.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Simply Admissions can help student athletes please contact us for a complimentary consultation.

School's Out For The Summer! Now What?

Even though we may still be dealing with ugly winter weather, summer’s actually right around the corner! A common question that I get from parents is, “What should my high schooler be doing this summer to prepare for college applications?”  While my exact answer depends on the student’s specific situation, there are a few general rules to keep in mind:

  1. Plan ahead. Does your child know what he/she wants to major in? If so, make sure that their current extracurricular resume reflects that interest. For example, a student who plans to major in engineering may want to participate in an engineering camp or robotics competition. A future pre-med or business major may want to explore pre-college programs that offer courses in those subjects. This will show admission counselors that the student is passionate about an intended field of study and has dedicated free time to learning more about the subject.  It also gives students a chance to evaluate whether or not a specific field is a good fit for them.

  2. Think in layers. If your child does have a passion, brainstorm different ways they can expand their interest to create a clear theme and strengthen their application. Let’s say a student is already a member of the high school track team and plans to continue competing in college. Their summer could be spent volunteering to help coach younger athletes or raising money for a charity by running a 5k. Take an existing passion to a higher level!

  3. Explore. Most teenagers do not have a clear idea what they want to major in - summer break is a great opportunity for students to begin figuring out what where their interests may lie! This can be accomplished through traveling, job shadowing, interning, volunteering, or by simply taking the time to research a few different industries.

  4. Make some money. Summer break is a wonderful time for students who are busy during the school year to gain work experience. The job could be related to a student’s passion (ex. a future theater major working at a theater camp) or completely unrelated (ex. a future biology major working at an ice cream shop).  Admission counselors tend to appreciate the initiative necessary to obtain summer employment and know that jobs may lead to improved work ethic, teamwork skills, and independence.

  5. Have fun!  Summer is the time for pool parties, BBQs, and relaxing.  Don’t forget to take some time to decompress from the school year!