College and career readiness services - Steps to the Future

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Signed, sealed, delivered: What’s next?

Following a guest host spot on WIDU radio’s “Grow Your Business” program, hosted by Darsweil Rogers of RMC Strategies, I spoke with one of the listeners about what to expect after applying to college. This is a follow up to our conversation.

Check your email and student college account. This is for the student applicant. The primary form of communication from colleges is email and there are too many instances of students missing important deadlines because they neglected their email account. I know students prefer texting and other forms of social media for communication but colleges prefer emails, so check it regularly. One parent shared with me that her daughter almost missed the deadline for submitting her student health insurance information because she had not logged in to her student account for her first-choice college where she planned to enroll. Can you afford to miss information that may increase or decrease your out-of-pocket costs?  

Complete your FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the primary financial aid form for federal grants and loans and many scholarship programs. Mark Kantrowitz, author of Twisdoms about Paying for College recommends, “families should file the FAFSA every year, even if they got nothing other than loans last year.” The FAFSA application opens on January 1, 2016. You can create your FAFSA account here. The system walks you through each step and if you still have questions, there are some useful videos on YouTube to walk you through the process. You do not have to wait until you file your 2015 tax return. Using estimated information from your previous year’s return, students and parents can complete and submit the FAFSA soon after January 1. Update your information after completing your 2015 return by logging in to your FAFSA account. Do this manually or using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which automatically updates your information if necessary. Remember to safeguard your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID like your social security number. Some states, like North Carolina, award state grants on a first-come, first-served basis so submit early!

Research scholarships. Now that applications are in, pump up your search for scholarships. One of the best places to look is on your high school’s website, especially the school counseling department. Pay attention to notices posted in the school counseling office. Many departments keep an up-to-date list of local and national scholarships available to high school students. Check your local newspaper because local businesses sometimes advertise scholarship opportunities. Check with family members to see if their employers or civic organizations offer scholarships. One of my students applied for a Rotary scholarship because of a grandparent’s membership in this organization. Have you checked to see if any of the local organizations in your area offer scholarships?   In Cumberland County, the Cumberland Community Foundation (CCF) opens their scholarship program early next year. Last year, CCF awarded almost $700,000 in scholarships.

An important note – check your prospective colleges’ policies on outside scholarships. Will monies from a source other than the institution or the state/federal government decrease your out-of-pocket costs?  Kantrowitz refers to this as scholarship displacement. Check the financial aid website or call your financial aid representative to find the answer to that important question.

Finish strong academically. Applications are in; you have one or more acceptances under your belt. Do not slack off! Do not take it easy academically!  In my time as a high school counselor, one of my former students lost some scholarship money because he made the choice to slack off in Spanish IV, where his grade plummeted from an A to a D. Imagine his surprise when he received a letter rescinding some of his scholarship (free money) because of poor final grades. Read the fine print, not only can you lose scholarship money but also your acceptance offer could be rescinded. Do you want to take the chance? Think about it. Do you want the college of your choice to re-think their decision to admit you? Remember, colleges want students who not only gain access to their institution but stay and graduate.

Stay involved. Spring sports will start soon. Other activities will continue. Enjoy your last semester as a high school athlete, member of the yearbook staff, or just create lasting positive memories of your senior year. When you matriculate in the fall, continue your involvement in activities that are of interest to you. Review the student organizations section of your prospective college’s website and plan to join a student club or organization. During your college orientation, most colleges have an event to introduce incoming students to the array of activities offered on campus. Make sure you attend.

Compare, discuss, and decide. You receive several acceptances and their respective financial aid packages. What are the final out-of-pocket expenses for your family? Remember, loans do not reduce your net cost; they only postpone it. Read here to learn more about what to do.

Make a list and check it twice. Make a list of all the transition activities your selected college requires. Do you need to complete forms for housing? What about medical insurance? Have you submitted your immunization records? Did you sign up for orientation? Have you checked the status of your financial aid to ensure all forms are in?  Do you know when your bill is due? Have you set up a payment plan, if necessary?  Do you need to sign up for placement testing? Has your college received your final transcript? These questions and possibly more may need answers to ensure a successful transition to college.

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