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2024: Unraveling the Tumultuous Year of the College Admissions Process

Our colleague and college specialist Donna Cournoyer contributed the following update for college planning

Applying to college can be a complex and multifaceted process, including several steps and requiring careful planning and attention to detail.

The most recent yearly cycle of the college admissions process has just finished, as high school seniors and their parents have completed the years-long college preparation and detailed application process by making a financial commitment to the school they will attend for the next four years this beginning this coming fall.

The current level of complexity of this process sent some families into procrastination mode, pushing off the inevitable facing of facts. For others, it means assuming an uncomfortable level of debt.

For those who started early and bravely committed to fully engaging and digging into the process- navigating all the steps and intricacies along the way- many found themselves completely exhausted emotionally, and unfortunately for some, financially.

How did we get here? Has the craziness finally peaked with the FAFSA debacle of 2024-2025? Not likely. Although we will learn more when the process starts up again this fall with the next application season.

The college application process in 2024 has been particularly tumultuous due to several key trends and changes that have intensified its complexity and competitiveness.

Key Trends and Challenges

  1. Surge in Applications: The number of college applications has increased dramatically. This surge is partly due to the widespread adoption of test-optional policies, which has encouraged more students to apply to a broader range of schools. Applications to public institutions have seen an 82% increase since 2019-20, while private institutions saw a 47% increase​ (IvyWise)​​ (Crimson Education US)​.
  2. Early Decision and Early Action: Early application options have become more popular, but acceptance rates for these rounds have decreased. Many top universities still admit a significant portion of their incoming class through these early rounds, which makes the competition fierce.​
  3. Impact of Affirmative Action: The Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action has removed race and ethnicity as factors in admissions decisions. Colleges are now exploring new ways to maintain diverse student bodies, such as through supplemental essays and other holistic review strategies.​
  4. Financial Aid Delays: The rollout of a new FAFSA form resulted in a large decline in applications, and caused delays, which means students received financial aid offers much later than usual. This had a huge impact for some students and families and their ability to make informed decisions about which college to attend​.
  5. AI in Admissions: AI technology is increasingly used by colleges to streamline the application review process, including evaluating transcripts and letters of recommendation. This has raised concerns about the authenticity of student submissions, especially with some students using AI tools to assist with their essays​ (CollegeData)​​ (College MatchPoint)​.

Overall, the college application process is a significant undertaking that requires organization, time management, and support from various sources.

Strategies for Applicants

  • Broaden Your Application List: Consider adding a mix of public and private institutions, including those that might not be traditionally prestigious but offer strong programs in your areas of interest.
  • Early Applications: Apply early if you are confident about your top-choice schools but be aware of the competitive nature of these rounds.
  • Holistic Applications: Focus on creating a well-rounded application that highlights personal experiences, extracurricular activities, and leadership roles.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up with the latest testing policies of your target schools and prepare accordingly.
  • Use AI Responsibly: AI can be a helpful tool, however, be sure your application essays contain your work and authenticity.

The 2024 college application process has indeed been chaotic, driven by increased application volumes, evolving admission policies, and the integration of new technologies.

Preparing for the upcoming college admissions season: Staying informed and strategically planning your application approach can help navigate these challenges effectively.

DC

 

 

College Planning: 529 Update

529 Plans Provide a Smart Savings Vehicle to Fund Your Child’s College Education, and New Options and Features Make 529s Even More Beneficial

Even if you do not have children old enough to be thinking about college just yet, it would be hard to escape the news on what is happening at colleges and universities right now, along with the fact that a college education has been rising exponentially for decades to almost incomprehensible figures.

Planning and financing a college education for a child is one of the biggest expenses you will face over your lifetime as parents, so planning ahead and finding smart ways to maximize what your child will receive for assistance at application time is critical.

One of the best ways to grow education savings is with a 529 college savings plan.

Investing your college savings for a child in a 529 plan allows that savings to grow tax-free. And withdrawals, if used for qualified college-related expenses, are free of tax.

Also, contributors to 529s can benefit from tax savings in some states.

Massachusetts residents contributing to a qualified 529 plan can claim a state income tax deduction of up to $1,000 for single filers and up to $2,000 for married persons filing jointly. In Rhode Island, single filers can deduct up to $500, and married people up to $1,000.

Since its inception in 1996, the main drawback of the 529 education-savings plan has been its relative inflexibility.

If the beneficiary did not go to college, or they did not use all the funds, the owner (usually parent) of the plan had few options for the account savings and faced tax penalties for withdrawing funds for other uses if they did not have another beneficiary to transfer the funds to for college costs.

Some recent changes to the rules make the 529 plan a more flexible option for parents. The SECURE Act 2.0 was signed into law in December 2022. One provision of the act, effective this year, allows for owners of a 529 plan to move unused funds in the account into a Roth IRA for the beneficiary.

New Rollover Rules

As of January 2024, 529-plan account owners can now make tax- and penalty-free rollovers of unused funds to Roth individual retirement accounts if the beneficiary is the original beneficiary or a family member.

Here are some limits and restrictions on the rollovers:

  • A provision in the Secure 2.0 retirement-savings act allows up to a lifetime limit of $35,000 in unused 529 funds to be rolled over into a Roth IRA.
  • 529 contributions and earnings in the last 5 years cannot be rolled over.
  • The 529 account must have been open for at least 15 years.
  • Rollovers are considered contributions to the Roth IRA and are subject to the Internal Revenue Service’s yearly contribution rules. This year the limit for those under age 50 is $7,000. The beneficiary must have earned income, and the rollover amount is whatever is less, the earned income or the contribution limit.

529 Contribution Limits

There are options when considering how much to contribute to a 529 plan. It may also depend on your overall financial plan and when you start (how old your child is). It is best to think of college funding as part of your overall financial picture.

Here are some limits for funding a 529 Plan:

  • In 2024, you can contribute up to $18,000 per beneficiarya year before needing to file a gift-tax return with the IRS.
  • Married couples filing jointly can contribute up to $36,000 per child.
  • There is also a “superfund” option. The IRS allows a per-child contribution of $90,000 in 2024 without gift-tax implications. Married couples can each contribute up to $90,000 for a total of $180,000.
  • A caveat with “superfunding”: You cannot make any additional contributions to the same beneficiary for the next five years.
  • Total 529 balance limitsare determined by the state you live in and fall somewhere between $235,000 and $500,000. (Massachusetts is $500,000 and Rhode Island is $520,000.)

Types of 529 Plans

  • College Savings Plans: These work like a 401(k) or IRA by investing your contributions in mutual funds or similar investments. The account will go up or down in value based on the performance of the chosen investments.
  • Prepaid Tuition Plans: These allow for the pre-purchase of tuition based on today’s rates, primarily at a public institution. (Be sure to check with your state for options and all requirements and restrictions.)

529 Plans Owned by Grandparents and Relatives – and Federal Financial Aid

In many families, grandparents (or other relatives) like the idea of creating a 529 college savings plan for their grandchildren or family members.

In the past, this affected a student’s eligibility for financial aid.

Under the new rules, the grandparent or relative accounts no longer factor in and no longer count against the beneficiary’s calculations for federal financial aid. (Some schools that use the CSS Profile form in addition to the Federal Application for Student Aid may factor this in.)

Considering the 529 Plan Option for College Funding

The features of the 529 plans make a compelling option for parents and families to save for college in a tax-efficient way. And the new Roth IRA rollover option can help your college graduate or college-aged child start to build their retirement savings.

If you are considering a 529 plan, be sure to compare plans and understand all your options thoroughly and ask for advice from your trusted financial advisor to be sure you make a decision that is best for your situation.

 -DC

 

 

Shifting the “Dream School” Mindset

I grew up in a New England household where weekends were spent in ice rinks. I loved it! My brother was an ice hockey player, and I was a figure skater who joined my sisters in the sport each weekend (at the time, hockey for young women wasn’t an option).

I have a favorite quote from one of hockey’s greats, Wayne Gretzky, who said: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

I was reminded of this quote recently during a conversation I had with a gentleman at a networking event while waiting in line for a “free headshot,” a perk of being a participant in the event.

My new acquaintance had grown children, and when I told him I was a college planning advisor, he perked up and said, “Good for you!” He then began to reflect upon his experience in helping his children with their college applications.

He said he was obsessed with one outcome: the bumper stickers he would be able to affix to the family car. Not the college cost; not where his kids would be happy and thrive academically; just the school with the best “elite” reputation.

He was from an affluent suburb in Boston. He said all the cars in his neighborhood had elite college bumper stickers: Harvard, Yale, Brown, etc. His primary thought, and self-admitted anxiety thinking about college for his children, was about those bumper stickers. He said literally “nothing else mattered.”

While this gentleman had every right to his approach and opinion (every family has their own list of criteria for choosing a college) I was taken aback. But I was also intrigued because he was so animated and emphatic while telling me his story.

While bumper stickers might have a limited audience, consider the scope of merchandise a typical family will buy at the bookstore during a college tour or event. Don’t many students and parents want to wear that sweatshirt to manifest attaining admission? It’s almost like a dream board (and maybe not so different from the bumper sticker after all).

That conversation at the networking event reinforced my belief in the importance of helping parents and students move beyond the emotional part of college search.

If families think deeply about their priorities and goals and how school choice will impact their personal financial situations, the decision framework might shift.

One critical outcome may be that “dream school” may no longer be synonymous with “elite school.”

Consider a recent Bloomberg article entitled If You Didn’t Get Into an Ivy, a Public School Is the Better Investment, which claims that many elite private colleges underperform when it comes to the average student’s return on investment.

The Bloomberg News analysis of more than 1,500 nonprofit four-year colleges shows the return on investment at many elite private institutions outside the eight Ivies is no better than far-less selective public universities.

The analysis shows that a typical 10-year return on investment of the so-called “Hidden Ivies” – a list of 63 top private colleges – is about 49% less than the official Ivies and 9% less than states’ most prominent universities, known as public flagships.

These statistics are meaningful because of the high cost of attendance. For instance, a recent New York Times article commented on a situation where a newly admitted Vanderbilt University engineering student was shown an all-in price of attendance for their first year of $98,462.

As a financial advisor providing college planning, I encourage a holistic approach to the planning and decision-making process, with the goal of finding the most affordable choice that also is a great fit for the student to accomplish their academic goals, in a community and location where they will be happy and flourish.

There are so many excellent schools with significantly lower total cost of attendance and lower out-of-pocket costs compared to the often-elusive elite institutions.

Many of the alternatives will give students a four-year merit scholarship along with a great education and a wonderful experience. These institutions are p aces where students can build a tremendous foundation, lifetime friendships and mentor relationships, and gain experience to build on.

Which brings me back to Wayne Gretzky’s quote.

I recommend families move away from where college admissions goals have been: attaining admission to a brand-name, elite school.

Instead, consider where holistic college admissions planning is going:

  • acknowledging emotions
  • thinking deeply about priorities and goals
  • discovering which institutions align best with those priorities and goals
  • considering how school selection will affect student’s and parents’ long-term financial situation

Shifting the Dream School mindset and using a holistic planning approach to college search will help parents and students make the best all-around “smart choice” from their college list.

-DC

 

 

2024-2025 FAFSA FORM – Continuing Issues and Delays

This 2024-2025 college application year is one for the books…

We (schools, parents and especially students) have endured delay after delay for the newly overhauled FAFSA- the Federal form for applying for financial aid, which the government uses to determine student eligibility for financial aid and schools also use to determine how they will award their own funds.

The most recent delay coming this week when the Department of Education announced, the day before the ISIRS (Institutional Student Information Records) were supposed to start arriving at schools, that they were in fact, not going to start arriving at schools until “the first half of March”. This means that for anyone who completed a FAFSA, schools are not going to have those records to start reviewing until at least mid-March. This cuts the time even more and SIGNICANTLY for financial aid offices, who will need to scramble to review the FAFSA forms and try to get their financial aid offer letters out to freshman applicants in time to decide on where to go to college by May 1. A decision which for many families, depends in large part on how much it will cost the family out of their pocket after any merit scholarships and financial aid. Families will be receiving these letters months later than usual this year.

Some of the issues are also that some students and parents are having difficulty accessing and signing the form. Due to the processing delays, there is also the issue of not being able to correct the form until the records are processed and are sent to the schools. So, if you know you have made a mistake, you cannot correct it for another few weeks at least.

First, for freshmen applying to college for fall of 2024, this creates an extra layer of uncertainty and stress, estimating that they will not know how much aid they will receive and how much they will need to pay to attend the schools on their list until likely past April 1. For their parents, even greater stress.

Second, for students returning to college, they need to know if their aid package will change, based on the overhaul in the Department of Education’s formula on the brand new FAFSA this year. For example, the loss of the “sibling discount” for families having more than one child in college at the same time.

Ways You Can Take Advantage of the Extra Time:

  • Apply for private scholarships. This is the time they are open. Search locally, with your high school guidance office and qualified search sites. See my links
  • Consider appealing for more merit scholarship money. If you have offers from competing schools, or if you know your school offers higher merit scholarships, you may have a good chance at an appeal. Schools still need to secure enrollment for their fall class of students during these delays, and if there is a chance for an applicant to deposit early, they may have incentive to increase the offer.
  • If you have extenuating circumstances, don’t wait to reach out to the financial aid offices. If you have had situation over the past year that may have affected your finances, such as a job loss, you will want to reach out the financial aid offices to ask about their process for appeals if it is not clear on their website, so that you can be prepared to send documentation when they are ready to receive it.
  • Do some assessment of your financial plan to pay for college. Although you may not have the net cost confirmed for any of your schools. Start planning for what resources you will be using to cover out of pocket costs for college over the next 4 years and make a list. Will you be using a 529? Savings? Making payments monthly to the school? Borrowing? Or a combination of the above? Start planning out what you have for resources so that when you begin getting final offers from the schools, you will know how your finances match up.

Check the websites for your school list:

Decision Dates: Some schools have or are considering changing their decision date of May 1 this year due to the FAFSA delays.

Be sure to check all the websites for the schools on your list to see if they have extended their May 1 decision to commit date.

Financial Aid process: Some schools may have created their own preliminary financial aid form due to the Department of Education delay of the FAFSA. Also, schools that use the CSS Profile (between 250-300 schools) may be sending out offers ahead of receiving the FAFSA records for applicants, due to the fact that the CSS Profile form has not changed and opened in October.

Be sure to check the financial aid pages of your school websites to see if your schools have created and require new forms or are using the CSS Profile due to the FAFSA delays.

The bottom line is that the 2020 Congressional laws passed that required significant changes to the FAFSA form with the intention of making more students eligible for aid and the form completion easier has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for college students and families for the 2024-2025 year as the rollout has been anything but smooth.

In light of these delays of information – essentially knowing the cost you will pay out of pocket for each school on your list – which is crucial for most families in order to decide on college, some families may decide not to apply for financial aid, thus leaving money on the table and spending more out of their pockets next year. Some schools require the FAFSA form to award their merit scholarships and/or some free grant money that is sometimes even offered to those applicants who are not eligible for need-based financial aid by the FAFSA form, in order to entice students to commit.

Of course, as in my previous articles, my advice is to weather the storm, and do the form and be more vigilant than ever staying on top of deadlines and information gathering in this last sprint in your college decision. It will be worth it in the end.

 

New Year, New FAFSA

After Congress approved some major changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) a few years ago, the US Department of Education has taken years to fully implement the changes and overhaul the FAFSA form.

The target date for release of the new form, October 1, 2023, was missed.

The Department of Education then announced a “soft launch” by December 31, meaning that the form would be open by December 31 at the latest (it opened that day for two hours), but also be intermittently closed from time to time for review and maintenance.

These fits and starts have caused students, families, and financial aid offices to play the waiting game and adjust their financial aid timelines.

New York Times columnist Ron Lieber’s article I Spent New Year’s Eve Trying to Do the FAFSA. It Didn’t Go Well, published on January 1, summed up some of the frustrations experienced by families trying to complete the FAFSA form when it opened at the end of December.

Many of the kinks, as of mid-January, now seem to have been worked out.

While families should complete the form as soon as they can, they should not worry about getting it done immediately.

The US Department of Education has indicated that it will not be sending the information to schools until the end of January at the earliest. So, it may be best to wait a week or so more to ensure a clear path to completion.

Noted Changes to the New 2024-2025 FAFSA Form:

  • Form length. The new FAFSA form is considerable shorter. The form has been reduced from 108 questions to about 46, or less, depending on your situation.
  • The custodial parent is now who contributed the most financially for the student. For divorced families, the parent required to complete the FAFSA used to be whomever the student lived with the most in the previous year. It is now whomever contributes the most financially.
  • Pretax Contributions to a retirement account (from W-2 box 12) is no longer required for untaxed income. See form for exceptions such as SEP.
  • If a parent owns a business, it must be disclosed on the form. Previously, if a parent owned a business but there were under 100 employees, they were not required to list the business value on the form. Now ALL parent-owned businesses must be listed. You should list the value after any debt.
  • 529 Accounts. Previously all parent-owned 529 accounts for any children had to be included in the investments section. Now only a 529 for the student on the application must be listed. 529s in grandparent’s or relative’s names are NOT included.
  • Students and parents are now required to give “Consent” which must be given for the Direct Data Exchange (previously called the IRS Data Retrieval). For the FAFSA to be processed, the student and parent must give “consent” which will automatically populate income information, except for a few situations.
  • Students and parents are now called “Contributors”. This does NOT mean they are required to contribute financially. The student must “invite” the parent to be a contributor.
  • EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) is now called the SAI (Student Aid Index). This is the number created by the formula to determine a student’s eligibility, based on the information on their FAFSA application which the government and schools use to award need-based aid.
  • The number of students in college is still listed on the form but is no longer considered in the eligibility calculation. If the student will have one or more siblings in college at the same time for the coming year, or has in past years, this will no longer lower the student’s SAI. The result for parents is that having more than one dependent in college at the same time does not necessarily translate to more need-based financial aid. For current students in this situation, talk to your financial aid counselor for information on how this may affect your aid.
  • Maximum number of schools you can list on the form. The previous FAFSA limited applicants to 10 schools. You may now list up to 20 schools to receive your FAFSA form.

My recommendation is for every student to complete the FAFSA form, especially in year one.

Some schools award non-need-based grants and merit scholarships only to students who complete the form. Also, this is the only way to take advantage of using the Federal Student Loans if you intend to do any borrowing for college.

To complete the 2024-2025 FAFSA form, go to https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa and click on the link “Start New Form.”

After completing the FAFSA form, watch for an email from the US Department of Education with the “FAFSA Submission Summary” (previously called the Student Aid Report) which has information about your FAFSA application.

Also, watch for school communications from colleges your student has been admitted to and to whom they have sent the FAFSA. Schools will begin sending out financial aid offer letters once they start receiving and processing the FAFSA forms from the Department of Education. If you have any questions regarding these offers, contact the financial aid office at the school. Timelines at each school will vary, especially with this year’s delays.

If you would like information on how we can help your personal situation with our college planning service, please sign up for a free 30-minute consultation on our website.

For additional FAFSA and college planning please see our College Planning articles on our website Blog.

Holiday Break- Great Time to Discuss College Expectations

After the much needed and joyful celebrations with families and friends coming up this month, the holiday break for students is a great time to have a family discussion on college.

Often parents have a slightly less hectic schedule as well, and you can come together to have some meaningful discussions so that you are all on the same page when the college action list ramps up this summer.

Students- this is a great time to engage your parents in your college search and let them know how they can help you.

Parents- this is a great time to learn what your student would like to study and achieve with their college education and experience.

Items to consider:

  • Start your research and college list– Look for a school that fits your major, size of school you’d like to be at, and that falls within your requirements and geographical areas you want to be in.
  • Make a Test Prep Plan-Consider which tests you will take (ACT, SAT) and decide if you will take prep courses and map out deadlines to register.
  • Continue to Get Involved in Areas of Interest and Consider Volunteering or Working in them– Look in areas that interest you and that you are passionate about so that it is genuine when you list these on your applications next fall.
  • Check Open House Schedules for Potential Colleges– There are many open houses in spring. Schedule visits with the schools you are seriously considering and plan any travel.
  • Meet With Your High School Counselor– Meet with your counselor and see what help they have available to you. Get engaged and let them know what your goals are for college.
  • Set Up or Plan Your Senior Class Schedule– Review possible courses with your counselor. For example, will you take AP classes? Continue to challenge yourself.
  • Make a List of Teachers and Mentors– List anyone whom you may want to ask for letters of recommendation during your application process next fall. Have a conversation with them to let them know.
  • Start Working on Your College Essay– It is never too early to start, and you will likely have many iterations of your essay before you complete applications.

Finally, start a conversation together about finances.

Parents may want to set expectations for what kind of financial support they can provide and what they expect from the student as well, in terms of contributing to their education.

This is a crucial component to look at costs and your finances, so that you can consider this important factor when making your college list.

Don’t wait until you decide on a school to estimate your out-of-pocket costs. Start thinking of a financial plan now and what resources you may have, and how much you may need.

For example, if you are considering an exclusive Ivy League school, many of them do not offer merit scholarships. So, use their Net Price Calculator to get an idea if you would be eligible for financial aid (need-based aid). If you are likely not eligible for free grant money based on need, keep in mind you may pay close to the full cost at that school.

Remember, next holiday season you will be looking forward to your acceptance letters as confirmation of the work and thought you are all putting into this process now. The benefit will hopefully be finding the best college choice- for all of you.

DC

It’s a Wrap: Finishing Up College Applications

Admissions Applications

 Some congratulations are in order if you’re helping a high school senior through the college application process: you’ve made it this far.

There have been college visits, checklists, discussions, applications, essays, and life sprinkled in the mix over the last year as college admissions activities and “to-do” lists have ramped up, especially this fall.

While the upcoming decision time can be emotionally challenging – given that choosing a college is one of the biggest financial decisions many families will make – this busy, stressful fall phase of active work is almost done!

As many schools have an early action or early decision date of November 1 or November 15, your student may have already submitted many of their applications. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to ride that momentum and finish up with any pending applications soon.

Encourage your student to complete their remaining applications on their school list.

Even if a college has a rolling deadline, or an early 2024 deadline, it is best to apply as soon as possible.

While the expected notification dates of acceptance vary from school to school, it’s good to know the following: the earlier your student applies, the sooner admissions staff likely will read the application and send out notification. College financial aid staff typically review applications for financial aid after acceptance.

The FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid

 While the Department of Education has yet to release the opening date of the FAFSA application for the 2024-2025 academic year, it is still expected to open in December.

The fact that the FAFSA form is opening later for this year only, due to major changes in the form (it usually opens on October 1 for the following fall) is more reason to complete it as soon as it is released.

Schools will have a shorter timeline to review applications and prepare offer letters.

It is my recommendation that every student complete the FAFSA form.

Even if you think your student will not be eligible for need-based aid (free grants and scholarships), you and your student should complete the FAFSA form. Some schools will offer a free grant or scholarship even if your student doesn’t qualify for need-based funds, just because the form was completed.

There are also some schools that require completion for merit scholarships (awarded by admissions based on the student’s admissions application).

How to Get a Jump on Completing the FAFSA Form

Create your FSA ID

  • Create your FSA ID here: Create FSA ID
  • Get updates and FAFSA information here: Federal Student Aid
  • Both student and parent will need to create an ID
  • You can take these steps now and keep credentials in a safe place until the FAFSA opens

Gather required information to reference when completing the FAFSA, including:

  • 2022 Federal Tax Return – in most cases, you will be required to give consent to the IRS and use the (FTI) Federal Tax Information-Module. Eligibility will not be calculated without consent. This is consent for tax information, NOT to contribute to college costs.
  • 2022 W-2’s and 1099’s
  • Account Statements – Checking and savings accounts, brokerage accounts
  • Child support received – if applicable
  • Social Security #’s – be sure to double check these- it is a common mistake to transpose numbers or use the wrong one

For more information on the new 2024-2025 FAFSA changes and Early Decision, see my October blog- College Application Marathon: Fall’s Final Sprint

Once your student finishes their applications, hopefully your whole family will be able to find time to relax and enjoy the holidays!

And, as a reminder, be sure to check your email regularly for notifications from the schools.

DC

 

College Application Marathon: Fall’s Final Sprint

As October arrives, your high school senior is likely deep into the college application process, and now the college application marathon turns into a final finishing sprint.

This time in your student’s life can seem pressure-packed and overwhelming.

Together you’re trying to find the perfect college fit that will allow them to pursue their educational and extracurricular goals in a way that can be supported by your family’s finances.

Keeping on top of the application process, including deadlines, may relieve some of that pressure. Below are some suggestions that you might find helpful.

Refine the List

Now is the time to refine your student’s school list. Take a realistic look at the options. In addition to that school at the top of your student’s wish list, do you have some options that are likely to be more affordable, and at least one or two where your student is “likely” to be accepted?

Know the Options

The college admissions “game” has gotten more complex and is defined by detailed applications, multiple essays, different application types and different deadlines for each school! Early Accept, Early Accept II, Early Decision, Early Action, and additional points such as “restricted” are possible options for applicants

Be sure to know the options and deadlines for each school on your student’s list and make an informed and timely decision on how your student will apply.

It is a good idea to consider the Early Action applications which are not binding, (when you do not have to commit to attending if you are accepted). Applying early will usually result in an earlier notification to the student. If you know the student will apply to the school, why not get the application in as soon as possible, and get notified early of the decision?

Be sure to work with your student on getting the applications done not only by the deadline, but a little ahead, so you all can be a little less stressed when completing them.

Words of Caution on Early Decision Applications

You should be well-informed about electing Early Decision because:

  • It is a binding agreement with the college or university. Most often, you have no idea if the student will receive any financial aid or a merit scholarship before you commit to attending the school if the student is admitted. It usually limits the student to other early applications as well.
  • Not every school keeps their Net Price Calculator (NPC) up to date and some do not include merit scholarships in the estimate, even if they do offer them. At the very least, you should complete the NPC on the school’s website to get an idea of eligibility.
  • You will need to be prepared to pay whatever the cost is to you. It’s possible that you won’t be offered aid and will have to pay full price.

Although many schools state a student’s eligibility does not depend on when they apply, most schools do not have unlimited funds. Getting applications done early for admissions and financial aid will give your student the best opportunity for maximizing their eligibility for scholarships and aid.

The College Essay

Hopefully your student has worked over the summer on their college essay.

Understand what your student’s best positioning is and be sure to have your student weave a good narrative into their essays that accompany the application.

Many schools have a holistic approach to the application review, and this is an area where your student can really shine. Admissions representatives love to hear stories that bring a student’s application to life.

Test Scores

Decide on whether to submit the SAT / ACT test scores. Many schools are still test optional. If you and your student do not feel the scores are indicative of their ability, consider not submitting if scores are not required and if your student is very strong in other areas such as GPA, involvement in groups and activity, and other accomplishments.

If you have questions specific to a school, do not be shy about calling the school and reaching out. They have an enrollment goal to achieve, and admissions folks are generally helpful in guiding you along the way to submitting your application.

Final Notes

Take it easy on yourself and your student during this time. Try to find ways to keep calm, take breaks, and remember: the ultimate goal is to get them off to college next year, and they will make it!

In my experience when working with families, most often the student ends up where they were meant to be in the end.

If you need some hourly college planning advice, you may contact Donna on our website.

While the FAFSA release date is still expected to be December, it has not yet been announced. You can register for an FSA ID and complete the FAFSA here when the application opens.

We will post updates on the FAFSA release date when they are available.

-DC

 

Ready, Set… Wait for the New FAFSA

Roughly 18 million college students apply for financial aid each year through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The U.S. Department of Education develops the FAFSA form and disburses aid to students at 5,600 colleges and career schools each year.

The FAFSA is also used by colleges and universities to determine eligibility for their own free grants and scholarships.

Due to the implementation of extensive changes based on the FAFSA Simplification Act, the Department of Education delayed the usual October 1 launch date to December this year for the 2024-2025 application. The exact date has not yet been released.

Changes to the form began over the last three years and some of the more impactful changes will occur on the 2024-2025 FAFSA form.

What this means for students who are applying now to college for admission for the fall of 2024 or who are current college students, is that their aid eligibility may be affected. Some changes are expected to help students, and some are expected to have a negative impact on eligibility.

It also means that schools which have historically released earlier financial aid offer letters to freshmen applicants, will likely be scrambling to review the FAFSA applications once the form opens and may have to delay their offer notifications to freshman.

Some of the FAFSA changes that may have a negative impact on student eligibility are:

  • The number of family members in college is no longer a factor in the need analysis. The “sibling discount”, which could make a student eligible for more aid, is going away. However, based on comments from administration officials from a sampling of schools that use the CSS Profile, many colleges likely will continue to give some form of sibling discount.
  • The net worth of a business is no longer limited to those with more than 100 full-time employees. Applicants must report the net worth of all businesses.

Some of the FAFSA changes that may have a positive impact on student eligibility or be a benefit to students are:

  • The FAFSA will have significantly fewer questions.
  • The FAFSA EFC (Expected Family Contribution) name has changed to FAFSA SAI (Student Aid Index) which helps avoid confusion as this number is for determining eligibility and is not associated with what a family or student “is expected” to pay.
  • Some untaxed income items have been eliminated such as: payments made to tax-deferred pension and retirement plans that are paid directly or withheld from earnings; money received by or paid for on behalf of the student; and veterans’ noneducational benefits.
  • For dependent students, education savings accounts will only be counted as a parent asset if the account is designated for the student. Previously, if a parent had education savings accounts for other children, the value of those were also required to be counted.
  • Students may now list up to twenty colleges on the form, rather than the previous ten.

One important outcome of the FAFSA change is unclear: how schools will adjust aid (or not) for current students. Students and families will have to wait and see how the new FAFSA, and their school’s policy changes, will affect their financial aid for their remaining college years.

One Final Note about the FAFSA Form: every student should complete the FAFSA form. Free money can be left behind if a student does not submit the form, especially in year one.

Some colleges require the form to be submitted to qualify for a merit scholarship, even though it is not need-based. Also, some colleges award additional grants in the form of free money, just for completing and submitting the FAFSA, regardless of eligibility.

You can register here for an FSA ID and use the same link to complete the FAFSA when the application opens.

Parents of students applying for admission for Fall of 2024 can use the Net Price Calculators on their schools’ websites to get an idea of eligibility before the FAFSA becomes available.

You can also receive a College Money Report (for three schools on your list) by visiting the Resources page on the Moore Financial Advisors website.

We will post updates on the FAFSA release date when they are available.

 

 

Federal Student Loan Repayments Resume

The US Department of Education’s COVID 19 relief for Federal Student Loans is ending soon and roughly 1 in 8 Americans will have to restart their loan payments as soon as October.

Interest resumes on September 1, 2023, and payments will be due starting in October 2023.

If you are a parent of a young adult who graduated during the past three years of the COVID 19 loan repayment pause, these students may have never been required to make a payment on their Federal Student Loans until now.

If you have a Federal Student or Parent Plus Loan, or if you are the parent of a recent college graduate, here are ways to prepare for the loan repayment start up:

This is a good time to check in with young adults and discuss their loans. Don’t assume they are aware of the repayment start and what to do.

Be sure to let them know that they must watch for communications from their servicer for a bill. You can be a resource to help them remain in good standing and on track to pay off their loans on time.

Anyone with outstanding Federal Student loans, which include Federal Direct Stafford Student Loans, Federal Direct Graduate Student Loans, Graduate Plus Loans, and Federal Parent Plus Loans, should prepare for repayment (unless you kept up payments during the pause).

Below are steps you should take in August and September.

By logging in to your FSA (Federal Student Aid) dashboard with your FSA ID and password, you will have access to the information you need.

Here are some specifics:

  • Log on to Federal Student Aid, and update your contact information, including mailing address, email, phone; you can also update your information with you loan servicer using this link
  • Confirm the status of your loans, total amount you owe, and the current servicer (government agency handling your repayment)
  • If you are repaying Student Loans for the first time, here is a step-by-step plan with links to be sure you are set up for your first payment: FSA: Repaying Student Loans for the First Time

Watch for communications regarding your loan: your bill, payment amount, and due date should arrive at least 21 days before your due date.

A smart way to save on interest is if you set up auto-pay so you will save 0.25% on your interest rate.

If you were on an income-based repayment plan, or want to explore more affordable plans information is here: FSA Income-Driven Repayment Plans

Important Note: If you choose an income-driven repayment plan, this will extend your repayment time, and interest and total amount to be repaid.

More information on the repayment start can be found at: Federal Student Aid-Managing Loan Repayment

Here you can find more information on:

 If you have questions about the Federal Student Loan repayment restart, or would like to discuss your situation with regard to paying for college, Donna is available to help.