Archive for October, 2016

What is the FAFSA?

If your student is college bound, “FAFSA” will soon become part of your vocabulary. FAFSA is an acronym for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid: a form filled out by families of college-bound students. This form helps the federal government estimate ho w much financial aid your student is eligible to receive. Eligibility for the Pell Grant and Stafford loans is determined by filing the FAFSA. Some colleges require the FAFSA before students qualify for any scholarships from their institution.

How It Works

The FAFSA uses your family tax information to determine financial aid eligibility. Using your annual income (based off the previous year’s tax forms), the federal government determines how much aid your student will receive for the following academic year.

When It’s Due

For each academic year, the FAFSA comes available January 1st. For the 2016-2017 year, for example, the FAFSA came available January 1, 2016. However, it is best to wait until you’ve filed your taxes to place the application. Basing your FAFSA on estimations increases the possibility of being selected for verification by the federal government. Verification is a long process in which the government verifies that your estimations are actually correct to what is already on file. Because verification takes so long, it can delay your financial aid report, which many families rely on in order to make an effective college decision. Instead of estimating, file your taxes, wait two weeks, THEN place your FAFSA. There is still a chance you’ll be selected for verification, though, so don’t wait until last minute (June 30th is the federal deadline).

An Important Note

Remember how the FAFSA is based off your annual income? For many middle class families, this poses a significant problem. In most cases, these families’ annual income is too high for their student to receive much financial aid from the government, but it is also too low for them to afford paying cash for tuition. This is why it is so important to dual enroll, use CLEP testing, scholarship search, and study for standardized tests! Practicing these principles is the surest way to save money in college, achieving a degree without breaking the bank.

To get more answers about FAFSA, visit their site at Fafsa.ed.gov.

Questions? Email hsguidance@nullteachthemdiligently.net.

The first question I receive from parents regarding college is usually, “Where do we find scholarships?” Today, that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss! Scholarship searching is not easy; it’s almost a part-time job. But with time and diligence, scholarship searching produces an amazing return.

Know Where to Look

Where do you start? While some scholarships are advertised on the websites of individual businesses (think Walmart, Target, General Electric), the best place to find scholarships is in a scholarship search engine or database.

Scholarship Search Engines

Some of the best scholarship search engines are Fastweb, Scholarships.com, and ScholarshipMonkey. After creating a profile on these sites, your student can peruse the available scholarship listings for a good fit. Each scholarship has its own set of rules and qualifications; some are open to 10th-12th grade students, some just for 11th grade, some to people of a specific ethnicity or major, and so on. Create a list of qualifiers with your student and look for these on the scholarship listings. (links to sites)

                College Board

You can also look for schoalrships through the College Board (the company that owns and manages PSAT, SAT, CLEP and AP), who offers an online database of scholarships. (link to site)

                Peterson’s

Does this name sound familiar? Probably because Peterson’s is a textbook publisher as well as facilitator of college preparatory materials. They offer a scholarship database on their website, which you can find here.

Article on search engines: http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/the-scholarship-coach/2011/01/20/compare-5-top-scholarship-search-engines

Alternative Search Engines: http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/the-scholarship-coach/2013/12/12/improve-your-scholarship-hunt-with-alternative-search-engines

Don’t Just Focus on the Big Bucks!

It’s tempting to only apply for the $25,000 scholarship listings, but don’t just look for the big numbers. The large scholarships are highly competitive, which makes them harder to win. While you should definitely apply for them, don’t forget about the $1000 and $500 scholarships. These are just as useful as a large scholarship because very little bit helps! Earning several $1500 scholarships is the same as earning one $8-10,000 award, so be sure to apply for them all.

Apply, Apply, Apply

As stated, scholarship searching isn’t easy. It gets monotonous and even discouraging at times. Most students will qualify for 10 out of every 100 scholarships (10% of the ones they view) and of that 10%, will win one for every 10 for which they apply. That’s why it’s important to apply, apply, apply! Don’t give up when you don’t win. Try applying for ten scholarships a month in junior and senior year, and let us know how it goes!

Questions? Email hsguidance@nullteachthemdiligently.net.

What to Expect When It Comes to Testing

Standardized testing: It’s every homeschool parent’s favorite topic… or not! Your ninth grader may not have the ACT or SAT on her radar right now, but that is precisely why this is the best time to prepare. Students who know what to expect on standardized tests are far less likely to be intimidated by them – and far more likely to achieve high scores.

Why Standardized Tests Matter

Some homeschoolers aren’t in favor of standardized testing, and for valid reasons. The tests have been aligned with the Common Core curriculum found in almost all public school systems, and as such don’t reflect the individualized education homeschool students receive. While this fact is unfortunate for homeschoolers, it doesn’t mean we can’t succeed in standardized testing. Many homeschoolers prove excellent test takers on the PSAT, SAT, and ACT.

Standardized tests are colleges’ way of determining a student’s readiness for college level work. While this may not seem entirely fair – given that homeschoolers aren’t receiving the same content or information as their public school counterparts – it’s the best way for a college to measure academic ability. Test scores are by no means the deciding factor in an admission decision, but they play a big part in where a student is accepted and how much financial aid they will receive.

Types of Tests

If you’ve homeschooled through high school before, you’re already familiar with the alphabet soup of standardized tests: the PSAT, SAT, and ACT are taken by most high school students. These tests assess a student’s academic capability in math, critical reading, writing, and (on the ACT) science.

But these aren’t the only tests your student might want to take. Advanced Placement (AP) and College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests allow students to prove they have enough knowledge of a subject to get college credit – without ever taking a college class! Typically, AP tests are taken after an AP course in the corresponding subject. A student who achieves a 3 or 4 on the test receives college credit in addition to the high school credit received from the class (college websites will tell you what score they require in order to receive college credit for an AP exam). CLEP offers 34 different subject areas and study guides students can use to prepare for the exam. If passed with a 50 or higher (out of 80), the student receives college credit.

Why Think About Testing Now?

If you think it’s too early to discuss testing, think again! This is the best time to introduce your student to the different types of tests. In October of sophomore year, your student can take the PSAT as a practice round. She can also take a “dry run” of the SAT and/or ACT. Colleges don’t look down on taking these tests multiple times; admission offices look at the highest score. This means your student can spend two or three years preparing and practicing before submitting their final score to their college of choice. This gives them a significant advantage over the student who didn’t think about testing until junior year!

Consider introducing your child to the format of standardized testing. Ask your local school if she can take the PSAT, or just buy a practice book for familiarization. If she shows an area of significant strength, check out a CLEP study guide in that subject. There is no time to prepare like the present!

CLEP, AP, and the PSAT

A few months ago we talked about dual enrollment: a fantastic way to save time and money for your student’s college education. (If you haven’t already signed up for a class or two, pick up your local community college catalog or check out the possibilities for online dual credit!) But dual enrollment isn’t the only way to save time and money for college. In this email, we’ll discuss three alternatives that – when used alone or in conjunction with dual enrollment – can help your student achieve her college dreams without the usual time and expense.

College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

Is your student advanced in a subject, to the point that taking a dual enrollment course would be repetitive or unnecessary? If so, she is a prime candidate for the College Board’s CLEP program! CLEP tests are subject specific, allowing students to prove they have enough knowledge of the content to pass the college course. Rather than sit through 16 weeks of classes, they sit for one 90-minute exam. If passed with a 50 or higher (out of 80), the student receives college credit.

CLEP offers 34 subject-specific tests, as well as study guides students can use to prepare for each exam. Total cost of the exam is approximately $130-150, which includes both the test and the proctoring fees. Test are bought on the CollegeBoard website, where you’ll receive a specific exam ID number. You’ll then call the testing center to schedule the exam, referencing the ID number to do so. Study guides cost anywhere from $15-20 and can be acquired on most major bookstore websites, or on Amazon.

I recommend that most homeschool students attempt to CLEP English 101 (English Composition), English 102 (Literature), Biology 101 (depending on their major; biology and nursing majors would be exempt from this recommendation), a basic math CLEP (such as College Mathematics or College Algebra) and the language of their choice – whichever one they studied for their homeschool foreign language requirement.

A full list of CLEP exams can be found here.

Advanced Placement (AP)

Advanced Placement is similar to CLEP; an exam is used to achieve college credit. But though the exam can be taken on its own, it is typically taken after completing an AP course. Advanced Placement courses are considered “honors” level; they are more difficult than a standard high school course, replicating the workload of a university class. Students looking to attend Ivy League schools would benefit from pursuing Advanced Placement, as these colleges look well on the structure and achievement of Advanced Placement classes (once again, check university websites for transfer policies/credit limits). Many colleges that don’t accept CLEP will accept AP.

A full list of AP courses and corresponding exams can be found here.

PSAT

October is the month of the PSAT! College Board has recently developed another PSAT – the PSAT 10 – which can be taken in the spring (March-April). This is a great option if you don’t register for the October test date (the regular PSAT), but I’d encourage doing both. Though your student’s score doesn’t “count” in this tenth grade year, there are still benefits to taking the test. Let’s recap these benefits:

  1. The PSAT is practice for the SAT.

Taking the PSAT this year allows your child to prepare academically, mentally, and emotionally for the SAT. There are similarities between these two standardized tests that will allow you to pinpoint areas of necessary growth.

  1. The PSAT gives an idea of your student’s national ranking.

While the PSAT score your student achieves won’t “count” this year, it will send you a report describing his national score ranking. You’ll see where his scores rate in comparison to other students across the nation in critical reading, math, and writing. While you don’t need those comparisons to run a successful homeschool, it can be a nice benchmark before sitting for the SAT (the report will also give you a list of suggested AP courses based on your student’s scores!).

  1. The PSAT can result in a free ride to college.

This is the exciting part! When the PSAT is taken during a student’s junior year, his score is added to the pool from which are drawn the 50,000 highest scorers. Of these 50,000 some are moved on to semi-finalist status. About 2/3 of the students not chosen for semi-finalist status receive a letter of commendation. “Commended” students are often eligible for a full tuition scholarship and even additional aid from outside organizations. Semi-finalist and finalist students can receive up to full tuition, room and board – all because of the PSAT!

For more information, resources, or help creating a strategic plan for college, email hsguidance@nullteachthemdiligently.net!