Vicki Beam: College planning time is now

Vicki Beam

Most families are settling back into their routines now that school is back in session — and are wondering what their students should be doing to be prepared for college planning. It is never too early, or too late, to plan for college.

Seniors should be working on their college applications. Each school has its own deadline, so make sure you’re checking so you don’t miss one.

Check with each school to see if there are additional scholarships and scholarship competitions that your student may qualify for. For instance, Central Michigan University has an Honors Scholar Program where students compete for 150 Centralis Scholarships that range from full tuition to a full-ride scholarship. There are two competition dates — Oct. 21 and Nov. 4 — and students need to complete their application and register for the competition.

In addition to completing college applications, seniors and their parents should be getting ready to complete the FAFSA and, if applicable, CSS Profile, which are used to determine financial aid. Both financial aid applications will be available for families to complete on Oct. 1.

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is used to determine how much aid a student needs based the dependent student’s and parent’s income, savings, number in the family and number of children in college. Your FAFSA information is used to award federal grants, state grants and numerous scholarships from colleges, foundations and companies. Experts recommend all students file a FAFSA, even if uncertain whether or not the family will qualify for aid.

To start a FAFSA, you’ll need a Federal Student Aid ID and password. Get them at www.fsaid.ed.gov. There you will create a unique user ID and a password. You also will need to provide your Social Security number, date of birth and name exactly as it appears on your Social Security card. If the student is under the age of 24, at least one parent also will need to get an FSA ID.

The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, short for the College Scholarship Service Profile, is a financial aid application produced by the College Board’s College Scholarship Service. It sometimes is referred to as the CSS PROFILE or as the PROFILE form. The CSS Profile can be accessed at www.collegeboard.org.

Many schools and scholarship programs, including The University of Michigan, use the CSS PROFILE in addition to the FAFSA because they believe that by collecting more detailed information from students and their families, they can make a more complete analysis of a family’s financial capacity to pay for college-related expenses. The CSS Aid PROFILE collects more detailed information about a family’s financial circumstances and contains about 50 percent more questions than the FAFSA.

Deadlines for the CSS Profile and the FAFSA vary from school to school. Verify the date with each school that your student is applying to. Make sure to complete the CSS PROFILE online at least two weeks before each deadline. In addition, many schools offer financial aid in the order the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile are submitted — so it is important to complete them as early as possible.

This is also a great time for high school juniors to start the college planning process.

Most colleges have their campus visit schedule posted — and many have special events that may even include attendance to a football game. Campus visits are designed for the family to attend a presentation by the financial aid and admissions departments, and include the ability for a potential student to learn more about admissions statistics, what is required to be accepted, types of degrees offered, graduation rates and employment rates at graduation.

The campus tour is an opportunity for students to hear from current students about the campus and what the college has to offer. Many colleges will also arrange for prospective students to sit in on classes and meet with professors to further explore what opportunities would be available.

Michigan College Planning has many free workshops scheduled in local schools beginning this week. Visit www.michigancollegeplanning.com for locations and dates. Workshops include steps you can take right now to assure that you understand the cost of attendance and how you can afford college.

Vicki L. Beam is a college planner with Michigan College Planning located in Traverse City. She encourages questions and comments about college planning. Contact Michigan College Planning at (231)947-0203, by email at vicki@michigancollegeplanning.com and at www.michigancollegeplanning.com.

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