Vicki Beam: Deadlines loom for college financial aid

Vicki L. Beam

October is an important month for high school seniors as well as college students.

Financial aid applications are now available — and it is important to complete the proper applications in a timely manner to insure the maximum aid is received. High school seniors and college students transferring to another college also need to complete the college applications for the colleges that they hope to attend next fall.

Timelines and deadlines are critical to keep in mind. Seniors should plan to complete their applications by Nov. 1 — the most common application deadline for many schools. However, it is important to make sure you are checking for deadlines at each school you plan to apply to.

In addition, many schools have scholarship competitions that also have deadlines. For example, in order to compete for the Centralis Scholarship competition at CMU, a student must register for the competition one week prior to the date they plan to attend — this year the competitions are being held on Oct. 27 and Nov. 3. Winners are awarded a spot in the prestigious Honors Scholar Program and a Centralis Scholarship ranging from full-tuition to full-ride. Many schools have similar competitions — so make sure you check their website and view the financial aid page for details.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS/Financial Aid Profile (CSS Profile) opened on Oct. 1 — and many high school seniors and college students already have completed them. The FAFSA is used in order to determine eligibility for state and federal aid. More than 200 colleges also require the CSS Profile, in addition to the FAFSA. The CSS profile is used to award the college’s institutional aid dollars. The CSS Profile is used primarily by private colleges, but some public schools (including University of Michigan) also require the form.

The FAFSA always is free. The CSS Profile is $25 for the first college and $16 for each additional school. The FAFSA has a March 1 deadline for aid from the State of Michigan. Many schools award aid based upon the order the FAFSA is received. Each college has its own deadline for FAFSA submission.

Northwestern Michigan College’s Priority Award consideration deadline is April 1. Colleges that require the CSS Profile set their own deadlines. University of Michigan’s Priority Award deadline for the submission of the FAFSA and CSS Profile is April 30. Make sure you check with each school for the form requirement and deadline.

The FAFSA uses the "prior, prior" tax return information — for the Class of 2019 this means they will use a 2017 tax return. The CSS Profile uses the prior, prior tax return information and also asks for an estimate of 2018, and a forecast of 2019, financial information. Parents will need to provide additional information on the CSS Profile — including, but not limited to, health care expenses, the value of retirement accounts, home equity, value of any businesses and non-retirement annuities.

Once you complete FAFSA (and CSS Profile if required by your college) you will receive the student’s expected family contribution (EFC) toward the cost of college. The student’s EFC is the minimum amount the student is expected to contribute toward the cost of college. The factors in each calculation include the assets and income of the parents and student, the family size, the age of the oldest parent and the number of children in college. Because the FAFSA and CSS Profile consider different data, the EFC will also vary.

Now is also the time that most scholarships become available for high school seniors. Each student should check with the college they are applying to in order to determine the deadlines for any scholarship they can apply to or determine if there are any scholarship competitions they should attend. High school counseling offices typically have a bulletin board or filing cabinet with scholarship details. Make sure your student utilizes counselors' resources to help them find scholarships.

Locally, the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation awards scholarships each year.

Visit www.gtrcf.org/scholarships for details and deadlines — applications become available in late January or early February, but your student can review the scholarships and requirements now. In addition, there are many free national websites to visit to find scholarships including www.fastweb.com, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/scholarship-search and www.petersons.com. Have your student take on scholarship applications as a part time job — it could end up paying them thousands of dollars.

Completing the FAFSA is easy — but it is also easy to make errors.

Take advantage of Michigan College Planning’s College Planning workshop to learn more about the FAFSA — many free workshops are scheduled in the area. Visit www.michigancollegeplanning.com or https://www.tcaps.net/programs/leap/for locations and dates. The workshops are informative and include steps you can take right now to assure you understand the cost of attendance and how you can afford college. If you are unable to attend a workshop, feel free to call Michigan College Planning with your questions.

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

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