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What Guidance Counselors Failed To Tell You About Scholarships, FAFSA And Your EFC

Scholarships are a great help for any college student, but high school students need to be realistic about their expectations and learn how to make their expectations more attainable. Unfortunately, most high school counselors never have enough time to give personal attention to make this happen. As for FAFSA and EFC strategies, most counselors are reluctant to even discuss the topic.

Guidance departments are often overworked, especially when high school seniors are busy with college admissions, financial aid, and graduating soon. Topics such as financial aid, parental assets, taxable income and other private household information are often sidelined because of confidentiality concerns and job description boundaries.

So how do you learn what you should…or shouldn’t do?

scholarship: As for scholarships, parents and students need to be realistic about their expectations. Every school is different, and private schools generally cost more but offer more scholarships, grants and fellowships. Here are the two main types of scholarships you need to know about.

Merit Scholarship: If an average student goes to a school that offers merit scholarships for above-average grades, the average student may get little or no merit scholarship unless they do very well on the SAT or ACT. Although students with above-average grades and test scores can receive very good merit awards and may pay 50% or more of tuition.

Private Scholarship: If the student is diligent and applies to at least 15-30 different scholarships each year, the average applicant can receive a private scholarship of $500 to $2,000 per year. Obviously, the more they apply, the better their chances of success. If they allow themselves to stand out from the crowd, the success rate is greatly improved.

If your student takes about an hour to apply for each scholarship, the hourly rate is between $33 and $66. It’s hard to find a part-time job that pays so well, and it’s usually tax-free.

FAFSA Preparation: The guidance department generally does not participate in financial aid forms with parents and students. They may ask a guest speaker or a representative from the local college financial aid office to provide an overview of the steps, but these are usually very generic.

Understanding the ins and outs of financial aid forms can be a nightmare the first time you file, but it should get easier each year or when you have multiple children. You can check out many great articles on this topic, including several of my own, that will give you more details on the FAFSA and some common mistakes to avoid.

EFC strategy: Another area that guidance departments tend to avoid are specific strategies families can utilize to help reduce their expected family contributions and increase their financial aid offerings. The problem here is that most of these steps need to be taken by December 31, the year before a student graduates, and many families are caught off guard by finding out too late or putting it off too long.

EFC reduction strategies that reduce adjusted gross income and minimize the level of includable assets often require some pre-planning to reach the most effective levels. For most families, this time frame can take several years to make a college decision.

To summarize: As you can see, decisions around financial aid for college require advance planning and some effort. It may be a better practice for high schools to start college planning with their students and parents when they enter 9th grade rather than 12th grade.

If you want to discover other ways to help maximize financial aid and reduce the high costs associated with college, you can download our Free College Cost Savings Toolkit Click here. It’s completely free to download, print and share with your friends or family. I believe it will help you start your savings process now.

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