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April 1 marks the height of decision season for colleges nationwide, a date by which high school seniors will learn whether they’ll be joining the incoming freshmen class. It is also the time of year when students can expect to receive financial aid award letters/notifications from the colleges.

When you get that award letter, it’s easy to jump right to the line that tells you exactly how much aid you are receiving. But don’t be fooled; all financial aid is not equal. Be sure you know exactly what types of aid are being offered. Is it a grant or scholarship (which doesn’t have to be repaid), a work-study offer (which requires time spent at a job), or a loan (which will have to be repaid), or a combination? You should also be on the lookout for aid requirements, such as maintaining a certain GPA or studying a particular subject.  If loans are included, be sure you know the terms (e.g., interest rates, repayment options) of the loans and that you are comfortable with your total projected debt by the time you complete your degree.

It might be difficult for you to compare awards from different institutions to make sure you are getting the best deal. If you need assistance interpreting and comparing financial aid award letters, check out FinAid.org’s Guide to Financial Aid Award Letters. It includes a discussion of net cost and out-of-pocket cost, a summary of problems and pitfalls with financial aid award letters, a list of questions to ask college financial aid administrators, and a glossary of common terms used on financial aid award letters. Comparisons are getting easier as many institutions are now converting to a standardized form recommended by the U.S. Department of Education known as the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

Contact the institution’s financial aid office if you have any questions.

The Academic Common Market (ACM) is a tuition-savings program administered by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and several member states. This program allows students to pay in-state tuition rates at participating out-of-state public colleges while studying select undergraduate and graduate degree programs not available in their home state. The ACM program is not competitive and is not merit- or income-based. Current participating states include Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

So, let’s say you are interested in studying Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at West Virginia University or Educational Interpreting at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Well, since these programs are not offered at a public college in Virginia, you may qualify for in-state tuition, which could mean a drastic reduction in college costs, if you meet the requirements below.

Eligible students must:

  • Be a domiciliary resident of Virginia;
  • Be fully accepted into an approved ACM program at a participating out-of-state public college that is listed in the current Virginia ACM program inventory (Note: conditional or provisional acceptances are not eligible); and
  • Complete and mail the ACM application with required supporting documentation.

Please be aware that some colleges may impose application deadlines and have additional requirements (e.g., full-time enrollment, minimum GPA). You are encouraged to contact the college before submitting an application.

Click here for a list of approved ACM programs available at participating out-of-state colleges.

Click here for the ACM application. Please read the application carefully and use the checklist provided on the first page to ensure that you complete all required steps.

For additional information about this program, please visit the ACM website.

“What information do I need to complete the FAFSA?”  “Am I a dependent or independent student?”  “Who do I list as my parent?”

These are all valid questions that may come up as you work through the financial aid process.  Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid has several resources available to help answer these questions and many more.  Here are a few resources that may help ease the process for you:

For more resources and informational videos, visit the Office of Federal Student Aid’s Resources page and their Youtube channel .

Don’t miss your college’s priority filing deadline!  The federal deadline is June 30, 2015, but your financial aid office will need the results much sooner.  Missing your college’s deadline could mean the loss of thousands of dollars of financial aid.  For a list of FAFSA priority deadlines for Virginia colleges, click here.

Happy Financial Aid Awareness Month! Celebrate by completing your FAFSA at www.fafsa.gov.

So you’ve made it through the difficult task of deciding the colleges to which you would like to apply … congratulations!  But your work is not over yet; in addition to completing the admission applications, be sure to apply for financial aid to help pay for college. Financial aid can come in a number of forms such as grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans, and from a number of sources, but there is one common factor required for most federal and state financial aid programs – filing of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some institutions may require another application (such as an institutional scholarship application or summer aid application); for a listing of the required forms and priority filing dates for institutions participating in Virginia financial aid programs, see http://www.schev.edu/students/financialAidAppDeadlines.asp. The FAFSA is available online at www.fafsa.gov.

If you need help completing the FAFSA, be sure to mark your calendars for Super FAFSA Week 2014 events being held at over 60 locations throughout Virginia during the week of February 1-8, 2014:

Super FAFSA Week (formerly Super Saturday) is a service project offered by the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA) where individuals seeking funding for postsecondary education receive FREE, professional assistance in completing the FAFSA.

For a list of Super FAFSA Week locations, event details, as well as a list of materials that students should bring to receive assistance, please visit www.vasfaa.org/super.

Also, download our FREE mobile app at http://guidebook.com/g/Easyas123/ to keep up with Super FAFSA Week information.

Planning to attend a private college or university in Virginia? Good news! Virginia residents wishing to attend a private institution within the Commonwealth may be eligible to receive a Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG).

In 1972, the Commonwealth of Virginia created VTAG as a way to assist residents who attend accredited private, nonprofit colleges and universities in Virginia. VTAG is a non-need based grant and is available to undergraduate students as well as graduate students enrolled in health-related professional programs.

For a list of participating institutions and program requirements, download the VTAG brochure.  To apply, download the 2014-15 VTAG application.

The annual deadline to apply is July 31st.

Avoid being scammed!

There’s a reason the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has “Free” in its title – you shouldn’t have to pay money to get money! When completing the FAFSA, be sure to go to fafsa.ed.gov and avoid any websites containing “fafsa” and ending in “.com” in its URL.

For information on how to avoid financial aid and scholarship scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission online at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0082-scholarship-and-financial-aid-scams.

From finding the best fit, to meeting application deadlines, to figuring out how to pay for it all—the college process can be daunting and intimidating. There is help! Virginia is offering a series of three collaborative events designed to help guide Virginia students and their families through this process.

Mark your calendars!

  • College Nights in Virginia – November 1-15, 2013.
    For more information, visit www.collegenights.org.
  •  Virginia College Application Week – November 18-22, 2013.
    For more information, email iamtheoneva@gmail.com.
  •  Super FAFSA Week – February 1-8, 2014.
    For more information, visit www.vasfaa.com/super.

See the flyer for more details.

1-2-3 Flyer

Easy as 1-2-3!

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