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Oppcover1415Are you interested in finding out more about the financial aid opportunities available to Virginians? Check out ECMC’s 2014-15 guide for Virginia at www.ecmc.org/opportunities, which highlights federal and state financial aid programs and provides guidance about the financial aid process.

Known as the Opportunities: Preparing for College Guide and Workbook, this booklet explains the types of financial aid available and eligibility requirements for federal programs. It also includes information about applying for admission and financial aid, estimating college costs, and Virginia financial aid as well as a timeline for what students and parents/families should be doing to successfully navigate through the financial aid process.

Both English and Spanish versions are available.

That is the annual news headline right after the universities announce tuition increases at the beginning of each summer.  With financial aid struggling to keep up with rising tuition costs, some may feel that a four-year degree is getting out of reach.
 
Many of Virginia’s four-year institutions have made affordability a priority for lower income students and so we encourage all students to apply at their preferred college.  However, an option growing in popularity has students opting to complete their Associate degree at a Virginia public two-year college and then transferring to a participating Virginia public or private four-year institution.  In addition to paying lower tuition charges for their freshman and sophomore years, students who qualify can double down on the savings by also receiving an award from the Two Year College Transfer Grant program once they transfer.  This program offers a $1,000 grant to qualifying students and an additional $1,000 grant if that student is enrolled into a science, teaching, engineering, math, or nursing program.  For eligibility criteria and other information go to: http://www.schev.edu/Students/factsheetTransferGrant.pdf.
 
For information about other state financial aid programs, visit:http://www.schev.edu/students/undergradFinancialaidPrograms.asp.

 

Recently, the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) published an article warning students about financial aid fraud and providing “tips to avoid financial aid and loan scams.”

We agree, and hope that students will turn to sites, such as this one, that are run by state agencies, non-profits, the US government, or other organizations that have a vested interest in providing unbiased financial aid information. Such entities do not have ulterior motives and are more likely to provide complete, factual information about available student loans or scholarships.

For information on how to avoid scholarship scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission.

Have you thought about attending one of Virginia’s outstanding private colleges or universities, but are concerned about the cost of tuition? Well, now is the time to take action because Virginia residents who attend a participating private institution within the Commonwealth are eligible to receive a Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG). The maximum annual VTAG award amount for undergraduates will increase to $3,100 for academic year 2014-15.

Applications are available at the financial aid office of the private institution the student plans to attend. Completed VTAG applications should be submitted to the institution’s financial aid office on, or before, July 31. The award amount is based on the number of eligible students and the amount of funds appropriated by the General Assembly.

For more information about VTAG, as well as a list of the 30 accredited, private, non-profit colleges and universities in Virginia that participating in the program, visit the SCHEV website for the VTAG Factsheet.

Have you thought about attending one of Virginia’s outstanding private colleges or universities, but are concerned about the cost of tuition? Well, now is the time to take action because Virginia residents enrolled full-time into a participating private non-profit institution within the Commonwealth may be eligible to receive a Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG).

Applications are available at the financial aid office of the private institution the student plans to attend or you can access on-line here.  Completed VTAG applications should be submitted to the institution’s financial aid office on, or before, July 31. The award amount is based on the number of eligible students and the amount of funds appropriated by the General Assembly.

For more information about VTAG, as well as a list of the 30 accredited, private, non-profit colleges and universities in Virginia that participating in the program, visit the SCHEV website for the VTAG Factsheet.

If you have applied for financial aid, you should receive your financial aid award letter (or notification) soon.  As we mentioned in the April blog, not all financial aid is created equal and you should pay particular attention to any student loans being offered.  In almost every case, federal student loans have the best combination of interest rates and repayment options/protections for the borrower so you should try to maximize those opportunities before taking out a private loan.

The following websites will help you become student loan savvy…

Be very careful about your annual amounts borrowed and project the total student loan debt expected to accumulate upon graduation.  If you are not comfortable with the projected total debt, you should consider options that will reduce those costs.  Is there a less expensive living arrangement available, can you purchase your books on-line, have you considered working part-time, etc.?  Have you considered attending another college that is more affordable to you (sometimes even a more expensive college can be more affordable if they can offer more aid) or attending community college for the first two years (usually half the price, or less, of a public four-year institution)?

Be intentional about your student loan debt and let it enable you to achieve your educational dreams while not becoming the anchor that restricts your options afterwards.

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.

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