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Opportunities Await!

Interested in finding out more about the financial aid opportunities available to Virginians? Check out ECMC’s 2013-14 guide (http://www.ecmc.org/details/opportunities.html), which highlights federal 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 financial aid and estimating college costs 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.

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Have you subtracted your financial aid awards from your college tuition bill to find that you still have a remaining balance? If so, don’t panic!

Many colleges offer convenient tuition payment plans to assist you with paying your remaining balance. These plans usually divide your semester costs (tuition, on-campus housing, dining, and fees) into manageable installments throughout the semester.

To find out what payment plan options are available at your college, contact your college’s student accounting or financial aid office. Make sure to ask about requirements and costs for participation as payment plans may require that you apply by a certain deadline and pay a small fee to enroll. When reviewing your options, choose a plan that best fits your needs.

Also, be aware of and prepared to pay for expenses that are most likely not included on your bill, such as books, supplies, and off-campus housing (if applicable). If you need assistance paying these expenses, contact your college’s financial aid office to inquire about alternatives.

Many of you will be heading to college in the fall, and it’s important for you to get to know the financial aid administrators on your campus. Who are these folks and how can they help you?

According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), financial aid administrators are professionals whose primary goal is to help students achieve their educational potential by providing appropriate financial resources. The financial aid staff on your campus should be able to provide you with information about:

  • The types of financial aid available at your institution;
  • Financial aid application deadlines;
  • Procedures to help students with unexpected hardships; and
  • How much aid you are qualified to receive and when you can expect to receive it.

To learn more about financial aid administrators and how they can help you, visit the NASFAA web site. Or look up the financial aid office at your college or university, and make an appointment to visit this fall when you arrive on campus. You can even check out the US Department of Education’s blog to find a list of 5 Questions to Ask the Financial Aid Office as You Head Back to School.

VTAG Deadline Is July 31

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 2013-14.

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 34 accredited, private, non-profit colleges and universities in Virginia that participating in the program, visit the SCHEV website for the VTAG Factsheet.

You’ve filled out the FAFSA, you were awarded financial aid, and now you’re set for the rest of the academic year, right? Not so fast. In order to continue receiving federal student aid, you need to make sure you maintain satisfactory academic progress (also known as SAP). Each institution has its own SAP policy for financial aid purposes that should tell you:

  • What grade-point average you need to maintain;
  • How many credits you should have successfully completed by the end of each year;
  • How an incomplete class, withdrawal, or transfer of credits from another school affects your satisfactory academic progress; and
  • What happens if you fail to make satisfactory academic progress.

Your college or university’s policy should also include details about how you might be able to appeal your school’s decision if you haven’t made satisfactory academic progress.

If you aren’t sure if your end-of-term grades are good enough for you to maintain you eligibility for federal financial aid, check with your institution’s financial aid office before you leave campus so you’ll know what you are facing when you return in the fall.

If the news isn’t good, don’t despair. In some cases, students can regain eligibility for federal student aid. Check out the StudentAid.Ed.Gov website ( http://studentaid.ed.gov/eligibility/regain) for more information on how you can maintain or regain your eligibility for financial aid.

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 from the colleges.

 

These letters or emails spell out the details of your financial aid package, which FinAid.org describes as “a collection of different types of financial aid from multiple sources…  intended to help you fill the gap between your ability to pay (your expected family contribution or EFC) and college costs (the cost of attendance or COA).”

 

Be warned: There is no standard format for award letters, so 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 quick reference guide. 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.

Be the One

As March madness builds, you’ll be hearing a lot more from Shaka Smart, coach of the VCU Rams men’s basketball team. Check out his advice about going to college at www.i-am-the-one.com.

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