Student debt is a common topic in the national news with reports that the amount of outstanding student debt continues to increase (now exceeds total credit card debt) as are loan default rates.  Be aware that not all loans are the same.  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 loan from a private lender.

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.  As a rule of thumb, the amount you borrow in your first year of college is likely the minimum you will need to borrow each year through graduation.  There is no clear standard for how much debt is too much but there are calculators available that will project your monthly loan payments based on your projected debt upon graduation, which you can then use to calculate your debt-to-income ratio.

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 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.

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:

FAFSA on the Web Worksheet
Completing the FAFSA
What Information Do I Need When I Fill Out the FAFSA?
Am I Dependent or Independent?
Who is My “Parent” When I Fill Out the FAFSA?
What to Expect After You Fill Out and Submit the FAFSA.

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, 2016, 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.
Complete your FAFSA at www.fafsa.gov.

While college applications might be top-priority right now, it’s also a good time to think about college costs and financial aid options. To initiate the financial aid process, students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – the primary form used by colleges to determine eligibility for federal and most state financial aid. The 2015-16 FAFSA will be available on January 1, 2015 and students are encouraged to complete this form as early as possible to meet college priority filing deadlines.

Even though students cannot complete their 2015-16 FAFSA at this time, they can get an early estimate of their federal financial aid eligibility by using the FAFSA4caster. This free tool uses basic information to provide an estimate in the form of the “College Cost Worksheet” where students can also add in anticipated financial aid and savings (e.g., scholarships, prepaid savings plan funds) that can be used towards their college education.

Click here for more information about the FAFSA4caster.

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.