NerdScholar Twitter Town Hall: Advise TX and Students talk about Paying for College, Scholarships, and Financial Aid

Loans, Student Loans
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This week, NerdScholar hosted a twitter town hall with Advise TX (NCAC partner) to talk with high school students about scholarships, student loans, and financial aid. We had the pleasure of announcing that Iliana from Akins High School in Austin, Texas was the winner of our $1,000 scholarship!

If you missed the conversation, here is a summary of the most asked questions:

Q: Can I submit my FAFSA to different schools after I turned in my application?

NerdScholar: If you already submitted your FAFSA, you can ask to “correct” your application and update the schools.

Q: What are essay readers looking for in scholarship essays?

NS: When you are applying for scholarships, it’s usually best to portray your unique story. See tips to increase your chances of landing a scholarship here.

Q: How does my EFC get calculated and how does that affect my aid? 

NS: Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a calculation that schools use as a guide, it does not tell you exactly what you will pay. EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law (specifically, Part F of Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965).  For a detailed report on the formula, go here. It affects what you and your family will pay for school because financial aid staff use it to calculate the amount of aid you are eligible receive.

Q: Can your FAFSA amount change each year in college?

NS: Yes. You will have to apply each year even if your personal circumstances and family income do not change. The FAFSA form is updated each year, so depending on the FAFSA calculation and your personal circumstances your EFC amount can change. Consult your FAFSA checklist annually.

Q: If you apply for FAFSA, is there a chance that you won’t qualify for any financial aid?

NS: You may not qualify for grants but many students who don’t receive grants receive subsidized federal loans. It all depends on what your need-based aid is calculated to be. See more info on federal loans here.

Q: How do I compare financial aid award letters?

NS: Your award will most likely be divided into grants (free money), scholarships, and student loans. Ideally, you’ll want to choose a school that gives you a significant amount of grants and scholarships and minimizes the amount of student loans that you have to take on.

Q: When should I apply for scholarships?

NS: You should be looking for scholarships ALL THE TIME!. We did a recent NerdScholar Scholarship study analyzing over 5,000 scholarships where we found that the best time to get scholarships was March. Read up more on that study here.

Q: How can I get some big dollar scholarships?

NS: We compiled some full-tuition scholarships that are relatively easy to apply for. Check those out.

Q: If I win a scholarship, will it reduce my financial aid? If so, does the scholarship replace grants?

NS: Make sure you ask the financial aid office of the school you want to attend how they handle external scholarships. In the worst-case scenario, having outside scholarships may reduce the grants they give you because there are strict regulations to how schools award in these situations.

For instance, if your external scholarship awards exceed the school’s cost of attendance by $300-$400, they may replace your grants with these awards. Make sure you report your external scholarships! Failure to do so can cause you to be required to pay back your school or the government. Additionally, schools only have a limited fund for grant aid so if you can cover your tuition with external scholarships, that could provide additional grant aid for a student who needs it.

If you think you may be in an “over award” situation, you can try and talk to your scholarship provider to see if they can defer a year so you don’t lose that money.

Q: Would you recommend private loans if all other options were exhausted?

NS: We would suggest you continue to search for scholarships. However, if you apply for FAFSA, your school can give you some options to federal loans that might be better than private loans. Understand your student loans and the benefits of federal loans. You also want to make sure you are taking advantage of all your federal borrowing options. Use your student loan calculator to see the monthly borrowing limits for private loans.

Q: I was selected for verification.  What does that mean? What do I do now?

NS: Verification is just meant to confirm the information that you submitted on your FAFSA. About one-third of people who apply to FAFSA are selected to be verified and it is usually because 1) they were chosen at random, 2) The information on your FAFSA is estimated, 3) Your FAFSA was incomplete, or 4) there were inconsistencies in your FAFSA. You will likely be asked to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which should be enough to verify your data.

Q: Why is the FAFSA important? 

NS: Applying for FAFSA every year is important because it will determine what your family is expected to contribute and what your “need” based aid should be. This aid can come in the form of grants, work-study, or federal loans. Everyone can apply so do not automatically think that you will not qualify.

Q: When should I apply for FAFSA? 

NS: Every state has a different FAFSA deadline but you can start applying as early as January 1st of every year. Remember that schools disburse some aid on a first come first serve basis so the earlier you apply, the better. NerdScholar listed out the 2013 state deadlines here.

Resources: 

Special thanks to our partners in helping us make this event successful: