Let’s talk about the FAFSA for seniors and the PSAT for juniors!
The FAFSA is a free application for Federal student aid. Most colleges use the information from the FAFSA to determine the financial aid amount each student will receive. The Pell Grant, Federal loan amounts, and work study qualification is determined by the financial information provided by the family on the FAFSA. In years past, this form was not filled out until January of a student’s senior year. That has changed, and now October 1st is the first day of the students’ senior year that the form can be filled out. The parent(s) and the students each have an ID they use to sign in so that the form can be completed. They cannot share the same user name and password.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE: There is no penalty if you fill out the form at a later time but, because there are certain scholarships that are awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis (and certain funds are limited), you will want your senior students’ FAFSA completed on October 1st or soon after. The FAFSA will ask for income from the previous year. If you are filling out the FAFSA this academic year, you will report your family’s income from 2018.
WARNING: There is an option to have the IRS import the information from your tax return and, although this makes filling out the form easier to do, you may want to input your information manually if you rolled over an IRA, bought or sold stocks, or had a job change.
The FAFSA determines your EFC (expected family contribution). The EFC is an index number the colleges use to determine how much financial aid your student is entitled to receive. It is used to determine Pell Grant amounts, work study opportunities, and subsidized loan amounts.
Even if you do not plan to accept any Federal funds or take out loans, most colleges use the information provided by the FAFSA (the EFC) when awarding financial aid and, for that reason, the FAFSA needs to be filled out. There are one or two colleges that are an exception to this expectation.
In addition to filling out the FAFSA during your students’ senior year, you will want your students to begin applying to their top colleges of choice. Some colleges offer opportunities that are only offered during the students’ senior year of high school. Bryan College hosts a scholarship event each semester for qualified seniors who have been accepted to Bryan College. Each participant has an academic interview and receives another $1,000 to $3,000 based on that interview. At one of the events an essay contest is included and one winner receives four years of tuition. There are state grants in Tennessee that seniors may be awarded, if qualified, but knowing about and applying for at least one of those awards early in the senior year is advised. Check with the colleges to which your students are applying, and find out about the grants offered in your state early in your students’ senior year (or before) so that you do not miss out on any of the opportunities that are time sensitive.
For juniors, you will want them to take the PSAT because the scores from that test determine National Merit Scholarships (NMS). Even a semi-finalist will receive four years of tuition at Bryan College. The test is offered in October and it is a very affordable test. Students in 9th and 10th grades can take the PSAT (if they can find a location that allows their participation), but the scores will not be counted towards the NMS. Two changes have taken place this year. Because of COVID, and the resulting protocols, homeschooled students are having a difficult time finding a location where their students can take the PSAT. Before you are too discouraged, the College Board has added a January PSAT date! If your students cannot take the test in October or January, then they can take the SAT and use a code to have that test count as the PSAT. The NMS is determined state by state, according to the number of students taking the test in each state. Students with disabilities may be eligible for accommodations, but the time it takes to process a request is lengthy, so plan ahead.
Although, not as time sensitive as the PSAT, juniors should begin narrowing down their college choices in order to plan visits to the campus and to find out what will be required for admission. They will also want to find out if their colleges of choice have time sensitive scholarship opportunities, if scholarships stack, if the college requires a college exam score for admission, or if they are test optional. The CLT is a newer college exam that over 200 Christian colleges accept. Because the CLT is an online test, this test has been offered virtually during the time when COVID protocols shut down both the SAT and the ACT. For this reason there are more colleges, including secular colleges, accepting scores from the CLT. Bryan College is test optional at this time. Students are being accepted and awarded scholarships based on their GPA, instead of a test score. Test optional does not mean test blind. If your students have a test score that will qualify them for more scholarship awards than their GPA, then submit the test score.
Seniors, get the FAFSA filled out and apply to top college choices. Juniors, find a location to take the PSAT and begin narrowing down your college choices. Your college planning experience will go better if you are prepared ahead to take advantage of available opportunities and requirements.