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This entry was posted in News on May 1, 2014   

Tips for Transferring to a new college

Perhaps you are considering changing colleges.  There are a variety of reasons that you may want to change including:

 You started at a community college or other 2 year college and you want to pursue a 4 year degree.

You are unhappy at your current college and you want to change.
The cost to attend the college is too high and you are seeking a less expensive option.

 Before you make the change to a new college, there are several factors to consider including:

 If you are attending a community college, they may have agreements with 4 year colleges where classes will transfer from community college to the 4 year college and count toward your major.  You might want to visit with your community college advisor about these programs.

You need to evaluate whether your classes at your current college will transfer to your new college.   Several issues may occur which can cause problems for you including:

 The class transfers but may not count toward your major at the new college.   You should visit with an advisor at the college that you want to attend and ask about this issue before transferring.

Colleges may not accept classes with low grades such as a D or F and these will not transfer.
The class will not transfer.   The new college may not accept the class at all.

 Once you have identified the classes that will not transfer, you should consider the cost of having to take additional classes in order to finish.   Remember, this cost can be significant if you have to attend college for 1 or 2 more semesters.

 If you have decided to transfer, there will be additional steps that you must follow to ensure a successful transfer including:

 The new school will need a copy of your meningitis vaccination record.

The new school will need your official transcript from the prior college.
You will need to apply for admission to the new school through Apply Texas (www.applytexas.org ) or some other form.  There may be a cost to apply for admission.
You may need to participate in a transfer orientation class at your new college.


This entry was posted in News on May 1, 2014 

Tips for the Scholarship Interview

General tips for preparing and during the interview:

Getting selected for an interview is a privilege – congratulate yourself! Then get down to the work of preparing.
Review your application materials thoroughly.
Review the scholarship program information, including information about the organization giving the scholarship, thoroughly.
Prepare for demanding, challenging questions.
Develop your verbal communication skills through communication classes, reading avidly to improve vocabulary, participating in debate clubs/organizations, etc.
Learn about current affairs by reading national newspapers and journals, participating in current event discussions and debates on campus and elsewhere
During the interview, take your time responding to questions; don’t rush your answers.
Stop talking when you’ve made your point; don’t ramble.
Practice! It takes skill to talk about yourself without sounding too self-absorbed and to answer questions thoughtfully but concisely under pressure, without sounding too canned.

Scholarship interview committees will ask questions that are tailored to the specific scholarship program you’re applying to, so each interview will be different. Here are just a couple of common questions to help you get started preparing.

Tell me about yourself, your background and interests.  How did you come to be the person you are today?
What is your biggest weakness?
What do you do for fun? What do you do in your spare time?
How adaptable are you?  Give an example to demonstrate your answer.
Think about stories that illustrate your strengths, weaknesses, times you had difficulty but overcame (or didn’t), times when you had to work with people who didn’t agree with you, etc. 
Give an example of a time you’ve been thrown into a new, uncomfortable situation. Why was it uncomfortable? Were you able to be successful in that experience? If yes, what did you do to ensure your success? If no, why not?
What do you envision yourself doing in 10 years?
What makes you an ideal candidate for this opportunity?
What do you hope to learn from this experience?

 


This entry was posted in News on April 24, 2014 

Evaluating the Financial Aid Award Letter

After you submit your application for financial aid, you will receive a financial aid award letter from the college(s) to which you applied, typically in early to mid-April. In some cases, this letter will be mailed to you, or you might receive it at your email address or you might receive it in your college portal.

This letter spells out the details of your financial aid package. A financial aid package is a collection of different types of financial aid from multiple sources. It is intended to help you fill the gap between your ability to pay, your expected family contribution or EFC, and college costs, or the cost of attendance or COA.

After you receive the award letter, you may be asked to return a signed copy of the letter in which you accept or reject each source of financial aid. They might also ask you to go to your college portal to accept or reject the award.  You will want to be sure to see if there is a deadline by which you must accept or reject the award.  The college will not increase other aid to compensate if you reject part of the financial aid package, such as loans.

Problems with Award Letters

There is no standard format for award letters, making them difficult to interpret and to compare and contrast. Some common problems include:

Differences in definitions of cost of attendance. Some colleges don’t even include the cost of attendance on the award letter. Others include just tuition and fees, but omit room and board. Others include room and board in addition to tuition and fees, but don’t include other costs, such as books and supplies, transportation and personal expenses. Some spell out all the major components, while others just report a single total figure.
Difficulty identifying award components. Sometimes award letters use cryptic acronyms to identify components of the financial aid package, without spelling out which are loans, which are grants, and which are work-study. When loans are included, the colleges rarely highlight the terms of the loans (interest rates, fees, years to repay, in-school deferment, subsidized vs unsubsidized interest) on the award letter. Some loans may appear to be need-based loans awarded by the college but are really co-branded private student loans.
Front-loading of grants. Some colleges will include more grants in the award letters sent to freshmen, with the balance between loans and grants shifting toward loans in later years. This is partly because the Stafford Loan limits are lower for freshmen and sophomores, and partly because of a desire to minimize the amount of debt of any student who drops out during the first year. So ask the colleges whether you can expect to receive a similar amount of grants in subsequent years if your financial circumstances are similar.
Gapping. Some colleges do not meet the full demonstrated financial need of all students, but instead leave a gap. This usually occurs at colleges with limited student aid budgets. The colleges that practice gapping do not highlight the gap and often try to mask it by including non-need-based aid as part of the financial aid package.
Packaging of non-need-based aid. Certain loans, such as the unsubsidized Stafford loan, the PLUS loan and private student loans, are intended to help families pay for the family contribution. These loans are available to everybody, without regard to financial need. Colleges sometimes include these on the award letter, to ensure that families are aware of these borrowing options. You are eligible for these loans at every school, even if they are not listed on the award letter.
Listing specific lenders on the award letter. You are not required to use a lender recommended by the school. You can use any lender. See preferred lender lists for additional information.

If you win any outside scholarships, you have to tell the college about them. Unfortunately, federal regulations require the college to reduce your need-based aid package when you win an outside scholarship. Ask the college for information about its outside scholarship policy if this will affect you.


This entry was posted in News on April 24, 2014 

Tips for writing a successful scholarship essay – Part 8

Below are three more possible essays questions along with some suggestions on how to respond:

Option #4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

Here as in #3, be careful of that word “describe.” You should really be “analyzing” this character or creative work. What makes it so powerful and influential?

Option #5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

Realize that this question defines “diversity” in broad terms. It’s not specifically about race or ethnicity (although it can be). Ideally, the admissions folks want every student they admit to contribute to the richness and breadth of the campus community. How do you contribute?

Option #6. Topic of your choice.

Sometimes you have a story to share that doesn’t quite fit into any of the options above. However, the first five topics are broad with a lot of flexibility, so make sure your topic really can’t be identified with one of them. Also, don’t equate “topic of your choice” with a license to write a comedy routine or poem (you can submit such things via the “Additional Info” option). Essays written for this prompt still need to have substance and tell your reader something about you.

 


This entry was posted in News on April 7, 2014 

Letters of Recommendation for the Scholarship Application

Many of the scholarship applications will require you to provide a letter of recommendation.  In some cases, the application will identify specific individuals such as a coach, pastor or someone familiar with your academic record.  Below are some tips to help you secure a letter of recommendation:

 You should provide the person that you are asking for a letter with a list of activities, volunteer events, honors and awards that you have received in high school.

You should ask at least two people who are familiar with your academic record to write you a letter of recommendation.  This might include a teacher, counselor or someone else at the high school.  Some schools require you to complete a form in order to get a letter of recommendation.
You need to ask the person for the recommendation letter well in advance of the date it is needed.
Be sure to ask someone for the recommendation letter who you have a good relationship with and have excelled academically in their class.
If possible, ask for a generic letter of recommendation that you could add the specific name of the scholarship at a later date.  
Thank the person for writing you a letter of recommendation.


This entry was posted in News on April 2, 2014 

Tips for writing a successful scholarship essay – Part 7

Below is another example of an scholarship essay question that you might receive and some suggestions on how to respond to this question.

Option #3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

I’m not a fan of this prompt because of the wording: “describe that influence.” A good essay on this topic does more than “describe.” Dig deep and “analyze.” And handle a “hero” essay with care. Your readers have probably seen a lot of essays talking about what a great role model Mom or Dad or Sis is. Also realize that the “influence” of this person doesn’t need to be positive.

Push the Language in This Option

 I’ve never been a fan of the wording of essay option #3, for if you followed the guidelines too literally, you would end up with a bland essay. The words “indicate” and “describe” suggest that your essay does not need to demonstrate any critical thought. However, a good response to #3 does far more than “describe” a person’s influence on you. You should examine why the person was influential to you, and you should analyze the ways in which you have changed because of your relationship with the person.

Think Twice About Essays on Mom or Dad

 There is nothing wrong with writing about one of your parents for this essay, but make sure your relationship with your parent is unusual and compelling in some way. The admissions folks get a lot of essays that focus on a parent, and your writing won’t stand out if you simply make generic points about parenting. If you find yourself making points like “my Dad was a great role model” or “my mother always pushed me to do my best,” rethink your approach to the question. Consider the millions of students who could write the exact same essay.

Don’t Be Star Struck

 In most cases, you should avoid writing an essay about the lead singer in your favorite band or the movie star who you idolize. Such essays can be okay if handled well, but often the writer ends up sounding like a pop culture junkie rather than a thoughtful independent thinker.

The “Significant Influence” Need Not Be Positive

 The majority of essays written for option #3 are about role models: “my Mom/Dad/brother/friend/teacher/neighbor/coach taught me to be a better person through his or her great example…” Such essays are often excellent, but they are also a bit predictable. This essay, however, is about a “significant” influence, not necessarily a “positive” influence.

You Are Also Writing About Yourself

 When the prompt asks you to “describe that influence,” it is asking you to be reflective and introspective. While an essay for option #3 is partly about the influential person, it is equally about you. To understand someone’s influence on you, you need to understand yourself — your strengths, your short-comings, the areas where you still need to grow. As with all the essay options, you need to make sure a response to #3 reveals your own interests, passions, personality and character. The details of this essay need to reveal that you are the type of person who will contribute to the campus community in a positive way.


This entry was posted in News on April 1, 2014

Understanding Financial Aid Verification

Why have you been selected for verification by your college financial aid office?
There are several possibilities for being selected for verification. Keep in mind that more possibilities exist, but the following are the main reasons for being selected:

You were selected randomly.
The submitted FAFSA application has incomplete data.
The data on the FAFSA application appears to contradict itself.
You did not download your IRS tax data into the FAFSA
The FAFSA application has estimated information on it.

What needs to be done after the selection?
After you receive notification that you have been selected for verification, contact the Financial Aid Office of the college you are attending (FAO) if you have any questions. Next, you should submit copies of documents that the Financial Aid Office requests. These documents may include:

Verification Worksheet 
IRS Tax Return Transcript (Note: If you use the IRS Data Retrieval option when completing the FAFSA and make no changes to the tax information, a tax return transcript may not be required.)
Marriage Certificate
Social Security Card
Alien Registration Card
Electronic copy of your IRS tax record
Other information/documentation

The type of documents required will vary from student to student, and not all students selected for FAFSA verification will have to submit the same documents. Do not turn in any documentation that was not requested.

What happens if there are discrepancies in the application?
After you turn in all required documents, the Financial Aid Office will compare them with your Student Aid Report. If errors are found, corrections will be made. If the errors are significant enough to change the amount of financial aid that you were awarded, the Financial Aid Office will send you a revised award notification showing increased or decreased amounts.

If you are selected for FAFSA verification, you need to return the information and requested documentation as soon as possible. Processing usually takes two to three weeks, but it can take longer during the peak season. Because verification must be completed in advance of disbursing any money from any financial aid program, it is vital to send complete and correct information as quickly as possible. Above all else, don’t be upset because you were selected for verification. This is a process that is required by the federal government. The Financial Aid Office may even discover errors in your report that could actually increase your eligibility for more aid.

 

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