5 Reasons to File a FAFSA

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education gives roughly $120 billion in federal loans, grants, and work-study funds to more than 13 million college students. These funds are awarded only to those who file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

By not submitting a FAFSA, students are leaving billions of dollars on the table, and are missing out on a pretty great deal. Federal loans have low interest rates, federal grants don’t need to be repaid, and work-study programs are a great way to pay for college while building your resume. And about 90 percent of high school seniors who submit a FAFSA enroll in college the following fall semester, whereas only about half of the high school seniors who do not submit the form end up enrolling in the fall. Filing a FAFSA to see what financial aid you qualify for could be the deciding factor.

The point is, there is NO reason you shouldn’t submit a FAFSA, and countless good reasons why you SHOULD. Here are five:  

More than just a loan

While most students submit a FAFSA as a way of securing a low-interest loan from the federal government, filing a FAFSA is also the only way to become eligible for certain types of aid that don’t need to be paid back. Every year, millions of dollars in grants and scholarships from states and universities are distributed based on financial need, and the only way to qualify for this aid is by submitting a FAFSA.

Most students qualify

You may qualify for free aid, like the Pell grant, or Access Missouri grant, but you won’t know unless you file. Anyone with a household income below $250,000 is eligible to receive some form of federal aid, as long as they submit a FAFSA. While only 5 percent of U.S. households make too much money to qualify for federal aid, more than 40 percent of high school seniors fail to file a FAFSA.

Federal loans are easier to pay off than private loans

Some students, instead of filing a FAFSA, choose to borrow money from private lenders such as banks, credit unions, state agencies, and even schools. However, there are many benefits to choosing a federal student loan over a private student loan.

The first is interest rates. In most cases, the interest rate on Federal loans is lower than those of private loans. The federal interest rate is also fixed and won’t change, whereas private loans can have variable interest rates, which are harder to predict.

Payments on Federal loans aren’t due until six months after you graduate or leave college, so you’ll have a grace period to land on your feet before your first payment is due. However, many private lenders require students to start making payments while they are still finishing school. Federal loans can also be deferred or put in a forbearance period if you are experiencing certain hardships, like a job loss or medical issue.  

It’s free to submit

It costs nothing to file a FAFSA, and you won’t be required to accept any aid you are offered. High schools across Missouri host FAFSA Frenzy events, where students can receive free help filling out their FAFSA. The FAFSA is easier now than it has ever been, with more simplified questions coming in the next few years.

Your financial situation could change

Unexpected crises, such as a global pandemic, create financial difficulties. One day, you could have a complex spreadsheet, mapping out exactly how you plan to pay for every one of your expenses; the next day, something bad happens – your income level changes, your employer goes out of business, a family member has a medical emergency, etc. – and your entire plan is sent into a tailspin. When special circumstances arise, you can appeal to your college’s financial aid office for additional assistance. Filing the FAFSA gives them a starting point to understand your financial situation. If things have changed, colleges can often use what’s called “professional judgment” to help you overcome new financial challenges and help get you back on your feet.

Four things to consider as you start your college career

You just graduated high school. You’ve chosen which college or university you will attend. Maybe you’ve explored the food and housing options at your new school. It’s an exciting time in your life. Right now, it probably seems like there’s so much you still need to do before you step on campus in the fall. Getting to campus is one thing – succeeding in college and finishing your degree is another! Here are four things to keep in mind that will improve your college experience in the long run.

You have options when it comes to which math course you take

Most colleges and universities require students to take at least one semester of math. For some of you, that sounds perfectly fine. You like math, and you’re good at it. For others, the idea of taking precalculus is not only terrifying, it does not match the work you’ll be doing in your field of study.

However, Missouri’s public institutions offer alternative entry-level mathematics courses that are most effective and beneficial to each academic major. For example: A journalism student doesn’t have much use for precalculus; however, a solid background in statistical reasoning can serve a journalist well throughout his or her career. So, make sure to know your options, when it comes to math pathways, and take advantage of them.

How many hours should I take? Think 15 to Finish!

You will hear the term “full-time student” fairly often in college. A full-time student, according to financial aid and the vast majority of colleges and universities, is a student enrolled in at least 12 credit hours per semester. But don’t think that means you can take 12 hours of class and still graduate on time.

You should strive to complete at least 15 credit hours a semester to put yourself on track to receive an associate degree in two years or a bachelor’s degree in four years. If you just can’t swing 15 hours every semester, consider taking summer courses to stay caught up.

This is important because additional time in the classroom comes at a steep price. An extra year in college can mean paying an extra year’s worth of tuition, fees, and housing, and missing out on that first-year salary!

Corequisite Courses can help you finish faster

Depending on your ACT/SAT scores or your GPA in high school, you may be asked to take remedial courses before enrolling into a credit-bearing course. These courses are meant to prepare you for difficult coursework in upper-division classes.

Students who must complete prerequisite remedial courses before they can enroll in credit-bearing courses often have to spend an extra semester or more in college, and are far less likely to graduate. The additional time in school can also increase college costs and result in more student loan debt.

Corequisite courses, on the other hand, allow students to earn credit toward graduation while they complete their remedial coursework. Corequisite courses provide additional academic support which may include tutoring, mentoring, labs, and workshops. Students take the corequisite course in conjunction with their credit-bearing course so they get the help they need simultaneously. Ask your advisor if your college offers this type of course. 

Things to consider if you’re already planning to transfer

If you do decide to move from one school to another, you deserve to see the credits from one school transfer to another.

To simplify the transfer process, Missouri’s colleges and universities have worked together to establish the CORE 42, which is 42 credit hours of lower-division general education courses that can be transferred seamlessly from one Missouri higher education institution to another.

To give yourself optimal flexibility, take care of your lower-division general education courses first. If you know you’re going to switch schools at some point, use our Course Transfer Tracker to check out how the courses you’re taking now will transfer to the schools you’re considering.    

Making the most of a virtual internship

In the world of COVID-19, virtual may be the new normal for a lot of people. Going forward, school, work, and meetings will likely include an online or remote element. The same can be said for internships.

Internships provide great opportunities for college students to gain insights into the work they will be doing in their chosen career path. However, an internship where the work is done primarily in a remote setting can come with a few added difficulties.  

Here are some tips on how you can make the most of a virtual internship:

Ensure that you have good communication skills

It is hard sometimes to understand certain projects or work you may be assigned. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for clarification. A simple email or call could be the difference between completing the project successfully and messing it up. Do not be afraid to ask questions, you are not in the physical office building, so communication is essential!

Establish a schedule

Being a virtual intern means there is a lot more room for distraction than if you were in person. By establishing set times throughout the week to work on assignments for your internship, you will be organized and get things done on time.

Plan introductory meetings with the staff you will be working with

Establishing good working relationships is a little more difficult when you are interning virtually, but it is not impossible! Ask your supervisor which staff members you’ll be working closely with. Then schedule meetings with those staff members and get to know them. Just because your internship is virtual does not mean you can’t create mutually beneficial relationships with your coworkers!

Get the most out of the internship that will benefit you in the future

Internships may be a little different virtually, but that does not mean they are any less important. Work hard on all the projects you are given, ask for feedback, establish what kind of work you enjoy, and make sure to challenge yourself. If you feel like your workload is a little light, ask your boss for a few additional projects. A virtual internship may be hard at first, but you can get just as much out of it as you would if you were in person!

Why making connections is essential for college freshmen

College is a very different experience than high school.

High school offers students structure. College offers students freedom. Take advantage of that freedom and you’ll graduate college with connections and friendships that will last a lifetime.

Step out of your comfort zone.

The best way to make connections at college is to get involved on campus, whether that be through Greek life, student run organizations, or talking to your instructors after class and during their office hours.

When you first get to college in August, start out by getting to know the people on your floor and in your residence hall.

Don’t be overwhelmed thinking you won’t have time for outside activities and responsibilities. You’ll only be in class for about 15 hours a week, which leaves plenty of time for working, studying, joining clubs, and hanging out with friends.   

Most colleges have different introduction events when students first move to campus, such as ice cream socials, mixers, concerts, sporting events, and activity fairs. Attend these events with an open mind. Stepping out of your comfort zone is not always easy, but over time, you will find it is almost always worth it.  

Build relationships with professors.

Many professors have office hours, in which students are encouraged to come in for one-on-one meetings. Making connections early on with your professors will prove beneficial when it comes time for midterm and finals, as well as when you start apply for internships, jobs, and/or graduate school and need letters of recommendation. Professors sometimes have hundreds of students in varying classes, so make sure they know your name and how much effort you’re putting into their class.

Remember, professors are there to help. Don’t hesitate to ask.

What to expect as a junior in high school

Odds are, you’ve been receiving letters, leaflets, pamphlets, and emails from various colleges. Some of these colleges may be local and well-known, others may be faraway and obscure. Maybe you aren’t exactly sure what to do about this avalanche of mail under which you’ve been buried. Or, maybe you haven’t received any mail yet and hearing that other students are is making you worry.

Whichever student you are in this scenario – don’t panic.

Your participation in the ACT or SAT is most likely the reason you have started receiving a lot of attention from colleges and universities. If you haven’t taken either test, then you may just not be on the school marketing lists yet. The vast majority of these marketing pieces, whether they arrive digitally or physically, are to generate interest and make you aware of all your college options.

That doesn’t mean, however, that these items are worthless. Colleges could be sending you some really cool stuff if you pay attention. Spend a few minutes with each new piece of mail. Look at the photos, read the content. Are there key words or graphics resonating with you? Do they seem to value the same things you value in your education? What is the focus? If nothing about the school interests you, toss the mail in the trash or delete the email. But, if a school catches your interest, file the item away in a safe place or specific folder. When you’re ready to start exploring colleges, you’ll already have a great starting point of potential options.

Things to focus on now

The reality is, as a junior in high school, you need to focus mostly on keeping a solid GPA, taking all of the required credits for graduation, and scheduling your ACT or SAT exam.

You can start to plan for life after high school – research different majors, explore college websites, ask questions, take a virtual tour. But you don’t need to stress or make any final decisions just yet.

 

 

Part 2: Top tips for first-generation college students

Starting college can be an intimidating experience. If you are a first-generation college student – meaning your parents didn’t graduate from college, then you may be feeling overwhelmed as you explore your own college opportunities.

Here are four more things to remember as you think about pursuing a college degree:

Create a flexible work schedule

To cover the cost of college, which in addition to tuition may include rent, utilities, textbooks, and food, you might need to work while taking classes. Don’t let that stop you from pursuing your degree. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 70 percent of college students work while in school – 25 percent balance a full-time work schedule with full-time enrollment.

Earning while learning is possible. However, as a student, school should be your top priority. Try to find a job that offers flexible hours and doesn’t interfere with your class and study schedule. An on-campus job might be more accommodating than working for a private business, but keep an open mind. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Apply for several different jobs to maximize your options.      

Find a mentor

College will expose you to new ideas and perspectives. College is also a great chance to meet people who have succeeded in your desired career field. Introduce yourself to these people – during office hours or after class – and ask for their advice. Professors and lecturers are passionate about helping students learn and grow. Don’t feel like you’re bugging them by asking for help.

Get the most out of your investment

Choosing a major and career path that you are passionate about is incredibly important. But in order to get positive returns on the investment of a college education, consider a career path that will lead to a growing professional field. Research which industries are growing, have the most jobs, and offer the highest wages. Visit moscores.mo.gov to look at Missouri colleges, majors, and career outcomes. 

Remember, you belong

Even if you are the first member of your family to pursue a college degree, you have just as much right and reason to be there as anyone else. You don’t need to come from a long line of lawyers or doctors to succeed in college. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than one-third of undergraduate college students reported being the first in their families to attend college. There are millions of students just like you, blazing a trail, pursuing their dreams, and improving their lives.

Don’t think of being the first in your family to attend college as a disadvantage. As a first-generation student, you have a unique perspective. Understand that these few years, where you’ll have access to technology, professors, and other resources, is a great opportunity that won’t last forever. Attend class, ask questions, get involved, and make the most out of your time at school.

 

Part 1: Top tips for first-generation college students

Starting college can be an intimidating experience. If you are a first-generation college student – meaning your parents didn’t graduate from college, then you may be feeling overwhelmed as you explore your own college opportunities.

Here are four things to remember as you think about pursuing a college degree: 

You’re not alone

The average first-generation student may not have the same levels of financial or emotional support that students whose parents went to college receive. These statistics, however, don’t define your potential success! College, and the whole process to get there, is just new to both the student and the parent, and plenty of first-generation college students have gone on to achieve success.

Former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and Oprah Winfrey were all first-generation college students. So if you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry – you’re in good company!

You may not be the next famous first-generation college student, (or maybe you will be!) but either way, there are resources available to help you reach your goals. The path to achieving success has been set by past first-generation students, and there are plenty of people willing to help you find your way.

 

Apply for financial aid

First, apply for every scholarship you’re eligible for. Many scholarships are designed specifically to meet student’s circumstances – first-generation, minorities, involvement in certain clubs or organizations, or specific majors are just a few possible examples.

Each year you plan to attend college, be sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There are many types of financial aid programs that do not require accepting a loan. Filling out a FAFSA is the best way to ensure every possible option of financial aid – grants, scholarships, work-study, etc. If you find yourself still having to borrow money to complete your degree, keep in mind that student loans offered through Federal Student Aid (by completing your FAFSA), often have low interest rates and give you more flexible payment options.

 

Consider your school’s summer bridge program

It’s never too early to start building up the support network you’ll need to succeed in college. During the summer time, between academic years, some schools host incoming freshman with a multi-day camp/orientation. If the school of your choice puts on a summer program like this, take advantage!

The counselors at these summer programs are often their schools’ most involved students. They know all the great professors, worthwhile clubs, quiet study spots, and ways to make the most of life on campus.

 

Utilize student services

Colleges have systems in place to ensure their students succeed. However, unlike high school, counselors and teachers most likely won’t be flagging you down in the hallways or calling you into their offices. You may have to seek out help to get it.

When you first arrive on campus, schedule a meeting with your academic advisor. Ask about specific services for first-generation college students. Ask about other support services like writing centers, and peer tutoring programs, mental health resources and food insecurity programs that students can access for free. Find these services at the start of your college career so you know where to turn if you need them.

Set up an appointment with the financial aid office. Ask if they are aware of any financial aid opportunities, including scholarships, grants, and work-study programs you could utilize. Most colleges also have career services, they can help you create a resume and find an on-campus job to fit your schedule. Learn more about these types of services on your school’s website and use them as often as you need. They are there to help you.      

Being the first in your family to attend college isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. As a first-generation student, you have a unique perspective. Understand that these few years, where you’ll have access to technology, professors, and other resources, is a great opportunity that won’t last forever. Attend class, ask questions, get involved, and make the most out of your time at school.

Part two of tips for first-generation college students will be posted next week. Come back for more! 

Getting ready to apply for college

At first glance, applying to college may seem overwhelming. Colleges and universities have varying degree programs, application requirements, and submission deadlines. But if you treat your college applications like a class project, the process will be less daunting. Complete a checklist of all the information you’ll need to apply, and give yourself plenty of time to complete your applications before their deadlines. Yes – there are deadlines, and now is the time to get started!

 

Research careers that interest you

  • Look at future job demand.
  • Research income potential.
  • Find out how much education beyond high school is required for each career you may be interested in.
  • Job shadow someone in your community with that type of job.

 

Research colleges and majors

  • Once you’ve established possible careers, find out which schools offer specific majors that can help you achieve your career goals.
  • Think about all aspects of college life. Decide what your top priorities will be when deciding on the right school for you.
  • Consider how much you can afford, if you want to move or stay at home, what organizations or clubs you may want to be a part of, if you will take your car to school with you, if you anticipate needing tutoring services, etc.
  • Go on college visits or take virtual tours of the colleges to help you make a more informed decision.

 

Gather all of your documents

  • Know your social security number, GPA, and class rank.
  • Make a list of your achievements, awards, and clubs or organizations you’ve been involved with.
  • Have your top ACT and SAT score on hand. Check your top school choices to see if your score will qualify you for any institutional scholarships.
  • Ask your favorite teachers, counselors, coaches, and employers if you can put them down as references. Make note of which universities require references to write letters of recommendation. Be sure to ask your references for their letters early so you don’t miss the submission deadline.
  • Look through the list of Missouri colleges and universities. Make a list of your top 5-10 schools to start comparing your options.
  • If you will qualify for the A+ Scholarship, compare qualifying two-year colleges and career schools in your research.

10 Tips to Successfully Complete Online Courses

Last spring, many students suddenly found themselves in online courses. This quick transition was bumpy for some and unexpected for all. As we approach the fall semester, you may have some uncertainty about taking online classes again. But there’s a difference between a class that is abruptly converted from in-person to online and one that is specifically designed to be delivered online. If you’re nervous about enrolling in another online class this fall, we’re here to tell you that you can be successful. To help you get prepared, we’ve asked a few instructors to share their best advice. Here are our top ten tips for online success!

  1. “Go” to class. Treat your online class like a regular class. Schedule time for it on your calendar. Login on a regular basis. Take notes during lectures. 
  2. Know how to get IT help. Become familiar with the learning management system your college uses. Your instructor may not be able to help you with IT issues, so find out how to get help before you need it. Take some time and play around with the system so you can navigate it easily. Make sure your housing situation; whether that means a house, apartment, or dorm; has reliable internet.
  3. Communication is key. Speak up and let your instructor know when you have questions. Attend virtual class meetings or office hours even if they’re optional. Don’t be afraid to call your instructor if you’re not getting the information you need online. Take initiative and advocate for yourself.
  4. Make a good online impression. You may not meet your instructor face-to-face, so remember to be professional in your written and video communications. You don’t want your first impression to be based off of an email filled with spelling errors and texting abbreviations, or a shirt you elected not to wear for a video chat. Remember, your instructor probably has a lot of students, so be sure to identify yourself and the class you’re referring to in every email.
  5. Read the syllabus and then read it again. Online classes provide a lot of flexibility, but still have deadlines and expectations for you to meet. Read the syllabus to know your instructor’s policy on late work, extra credit, and their preferred method of communication. The syllabus usually includes a schedule or timeline for the whole semester, so you can plan ahead for when big projects are due.
  6. Give yourself plenty of time. Have you ever had your computer crash or internet go down? Waiting to the last minute to complete assignments or exams is especially dangerous with online classes. Don’t let technology fail you. Plan ahead so you’re not in a panicked, last-minute situation.
  7. Set yourself up for success. We’re not always as good at multi-tasking as we think we are. Be honest with yourself and prepare a time and place where you can focus on your online class without distractions like TV, music, and loud roommates. If possible, try to complete your assignments and tests on a computer rather than a smart phone.
  8. Pay attention to details. A lot of online classes include threaded discussions, chat sessions, and/or short reading quizzes that are only worth a few points. While these activities may seem like they’re not important, over the course of a semester, they can really add up and impact your grade. Plus, any chance to discuss and share ideas makes an online class feel more like an actual classroom.
  9. Do the work. An online class is not a shortcut to college credit. You should expect to commit eight to 12 hours a week for every three credit hour course. This means reading the textbook, reviewing additional course materials, and submitting assignments on time.
  10. Do your own work. Resist the urge to copy and paste someone else’s words and use them as your own. Instructors run online submissions through websites like turnitin.com to check for plagiarism. Just cite your sources and give credit where credit is due.

Why it’s important to stay enrolled this fall

COVID-19 has caused some major disruptions among Missouri’s colleges and universities.

Students like you are now faced with the decision to enroll in fall classes or take the semester off.

A recent survey conducted by OneClass found that some students don’t think signing up for a semester of online learning would be worth enrolling and paying full tuition.

However, the vast majority of Missouri’s colleges have already announced plans to re-open with in-person classes in the fall. And school presidents are currently working with health officials to develop safety guidelines for everyone on campus.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re still considering taking a semester off,:

Students who take time off are less likely to earn a degree.

About 4 million students with some college and no degree have re-enrolled in school at some point in the past five years. Only a quarter of those students end up completing college.

Life sometimes gets in the way of learning. Health problems, emergency expenses, family crises, and even global pandemics can come up unexpectedly. However, the best way to ensure that you’ll graduate on time, and in the cheapest manner possible, is to stay in school until your degree program is complete. 

Economic uncertainty is often the best time to pursue higher education.

Americans often turn to higher education during times of economic strife. Unfortunately, unemployment rates are up, which means that well-paying jobs may be hard to find right now.

An economic downturn is a good time to earn a professional credential or degree. It makes you an attractive candidate when the job market starts to improve. Studies show that people with a degree are also less likely to be unemployed, even during uncertain times like a pandemic.  

Many schools want small classes to be held in person.

Universities all across the country – from Ivy League schools to Missouri’s public institutions – are optimistic that some in-person learning will take place. Colleges’ large lecture halls are usually reserved for general education or lower-level courses. Upper-division, degree-program class sizes are relatively small, so those classes could still be held in person while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

A degree is still a degree.

As a survey respondent told OneClass, “Whether I’m in-person or online, I’m still paying to get the same degree.”

It’s totally understandable to prefer face-to-face, in-person classes to online learning. Just know that taking online classes for a semester won’t negatively impact the value of your degree. Future employers will see that you’ve completed and passed all the courses and exams your degree program requires. They might even commend you for staying on track under such abnormal circumstances.

This semester could be the most affordable one yet.

A surveyed college student said because of COVID-19, he isn’t expecting to pay for student housing or a meal plan this coming semester. Those are two pretty major expenses. If you choose to commute from home or take online classes this fall, continuing this semester could end up saving you money.