Thursday, January 26, 2012

About majors and careers...

Yesterday I participated in some online FAFSA training, and I could've written a FAFSA three-peat (Don't fear the FAFSA and Fill out the FAFSA yet?), but let's take a break from that, shall we?

I've seen a few articles recently highlighting the link between majors and careers and what that might mean for the student's future. (I even wrote a post about it awhile back-- Are you doomed to high unemployment because of your major?) Given the nature of the economy right now (especially for recent graduates) it's easy to see why a central theme here is how that major choice can negatively impact job options.

We're in a serious state of change right now. I didn't graduate from college that long ago (even though it doesn't feel that way), and I have friends who are currently employed in jobs that did not exist back then. Does that mean they picked the wrong major? No! What it means is that they used their education, stayed current, and kept themselves competitive.

They also love what they do.

Here's the thing-- if you don't love what you do, then you won't love doing it. If you pick a major just because it pays well, can you stay interested in it? The beauty of being in high school or college is that you have the freedom to explore all different kinds of careers. If you have access to a career counselor, I would highly, highly suggest you make an appointment and take some quizzes and interest inventories. (If not, this is another area where we consultants are a great resource.) If you have an inkling, take a look around and see who you or your parents might know in that position. Don't be afraid to ask for an informational interview. Many adults are perfectly willing to take the time, but you'll never know if you don't ask. 

Whether you've submitted your applications already, or you're gearing up for it, take some time to think about the things you're interested in or really love to do and how that could be a career choice. College is too expensive to just free-wheel all four years, but you can still discover what you're meant to do. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Don't fear the FAFSA!

Remember last week when I implored you to fill out the FAFSA? Yes, even if you think you won't qualify. (There's no ceiling for income and besides, it's not the only factor. It's much more complicated than that.) And yes, sooner rather than later. There are a lot of myths and questions out there about the FAFSA and federal aid in general, and understandably so. For a great Q&A series that will probably answer your questions, check out this New York Times blog feature, with Mark Kantrowitz, the founder of (Here's another FAQ, courtesy of the US Department of Education.)

Still need convincing? Here's 4 reasons:

1. A lot of colleges award aid on a first-come, first-served basis. When it's gone, it's gone.

2. You can use estimated income amounts if you haven't filed your taxes or received paperwork yet. You can always go back and make corrections.

3. You might miss out on state aid deadlines, many of which require the FAFSA.

4. If you don't ask, you'll never know.

So now you're ready! I love making lists, so I'll leave you with one last thing-- a checklist, courtesy of These are the materials needed to sit down and fill out the FAFSA. Round them up and get to it! 

  1. Student's Social Security number 
  2. Parents’ Social Security numbers (if providing parent information*) 
  3. Student's driver’s license number (if you have one) 
  4. Student's Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen) 
  5. Student's Federal tax information or tax returns including IRS W-2 information, for you (and spouse, if the student is married, and for parents if providing parent information). If you have not yet filed an income tax return, complete and submit the FAFSA using estimated tax information. (Use income records for the year prior to the academic year for which you are applying: for instance, if you are filling out the 2011–12 FAFSA, you will need 2010 tax information.) 
  6. Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans non-education benefits, for students, and for parents if providing parent information. 
  7. Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including real estate but not including the home in which you live; and business and farm assets for the student, and parents if providing parent information. 
*Not sure whether you will need to put your parents’ information on the FAFSA? Check out “Am I Dependent or Independent?” at or call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fill out the FAFSA yet?

Well, it's January 5th. Back to work, back to school, back on the resolution train. The 2012-13 FAFSA is now available and NOW is the time to get to it. Yes, even if you think you won't qualify. The early bird catches the worm, right?

I was catching up on my reading and found 10 tips for filling out the FAFSA, and I couldn't have put these better than myself. Read these, gather your financial information, and make an appointment with yourself to do it. My tip--Don't put it off!

10 tips for getting federal student aid
By Lynn O'Shaughnessy

(MoneyWatch) It's financial aid season, which means millions of families will be grappling with the FAFSA in the next few weeks. Chances are most families are going to make mistakes when completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. These mistakes can be costly, and may even keep you from receiving the financial assistance for which you qualify.

Here are 10 tips to help you successfully complete the FAFSA:

1. Don't provide retirement assets
Families can dramatically hurt their chances for financial aid if they include assets from their 401(k) plans, Individual Retirement Accounts, 403(b) and other qualified retirement accounts on the FAFSA. The financial aid form only requires that you share non-retirement assets.

2. Don't include business assets
Parents who have a family-owned and controlled small business do not have to report the company's net worth on the FAFSA if it has fewer than 100 full-time employees.

3. Skipping deadlines
Colleges impose deadlines on families to submit their financial aid forms, and these dates can be much earlier for students applying through early decision and early action options. Find out what the deadlines are, and don't miss them.

4. File early
Although there are essentially no federal deadlines for seeking financial aid, states do impose deadlines for families who hope to qualify for financial aid through their state programs. State deadlines can be as early as February. In some states, aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis, so it's best to file your FAFSA well ahead of the state deadline.

5. Seek help
Confused? FAFSA staffers can help. You can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center via online chat, phone or email. Here's where to find the financial aid contact information.

6. List the most current marital status
You need to provide your marital status -- divorced, separated or married -- on the day that the FAFSA is filed. Separated and divorced parents will sometimes enjoy a financial aid advantage.

7. Have the right parent complete the FAFSA
In families of divorce, the parent who has taken care of the child during the majority of the 12 months dating from the day the FAFSA is submitted is considered the custodial parent. This can be especially advantageous in families when one ex-spouse earns significantly less than the other. Ideally, the child would live with the lower-earning parent for at least six months and a day. This parent would complete the FAFSA, and the other parent's income would not be included. If the custodial parent remarries, however, the income from the new spouse would also be included on the FAFSA.

8. Avoid blank answers
If the answer to a question is zero or not applicable, write "0" or "Not Applicable" on the online form. Leaving blank answers can cause miscalculations.

9. Pay attention to graduation rates
When you complete the FAFSA and designate that the application be sent to specific schools, the FAFSA website will provide you with the graduation rates of each school on your list. Try to avoid schools with low graduation rates.

10. Don't inflate your education
Plenty of schools will give applicants brownie points if they are considered first-generation college students. If parents didn't graduate from college, select "high school" as the highest education attainment.

Bottom Line: Following these tips can help you increase your financial aid award, and every dollar counts.