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Financial Aid season for college students is here. What to know

​(StatePoint) It’s not only football season. For current and incoming college students, it’s financial aid season, too, and that means completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).      The FAFSA should be the first step families take in the planning-for-college process; it’s used by schools to put together financial aid packages, states use it to determine eligibility for state aid, and some scholarships require it as part of their applications.
  “Regardless of whether you think you will qualify for funding, don’t fumble by simply not completing the application,” says Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie Mae.
   By just completing the FAFSA, students can gain access to more than $120 billion in grants, work-study funds, and federal student loans.
  Sallie Mae is offering six key points to move the ball down the field:
• Get season tickets in advance. Complete the FAFSA as a high school senior — and every year in college, even graduate school. It’s the only way to remain eligible for federal student aid, and the amount of aid can vary year-over-year.
• Review the playbook before the game. Before beginning the application, both parents and students should create a username and password, a Federal Student Aid ID, and gather Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank statements, tax returns and W-2 forms. 
• Don’t miss the opening kick-off. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, or from programs with limited funds, so the earlier families fill out the FAFSA, the better their chances for aid. Additionally, submitting the FAFSA earlier could mean receiving financial aid award letters earlier. 
• Go for the two-point conversion. Take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import and convert tax information directly into the FAFSA. After some critical changes were made to address privacy and security issues, the tool is back, and more applicants will be eligible to use it this year.
• Watch out for trick plays. The only way to fill out a FAFSA is at fafsa.gov. Filing the FAFSA is always free, so watch out for sites that charge fees or make promises that sound too good to be true. Students can reduce the risk of identity theft by keeping their Federal Student Aid ID confidential and reporting any suspected fraudulent account activity.
• Don’t be a Monday morning quarterback. Completing the FAFSA earlier means receiving critical information like the Student Aid Report (SAR) sooner. The SAR provides basic information about student eligibility for federal student aid and answers to the FAFSA questions. The SAR also includes the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which provides a clearer picture about eligibility for financial aid. Families who complete the FAFSA online typically receive their SAR within three to five days.
• Make your final draft picks. Families should list at least one school on the FAFSA. Some state aid is based on the order of how schools are listed.
     For a full online playbook of tips and resources, visit SallieMae.com.
     Don’t drop the ball this season. Take steps to secure financial aid for your college future.

MI Student Aid offers tips for scholarships
  MI Student Aid is offering Michigan students and their families six easy tips to consider when applying for scholarships.
   “Applying for scholarships can be confusing and many students don’t know where to begin,” said Anne Wohlfert, director of the Michigan Department of Treasury’s Student Financial Services Bureau. “There are many scholarships out there. It’s all about following a few basic tips to create a perfect application that opens the door to more money for college.”
Tip No. 1: Get Organized
    Every student should begin their scholarship journey by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
     The FAFSA determines need-based federal aid such as grants and loans. The FAFSA also generates a Student Aid Report (SAR) which is used by colleges in determining need based grants and scholarships.
     Scholarship applications often require recommendation letters, resumes, family financial information, transcripts, and lists of activities, academic honors, leadership roles, work experience, community service and more.
  Prior to beginning a search, gather all these materials and save them in a folder for easy access. Having this information on hand will save time and ensure no information is left out of an application.
Tip No. 2: Get Smart
     Scholarship applications should usually be completed six months to one year before the academic year they will be used. 
     High school seniors should be ready to start their scholarship applications in the fall. High school underclassmen should research scholarship opportunities and begin assembling application components so that they can prepare their scholarship applications in the fall of their senior year.  
     Individuals who requested a MI Student Aid scholarship search prior to their senior year in high school should re-request their scholarship search. The scholarship database is continuously being updated with new opportunities.
     A common mistake students make with their scholarship search is limiting themselves based on scholarship amount. Small award amounts add up too, so apply for all eligible scholarships, even if the amount is smaller.
     Never pay for scholarship information or advice. If a service requires money to get money, it is probably a scam.
Tip No. 3: Get Looking
  College is expensive. Many students have to combine multiple types of financial aid, as well as savings and income from student jobs, to pay for college.
  To put together a strong college financing plan, research and apply for multiple scholarships, including local, college and national scholarship opportunities.
Tip No. 4: Get a Scholarship Calendar
  Create a schedule that sets aside time to apply for scholarships.
  By creating a schedule, an individual is likely to submit more applications. Ideally, approach scholarship searches as if they are another assignment due.
  Creating a calendar of due dates is a beneficial tool. Always set a due date on or before each deadline. It’s vital to keep track of all scholarship deadlines so no opportunities are missed.
  Most scholarship committees discard late applications.
Tip No. 5: Get Writing
  Be true to yourself when developing a scholarship application essay.
  A review committee is interested in an applicant’s unique story. Make sure that an essay expresses the applicant’s voice and experiences.
  Continuously review and work to improve application essays. Recycle application components that may be applicable to other scholarships.
  Remember, by applying for many scholarships, an applicant betters his or her chances.
Tip No. 6: Get Connected
  Follow @mistudentaid on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat for new scholarship opportunities, updates and best practices on all of our social media platforms.  
  To learn more, go to www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid.