More than 500 Colleges Agree to Adopt Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

I am pleased to announce that more than 500 colleges and universities (.xls), enrolling more than 2.5 million undergraduate students (thirteen percent of all undergrads), have committed to adopting the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet during the 2013-2014 school year.

Shopping Sheet Example

An example of the information on the Shopping Sheet

The adoption of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is a big win for students already attending these institutions and those who are considering enrolling. The Shopping Sheet provides a standardized award letter allowing students to easily compare financial aid packages and make informed decisions on where to attend college. Students and their families now have a clear, concise way to see the cost of a particular school.

The Obama administration introduced the Shopping Sheet in July, and to coincide with the release, I sent a letter to college and university presidents asking them to adopt the Shopping Sheet as part of their financial aid awards starting in the 2013-14 school year.

I applaud the institutions that have agreed to adopt the Shopping Sheet, and hope more colleges and universities follow their example in offering students and families an easy-to-read award letter that delivers the bottom line on college costs.

Learn more about the Shopping Sheet here, and, if you’re an institution interested in adopting the Shopping Sheet for your students, or have questions about adopting it, please contact ShoppingSheet@ed.gov.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education.

* Update Nov. 29, 2012: The Department will provide updated figures periodically on its Financial Aid Shopping Sheet website.

What Is a Loan Servicer and Why Should I Care?

Loan Servicer GraphicSo you took out a federal student loan and now it’s time to pay it back. I was in your exact position a year ago and even though I was working at Federal Student Aid, the student loan repayment process was overwhelming.

One of my first questions was: Why am I receiving federal student loan bills from a company rather than the U.S. Department of Education? If you have asked yourself a similar question, this may help:

What is a loan servicer?

A loan servicer is a company that handles the billing and other services on your federal student loans. The statement you receive in the mail is coming from a loan servicer on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education.

How do I find out who my loan servicer is?

To view information about all of the federal student loans you have received and to find contact information for your loan servicer, visit www.nslds.ed.gov and select “Financial Aid Review.” You will then be prompted to log in using your Federal Student Aid PIN, so make sure you have that handy.

Note: If you have multiple federal student loans, you may have more than one loan servicer, so make sure you click through each loan individually for information specific to that loan.

Why does it matter?

There are several reasons that being familiar with your loan servicer is important, including the fact that your loan servicer:

Moral of the story: Keep in contact with your loan servicer.

The student loan repayment process can be confusing, especially if you’re new at it like me, but your loan servicer is there to help. Make sure you stay in touch with them and use the resources they have available for you.

Nicole Callahan is a new media analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

5 Questions to Ask the Financial Aid Office as You Head Back to School

Time to hang up the bathing suits and hit the books: It’s back-to-school season!

Back to School LogoFor many of you, it’s probably been months since you’ve completed the FAFSA or submitted your school’s financial aid application. Have you checked in with the financial aid office to make sure they have everything they need to disburse your financial aid? If not, here are some questions you should ask:

  • What do I need to do to finalize my award? Each school has a different process for awarding and disbursing financial aid. If it has been a while since you contacted the financial aid office, stop by or give them a call.  Often times, there are requirements you must meet before your financial aid can be paid out. Maybe you need to sign a Master Promissory Note or complete Entrance Counseling? Check with your school’s financial aid office as soon as possible so that you can be sure you receive your financial aid on time.
  • What academic requirements do I need to maintain in order to receive financial aid? In general, you need to make satisfactory academic progress. Each school has a satisfactory academic progress policy for financial aid purposes; check your school’s website or ask someone at your financial aid office to find out what the requirements are.
  • What are the terms of any loans offered? If you were offered student loans as part of your financial aid package, it is important that you understand the terms of those loans. Remember, a student loan is just like any other loan. It’s borrowed money that will have to be repaid with interest. Do you know what your interest rate is or when you are supposed to begin repayment? If not, ask. To help you keep track, try out our new Financial Aid Counseling Tool (FACT).
  • Where can I find a work-study job? Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. Federal Work-Study is unique in that it is a type of financial aid that is not applied directly to your school costs. Instead, you earn the money as you work.  In order to earn the money that has been allocated to you, you’ll need to find a work-study job. Talk to the financial aid office to find out what types of federal work-study jobs are available for students at your school.
  • How and when will I receive my financial aid payments? The million-dollar question. Every school has a different process for disbursing financial aid. You can probably find the answer on your school’s financial aid website, but if not, contact the financial aid office and they should be able to help you out.

Nicole Callahan is a new media specialist in ED’s office of Federal Student Aid 

Top 5 Benefits of the College Navigator

College Navigator LogoWhether you’re a high school student wanting to look into your college options or a parent trying to get ahead of the game, the college research and application process can be confusing. With 4,000 degree-granting institutions in the United States, how are you supposed to find out which one is the right fit for you?

Luckily, ED has a great resource that makes the process of finding a college easier. The College Navigator helps you find, organize, and keep track of the schools that are best suited for you. Here’s a list of the top 5 ways to use this tool:

1.     Cost Calculator

The Navigator estimates student expenses for each college, including tuition, books, supplies, and room and board. Also provided is the net price of attendance and links to each school’s calculator.

2.     Financial Aid

College Navigator reports every college’s financial aid awards, breaking them into categories such as number of students at the school who receive aid and average amount of aid received.

3.     Graduation Rates 

Data are presented on color-coded graphs that make the numbers easy to understand whether students are staying in school and completing.

4.     Student Loan Default Rates

You can see whether former a college’s students are repaying their student loans. If too many are defaulting, it’s a sign the school isn’t preparing them for success after graduation.

5.     Compare Your Favorites

Add colleges and universities that you like to a My Favorites tab. You can compare two or more schools and export results to a spreadsheet.

The college application process is an important one, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. With College Navigator, you can narrow your search and stay connected to your prospective schools’ admissions offices. Before you know it you’ll be on your way to college that’s right for you.

Alexandra Strott is a student at Middlebury College and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Unraveling the Mystery of College Costs

Waiting for college acceptance letters can be a nerve-racking experience filled with excitement and anticipation, but once approved, students and their families begin another anticipatory wait for financial award letters. The letters, which intend on laying out the cost of college, too often do a poor job of providing the bottom line on how much aid, grants and scholarships, and student loans will be needed to pay for college.

Shopping Sheet Example

An example of the easy-to-read information on the Shopping Sheet

To help solve this problem, the Obama Administration released a model financial aid award letter today called the Shopping Sheet. The Shopping Sheet will standardize award letters, making it easier to comparison shop and provide students with key information including:

  • How much one year of school will cost;
  • Financial aid options to pay this cost, with a clear differentiation between grants and scholarships, which do not have to be repaid, and loans, which do;
  • The net costs after grants and scholarships are taken into account;
  • Vital information about student results, including comparative information about default rates, graduation rates, and median debt levels for the school;
  • And potential monthly payments for the federal student loans the typical student would owes after graduation.

To coincide with the release, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent an open letter to college and university presidents, asking them to adopt the Shopping Sheet as part of their financial aid awards starting in the 2013-14 school year. In the letter, Duncan explained that “we must unravel the mystery of higher education so that students can invest wisely and make the best, most informed decision possible about where to enroll.”

Read Secretary Duncan’s letter and see the shopping sheet here.

#AskFAFSA Office Hours with Loyola New Orleans’ Cathy Simoneaux

Ed. Note: Cathy Simoneaux is the Director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid at Loyola University New Orleans

To celebrate Financial Aid Awareness Month, I hosted @FAFSA’s February #AskFAFSA Office Hours last night. Many students took advantage of the extra day they got this leap year by asking questions about the financial aid process and participating in the discussion with @FAFSA and @loynofinaid live on Twitter.

February is one of the busiest times in financial aid offices across the country, because many school and state FAFSA deadlines occur in February and March. February is also one of the most popular times to complete school financial aid applications (which include the FAFSA), so as you can imagine, I had no shortage of questions to answer.

Deadlines

There are many state deadlines approaching. In fact, if you live in Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Oklahoma or Rhode Island, your deadline is today (and you’re tomorrow, California). It is important to be mindful of both your state AND school financial aid deadlines. Find out which deadline is earlier and complete your FAFSA before that date. But remember, some aid is first-come, first-served, so it’s best to complete your FAFSA today at www.fafsa.gov.

https://twitter.com/#!/xLadyDreezy/status/173126905984319488

Who Gets Aid

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Join ED for FAFSA Office Hours on Twitter

For those of you who may need help paying for college, a new year means it’s time to complete a new FAFSA.

We understand the financial aid process can often be overwhelming, especially if you’ve never gone through it before.  To help you navigate the process, we are very excited to announce the launch of the @FAFSA Twitter account from Federal Student Aid.

The @FAFSA Twitter account will help support an ongoing conversation around student financial aid, and to kick this off, Martha Kanter, the Under Secretary of Education, will host “FAFSA Office Hours” where she will solicit and answer students’ FAFSA questions live on Twitter using the #askFAFSA hashtag. The event will take place on January 26th at 4:30pm (EST) and will be the first in a monthly series of Q&A sessions that Federal Student Aid will host on Twitter.

Here’s how it works:

    • Follow @FAFSA on Twitter for FAFSA information and financial aid tips.
    • Ask your questions now and during the live event on Twitter using the hashtag #askFAFSA
    • Follow the Q&A live through the @FAFSA Twitter account
    • Can’t make the live session? A summary of the live chat including the full Q&A will be posted on the ED.gov blog following the event.

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s the form to fill out in order to apply for student grants, work-study, and loans. To receive federal student aid for the 2012-13 school year, you must complete the 2012-13 FAFSA at www.fafsa.gov.  Some financial aid is first-come, first-served, so we encourage all potential and returning students to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. Remember, four-year colleges and universities aren’t the only schools that accept the FAFSA Community colleges, nursing schools, online schools, and career schools do too. More than 6,000 schools accept FAFSA!

We hope you will find this to be a great resource as you pursue your education, so let us know how we can help. Remember, you can complete the FAFSA online today at www.fafsa.gov.

The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid

Nine Back-to-School Financial Tips for College Students

Ed. Note: For college students around the country, the newness of the fall semester is probably starting to wear off. And while the admission process may seem like a distant memory, now is a good time to ensure you’re prepared for financial success during this and future semesters. Nicole Callahan, a 2011 college graduate, and a new employee at ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid offers these quality tips to keep you financially focused during the coming year.

9. Check in with your school’s financial aid office – All schools have different requirements when it comes to financial aid. Make sure that your school has an updated version of your FAFSA and any other required paperwork so that your financial aid is not delayed.

Financial Aid8. Keep your eyes open – Don’t wait until your tuition bill is due to start thinking about applying for scholarships. There are scholarships available throughout the year. Check with your school’s financial aid office or your local library to find out what is available. You can also search for scholarships online.

7. Consider Federal loans first – When grants and scholarships aren’t enough, many students apply for student loans to help finance their education. Start with Federal loans that often have lower interest rates and flexible repayment options. To apply for Federal loans, start by completing the FAFSA.

6. Keep track of what you borrow – Remember that eventually, you will have to pay back your student loans, so only borrow what you need to get you through school. The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) is a great way to keep track of all the Federal Loans you have borrowed. For private loans, you should check with your lender.

5. Ask about student discounts – When shopping, always ask about student discounts. You can get great deals on everything from laptops to airline tickets just by being a student.

4. Get what you paid for – From concerts to plays to recreational sports teams, most colleges provide a number of services for free. Save yourself money by using the services you already paid for such as a meal plan, the gym or the health center on your campus.

3. Do it yourself – Don’t waste money on things you can do yourself. Instead of stopping into the local coffee shop every morning or going out for dinner, try brewing coffee at home and learning to cook. They may be small expenses, but the savings will add up.

2. Put things into perspective – Take a typical Friday night: you and your friends order pizza ($15), head out to see that hilarious new movie that just came out ($10) and then share a cab back to campus ($7). How many hours would you have to spend at your work-study or part-time job to pay for your night out? Was it worth it?

1. Keep track – Using credit and debit cards make it easy to lose track of what you spend. Make a monthly budget. Divide your spending into categories (food, clothing, entertainment etc.) and set limits on the amount you spend on each. It will prevent you from going overboard.

Nicole Callahan
Office of Federal Student Aid

Importance of Pells

Ed. Note: Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education Eduardo Ochoa recently spoke to the American Student Association of Community Colleges and affirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to providing college aid to low-income students by preserving the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550.

Amber Mullins, a community college student in Tampa, Fla., submitted the following post to explain why Pell Grants are so important to students like her.

As a single mother of two and a student at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla., I am extremely grateful for community colleges and the role they play in our society.  I am attending Hillsborough in their business administration program, trying to develop lifelong career skills that will allow me to support my two children and me.

This opportunity is only possible because of the Pell Grant Program.  At last week’s American Student Association of Community Colleges’ (ASACC) National Student Advocacy Conference in Washington D.C., we spent two days discussing the importance of the Pell Grant to millions of students like me.  This small investment (we also learned that education receives less than 3 percent of the federal budget) in students will pay great dividends over time by keeping America at the forefront of economic and workforce competitiveness.  Some in Congress are proposing to cut the maximum Pell Grant, which would be detrimental to me and millions of other students.  It would also likely extend the time it will take for me to complete my education.  The reason it will take longer to complete my degree is that without that money, I will have to work longer hours at a part-time job, to support my family instead of focusing on my degree.

One of of the highlights of the ASACC conference was a speech by Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education Eduardo Ochoa.  He spoke to more than 375 students about the priorities of the U.S. Department of Education and President Obama.   We were excited to hear that the number-one short-term goal in higher education of the Department of Education and President Obama was the same as that of ASACC:  Maintain the Pell Grant maximum award at $5,550 for Fiscal Year 2012.

The conference not only taught students about the issues facing America’s education system, but provided us with the opportunity to visit the offices of our representatives and senators to share our stories. By telling my story of how the Pell Grant has transformed my college experience and has given me new opportunities, I believe I told the story of so many more just like myself who have benefited from this important program.

Amber Mullins is a student at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla. and vice president of communications for the American Student Association of Community Colleges. The views reflected here are her own.