Making the Most of College Financial Aid: 7 Tips You Should Know

Brandpoint  |  2016-01-12

(BPT) - What do parents of toddlers and parents of high school students have in common? Both worry about paying for college. With the constantly rising costs of higher education, financial aid becomes more important than ever for making the dream of a college education possible. So if you’re interested in receiving financial aid, where should you start?

“The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is your gateway to money for college from both the federal and state governments for most colleges and universities,” says Mark Kantrowitz, author of “Filing the FAFSA” and “Secrets to Winning a Scholarship.” “Filing the FAFSA correctly is crucial, as it has a direct effect on how much money you receive from various types of financial aid.”

College Ave Student Loans partnered with Kantrowitz to offer top tips for maximizing your need-based financial aid for college:

1. Save strategically

When it comes to covering the cost of college, financial aid should be at the forefront of your mind, whether you’re ready to file the FAFSA right now or not. It’s best to save money for college in a parent’s name, rather than the student’s, as the FAFSA assesses money in the parent’s name at a much lower rate. Every $10,000 in student assets reduces aid eligibility by $2,000, while every $10,000 in parent assets only reduces eligibility by up to $564.

2. File early

The earlier you file the FAFSA, the better. Right now, you should file the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after Jan. 1, but starting in 2017, you can start as early as Oct. 1. Ten states award aid on a first come, first served basis, and 12 have hard deadlines in February and March. Specific schools can also have specific deadlines, and students who file early may qualify for more aid. So, as a rule of thumb, file the FAFSA in January to maximize your eligibility.

3. Minimize income in the base year

Using income and tax information from a previous year, or base year, the FAFSA calculates the financial strength of your family. Because the formula is heavily weighted on income, it’s a good idea to reduce your income in the base year. If you can, avoid realizing capital gains. If you must sell stocks, bonds or other investments, try to offset capital gains with losses. Taking retirement plan distributions during the base year will also count as income.

4. Reduce reportable assets

Minimize your money in the bank by using it to pay credit card and loan debts. This not only makes good financial planning sense, but may help you qualify for more aid.

5. Maximize the number of children in college at the same time

Something as simple as having more than one child in college can dramatically increase your changes of receiving more financial aid. While you can’t change the ages of your children, you can use this impact on aid eligibility as a deciding factor when determining whether to allow your child to skip a grade.

6. Seek generous and low-cost colleges

There are many generous colleges, including some in the Ivy League, which implement “no loans” financial aid policies. This means they replace loans with grants in the student’s need-based financial aid package. Additionally, in-state public colleges are likely to be your least expensive option, especially after subtracting gift aid, grants and scholarships.

7. Organize your documents and information

Filing the FAFSA is all about the details. Pay attention and stay organized to get the job done right, starting by filing the FAFSA for the correct year and staying on top of deadlines. Make sure to use the right Social Security Number, date or birth, marital status and correct financial information. Follow the instructions and fill out the forms as carefully as possible to get the most accurate results.

Once you receive your financial aid award letter and assess your savings, you’ll have time to consider taking out a loan. If you need it, find a simple option that works for you, such as College Ave Student Loans.

Navigating the world of financial aid can be tricky, so follow these tips to maximize your eligibility and make college a reality. For more information and resources, visit collegeavestudentloans.com.

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Maximize Study and Fun with Cost-Effective Technology for Your Student

Brandpoint  |  2016-01-07

(BPT) - Today’s youth are well-versed in transitioning their computers and phones from school to home, and futurists believe that will be even more necessary in coming years. Project Tomorrow’s recent Speak Up Data shares that “Students in a blended learning environment (utilizing both physical books and online digital resources) are more likely to self-direct their learning outside of school.”

The best tech device options allow your student to learn and play anytime, anywhere and in any environment. The critical items to consider are devices that allow full access to learning applications; nine-plus-hour batteries; keyboards; easy connectivity; a backpack-friendly weight; powerful browsers that allow for fast-loading videos; access to school assignments and research tools.

Cost-effective technology such as the Intel processor-powered Chromebook is being embraced by entire school districts for its fostering of streamlined education allowing faculty and IT administrators to communicate with students at school and at home. As a bonus, your student can also use a Chromebook to socialize with friends and engage in fun learning apps and popular gaming sites.

“This is a whole new definition of what school looks like,” notes Alice Keeler, author and Google for Education certified innovator. “Students can ask questions by posting to the stream in Google Classroom 24/7, (and) since other students have access to the stream, students are able to learn from and help each other.”

The ability to handle such multitasking is projected to serve youth well in the coming decades as technology evolves, according to a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Institute. Fifty-five percent of respondents agreed that by 2020, “The environment itself will be full of data that can be retrieved almost effortlessly, and will be arrayed in ways to help people young and old navigate their lives.”

The Intel-powered Chromebook addresses that need for multitasking with several advantages over ARM process-based models. In a Principle Technologies Test Report last year, those advantages included a 57 percent longer battery life while web browsing; 46 percent less waiting to read a textbook or take notes online; 47 percent less waiting to do math homework online; 50 percent less waiting to create an English presentation; 46 percent less waiting to team up in science class; and 100 percent more frames per second while rendering an anatomy situation.

That’s partly why school district IT specialist and education speaker Kyle Pace calls it “the biggest no-brainer in education.”

“Schools must begin leveraging these tools to bring students into the world of working in the cloud, communicating, collaborating and creating on the web,” he advises. “We can’t afford not to give our students this type of access -- at school and at home.”

For more information on creating and collaborating with Chromebooks, check out Kyle Pace’s blog.

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(BPT) - Families who have children heading off to college are likely navigating an array of options when it comes to actually paying for higher education. A new white paper by Prudential Financial titled Paying For College: A Practical Guide for Families, seeks to dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding loans, grants, scholarships, and available tax benefits. If the bad news about financing a college education is that it can be complex and time-consuming, the good news is that families willing to educate themselves on the process (and familiarize themselves with the potential pitfalls) can develop a strategy that does not break the bank for students or the parents.

“It can be a daunting process, but well worth the effort, especially if it means avoiding large amounts of debt or not dipping into retirement savings ” said Caroline Feeney, President, Prudential Advisors. “If it seems too intimidating, don’t be afraid to seek guidance because there is a good chance you’ll be able to put the right payment strategy in place that works for your family.”

Creating a Plan that Fits Your Family

While earning a college degree is certainly a worthwhile pursuit, the skyrocketing costs of college tuition can leave many students laden with burdensome levels of debt. Parents can also struggle, often sacrificing retirement savings to help their children.

According to Feeney, “We urge families to tap in to school resources, guidance and financial aid counselors, as well as the experience of a financial professional who can help them make critical decisions with respect to leveraging existing financial resources in a way that helps protect longer-term financial security.”

The report provides a roadmap for financing a college education. It provides basic, foundational information about qualifying for undergraduate financial aid, taking out public and private education loans, and taking advantage of potential tax deductions and credits. It also offers targeted advice for single, as well as divorced parents.

Seeking Aid: Knowledge is Power

One of the primary goals when researching college payment options is identifying all of the sources that do not result in long-term debt. For families who lack the resources to save in advance or to fund that education on a pay-as-you-go basis, seeking all types of financial aid is essential. Some considerations include:

  • Becoming familiar with the application deadline and requirements for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) https://fafsa.ed.gov/.

  • Learning the pros and cons of aid sources available, including grants, scholarships, work-study programs, tax credits, and tax deductions.

  • Researching the variables that affect a student’s access to financial aid, including choice of school, how much and in what form the family has saved for college, and how adept the family is at working through the process of applying for help.

Once they do their homework, families may be surprised to learn about more effective ways to qualify for grants and scholarships, and if student loans must be taken out, how to navigate the new repayment options that have become available.

Divorced and single parents also have special provisions available to them that are worth looking into.

“Every family has unique circumstances to consider. Investing time with a financial professional who can help guide them through resource planning can help alleviate some of the stress associated with understanding the process and making sure that the family’s finances are well handled,” said Feeney.

To learn more, visit www.prudential.com/payingforcollege.

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No Time to Pack School Lunch?

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-03

(BPT) - The school year is well underway and your best laid plans for coordinated family schedules, home-cooked dinners together and a bag lunch packed from home have evolved to an acceptable level of managed chaos.

Time is short and usually double-booked.

One thing you don’t need to worry about is your child’s lunch. The nutrition she gets at school will be just as good, if not better, than the bag lunch you were planning to send.

“Many parents aren’t aware of the nutritional content of what’s on the menu at their child’s cafeteria,” says Mary Fell, director of School Nutrition Services at Alum Rock Union School District in San Jose, California.

Fell explains, “Many of these are familiar and favorite foods for children and if you read the fine print, you’ll see they’re packed with a variety of powerhouse nutrients that they need, are lower in sodium and have 0 grams trans fat per serving.”

Chef Mark Ainsworth, nutrition expert and professor at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), explains that school meals must meet the rules established by the USDA, which specify how many proteins, whole grains, sodium and fats are on the menu. Calories are set, as well. “I believe it’s actually more nutritionally balanced at school than it would be at home, unless mom or dad is a nutritionist or dietary expert,” says Ainsworth.

“In San Jose, each of our meals align with USDA guidelines,” says Fell. “We know children eat with all of their senses - especially sight, smell and taste. We focus on the full experience, understanding the flavors and foods they like, to make their lunch a fun and nutritious break in their days.” Fell explains that her colleagues across the country are committed to similar goals. “We’re in this line of work because we care about kids and their nutrition.”

Parents may be surprised to learn a school lunch of mandarin oranges, a green salad with reduced calorie dressing, a slice of whole-grain crust pizza, like Big Daddy’s (R) Primo Cheese Pizza from Schwan’s Food Service, and a cup of nonfat milk, has comparable nutrients and 35 percent less sodium than a bag lunch with a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, carrot sticks, a medium apple, one ounce of multigrain chips and a cup of nonfat milk. Whole grains, calcium, protein and potassium are star ingredients in both lunches.

The essentials of whole grains

Whole grains are an important source of dietary fiber and also provide B-vitamins and essential minerals that help keep kids healthy. A diet rich in whole grains can help to lower the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. They also help to provide a feeling of fullness.

The notable nutrients of potassium and calcium

Potassium and calcium have both been named “nutrients of concern” for children because research has shown their diets are often lacking these important nutrients. Potassium ensures normal heart and muscle function, maintains fluid balance and plays a role in promoting strong bones. Calcium is important for strong bones and also plays a role in blood clotting and muscle function.

The power of protein

Protein is a cornerstone of a child’s diet, supporting growth and development. Considered a building block for muscle and collagen, protein also helps to transport other nutrients in the body.

Companies like Schwan’s Food Service have worked to reduce sodium in their pizzas by incorporating sea salt in the crust and sauce, as well as adding herbs and spices, to enhance the flavor and the nutrition of this favorite food.

“We’re excited to share with parents the facts about our school meals,” says Fell. “It’s a great way for us to make kids smile and hopefully minimize the stress to pack those bag lunches.”

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Education a Must on Association Board

NewsUSA  |  2015-11-24

(NewsUSA) - Running a community association can be a rewarding but difficult task -- a minefield for even the most savvy, seasoned and well-intentioned arbiter.

Federal, state and local laws are changed, passed, or modified; buildings age; interest rates are as solid as a two-celebrity marriage; budgets, insurance companies and community elections present their own challenges.

If you are one of the more than 66 million Americans who live in a homeowners association or condominium, you might be thinking of becoming a board member, or perhaps you already serve on an association board. Either way, educating yourself is of paramount importance to you, your neighbors and community.

Which is why Community Associations Institute (CAI), a national education and advocacy group, is offering a new, comprehensive education course that will help community association board members better understand association operations, management and governance.

"We know from national surveys that association board members are dedicated volunteers doing their very best to serve their communities and neighbors," says CAI Chief Executive Officer Thomas Skiba, CAE. "But that doesn't mean they know everything they need to know. Many boards get in trouble because they don't know what they don't know. That's why this course can be helpful."

A Big Commitment

Although board members certainly go in with eyes wide open about the amount of time they will be volunteering and devoting to the association, Skiba points out that the role also requires a commitment to understand the legal, leadership and operational obligations of the position.

"The information and insights conveyed in the workshop can save association leaders time, money and unnecessary headaches, perhaps even help them avoid costly, divisive lawsuits," says Skiba. "Even with a skilled community manager or attorney, board members can find themselves facing the unanticipated surprises and traps that association boards inevitably encounter."

CAI has tapped experts in the community association business to develop a workshop that is available both as an online course and a classroom workshop by CAI chapters. The curriculum, Skiba says, is for both self-managed communities and those association boards that rely on a professional community manager or an association management company.

Highlights of the Workshop

The Board Leadership Development Workshop provides association board members with information and perspective on the critical elements of community association operations. So whether you're a first-time board member or a tenured officer, there's something for everyone. Here is just a sampling of what the program includes:

  • The functions of president, secretary and treasurer.
  • Governing documents.
  • Finances and reserve funding.
  • Board and annual meetings.
  • Rules compliance and enforcement.

Visit www.caionline.org or call 888-224-4321 to learn more.

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What We Have Learned About High School Equivalency

NewsUSA  |  2015-11-24

(NewsUSA) - The past 18 months shook up state education communities preparing students to earn a high school equivalency certificate. With some states dropping the old test for new ones, states choosing to have multiple options, and the implementation of College and Career Ready (CCR) standards, the landscape drastically changed in a short period of time.

Here's what educators and those looking to achieve this educational milestone should know about the past year and a half.

1: 2014 marked the first year in U.S. history that alternative tests were used by states.

Twenty states administered alternative tests after choosing to either drop the GED test within their state or offer multiple tests for students to choose from. The HiSET exam developed by Educational Testing Service and the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion by CTB/McGraw Hill allow those who haven't completed high school the opportunity to earn their high school equivalencies.

Introducing numerous branded tests broke conventional terms and understanding of how people actually go about earning a high school credential.

2: People are learning you don't "get a GED."

Employers, education administrations and institutions of higher education incorrectly ask whether an applicant has his or her "GED." Having proof of a high school credential is essential for many careers and postsecondary education opportunities. However, the GED is a test -- not something earned.

HiSET, GED and TASC scores are mobile, meaning they can be used for employment and college applications throughout the United States. Test takers now have a choice as to what test they choose to take based on various categories such as price or whether the test is available in paper- and/or computer-delivered formats.

3: The results are the same.

All three tests measure high school equivalent skills, and each has implemented CCR standards. Whether one takes the HiSET, GED or TASC test, the end result when passing these tests is the individual earning a state-issued credential. For example, in California, a student can take either test and earn the California High School Equivalency Certificate when passing each test's subject areas.

The trend toward alternative testing shows no signs of slowing as more states consider new test options and vendors in the near future. Options in how one earns a high school credential have changed, but the outcomes are the same -- increasing one's ability to achieve a more secure future by reaching this education milestone.

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Novel Program Brings Hope to African Nation

NewsUSA  |  2015-11-24

(NewsUSA) - For decades, Angola's government has focused on its natural resources as its number one commodity. Now, however, there is a paradigm shift that may have an even greater potential -- the country's young people.

In cooperation with Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), a leading Swiss business school that has recently earned the AACSB International business accreditation, Angola wants to train select students in international business and start a new phase of economic development.

But can the formation of a new financial elite be enough for lasting change in a country that is still inherently poor?

Of course not, says Jose Filament Dos Santos, a representative from the Angolan sovereign wealth fund Fundo Soberano de Angola (FSDEA), which is funding the project. "But we firmly believe that you have to start somewhere, and it's best to get going in an area where it will have a big impact."

Other countries have already seen the benefit of investing in education and a younger generation, but it is no small step for a country whose majority still live in abject poverty.

The focus-shift of the FSDEA, from the investment in real estate to the social sector, justifies Dos Santos with the growing investment interest for years from foreign companies:

"In order to understand and draw up major contracts in international business that will bring in long-term revenues not only for investors, but also for the country and its people, Angola needs experts."

Enter the 'Future Leaders of Angola,' a six-month executive program that offers Angolan students advanced training in management at an international level.

A statement released by the 'Future Leaders of Angola' reads, "We believe [the graduates] will produce a noticeable effect, not least because they will pass on what they have learnt in their future jobs in Angola."

For its part, the university said it sees the course as a chance for students to contribute to an improvement in its citizens' lives.

"In the curriculum, we put a lot of emphasis on topics such as corporate responsibility, compliance and corruption, and give the participants greater awareness of these issues," stresses Daniel Seelhofer, head of the Department of International Business at ZHAW.

While proponents understand the program and the selection of students according to "purely objective criteria" will have its challenges, ultimately it could move the country forward in ways it never thought possible -- until now.

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