Tuesday, January 26, 2010

PSAT: National Merit Scores Are In - Did you make the cut?

Written by Lauren Kahn, Educational Consultant / CEO of Lone Star Ed Consulting, LLC
512-294-6608  Lonestaredconsulting@gmail.com

Updated on August 31, 2010
Before we delve into the "overachiever" scores for the 2008 PSAT (Class of 2010), I want to put things in perspective. If you are a national merit semi finalist for the 2009/2010 school year, you performed exceptionally well on this standardized test and scored in the top 1% of your state. Bravo to you. To see the next steps in the process to cementing your place as a National Merit Finalist and possible scholarship recipient, click here.

According to the College Board, the average Selection Index for students in eleventh grade is about a 141. Note: Only students in eleventh grade are eligible to enter NMSC scholarship programs. This score is equivalent to about a 1000 on the CR and Math combined for the SAT. The PSAT Selection Index, which is used to determine eligibility in National Merit Scholarship Corporation programs (NMSC), is the sum of the three scores in each test section (CR + M + W). The Selection Index ranges from 60 to 240.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

University of Texas at Austin Ends Sponsor of National Merit Scholars

Reprinted from The Chronicle, with additions from The Daily Texan
By Elyse Ashburn

Provided by Lauren Kahn, Educational Consultant, Lone Star Ed Consulting, LLC

Starting in the fall of 2010, the University of Texas at Austin will end its scholarship program for National Merit Scholars, instead devoting more money to need-based aid amid mounting budget pressures.

"When we looked at what was happening in the economy, we decided it was important to redirect resources to make sure that all students that are qualified to be admitted to the university are able to attend regardless of need," said Tom Melecki, director of student financial services.

The university will honor the National Merit Scholarships of current students, Mr. Melecki said, and it will continue to offer both universitywide and departmental merit-based scholarships for which scholars will be strongly considered.

Previously, the university had awarded most National Merit Scholars $13,000 over four years. In 2008, the university sponsored 213 of the 281 freshmen at Texas who were selected by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation competition. It enrolled more freshman scholars that year than any college other than Harvard University, according to data provided by the corporation.

Students enter the competition by taking the PSAT by their junior year, and must score above a certain cutoff, which varies by year and state. Of the 1.5 million students who compete, about 16,000 are selected as semifinalists based on their scores. From that group about 15,000 are selected as finalists based on academic performance and their SAT scores.

Recently, the National Association for College Admission Counseling criticized the program for using PSAT cutoff scores as the primary factor in selecting scholars. Admissions tests, the group argues, are not designed to serve as the primary screen for scholarship applicants, and should only be considered as one of many qualifications.

In a letter to NACAC, the College Board, which owns the PSAT and is a partner of the scholarship corporation, defended the selection process, saying that it is the fairest way to evaluate 1.5 million students a year and that the PSAT serves as an "access and equity tool" because it introduces many low-income students to the college-going process.

Mr. Melecki said Texas' decision had nothing to do with how the scholarship program is run. Rather, it was one of the easiest merit-based aid programs to end because most such scholarships at the university are endowed by private donors. The National Merit Scholarships were primarily paid for by the university, but about 20 percent of their cost was covered by an endowment.

The Daily Texan provided this perspective and praised the administration's decision to end National Merit Finalist large financial awards.
Those who argue that canceling this program signals that the current administration is not dedicated to attracting top students are wrong. The University still has hundreds of merit-based scholarship programs to attract top students that test well. The Austin-American Statesmen notes that the University will award more than $60 million in aid that is wholly or largely merit-based, even after ending this program. The choice to end the National Merit Scholarship program should be applauded. It brings UT closer to competing with top universities for truly top students and further from the pool of mid-tier colleges desperate to attract Merit scholars.
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Monday, January 18, 2010

College Applications on the Rise for Class of 2014

Provided by: Lauren Kahn, M.A. from Lone Star Ed Consulting, LLC 512-294-6608

USA Today reports, "College applicants are facing one of the toughest years ever to gain admission to the nation's public colleges and universities as schools grapple with deep budget cuts and record numbers of applications. As cash-poor state governments slash budgets, colleges are capping or cutting enrollment despite a
surge in applications from high school seniors, community college students and unemployed workers returning to school." 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

FAFSA: Priority Deadlines ... File Just in Case

By: Lauren Kahn, M.A. from Lone Star Ed Consulting, LLC 512-294-6608 
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Don't jeopardize your son or daughter's opportunity to attend their dream college by not applying for financial aid. You may have heard stories from friends where families did not apply to the FAFSA, because they assumed they did not qualify, only to find out later that they lost out on some serious grant money or loans to finance their children's education. According to the Department of Education, the U.S. government will provide more than $116 billion this year to help millions of students and families pay for post-secondary education. All federal aid applicants, regardless of family income, are eligible to participate in the unsubsidized Stafford loan program. 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

FAFSA - The definition of a "parent" according to the government

Are you a parent or step-parent of a student about to go off to college? If yes, read on ...

Here are some answers to possible questions regarding who qualifies as a “parent” in the financial aid process. You might be surprised by some of the results.

Definition of a parent for financial aid purposes
What is a dependent student for financial aid purposes?

Dependency is not based on age of the student, but on a series of questions that the student answers on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Dependent students must provide both student and parent information on the FAFSA. For the 2009-2010 academic year, a student is considered dependent on his or her parents if he or she answers "No" to all of the following questions:

o Were you born before January 1, 1986?

o As of today, are you married? (Answer “Yes” if you are separated but not divorced.)

o At the beginning of the 2009–2010 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate, etc.)?

o Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?

o Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?

o Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010?

o Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2010?

o When you were age 13 or older, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent/ward of the court?

o As of today, are you an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?

o As of today, are you in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?

o At any time on or after July 1, 2008, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?

o At any time on or after July 1, 2008, did the director of an emergency shelter program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?

o At any time on or after July 1, 2008, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

Parents' marital status

The FAFSA asks about parents' marital status because your marital status directly affects the treatment of income and assets in the EFC calculation. Parents must report their marital status as of the date the application is completed.

Who is considered a Parent?
The term "parent" is not restricted to biological parents. Sometimes a person other than a biological parent is treated as a parent, and in these instances, the parental questions on the application must be answered, since they apply to such an individual (or individuals).
Parents who are both living and married to each other
Answer the questions about each parent.

Parents, who are living together and have not been formally married
Those who meet the criteria in their state for a common-law marriage, should report their status as married. If your state does not consider your situation to be a common-law marriage, then you should follow the rules for divorced parents. Check with the appropriate state agency concerning the definition of a common-law marriage.

Foster Parents, Legal Guardians, and Grandparents:
A foster parent, legal guardian, or a grandparent or other relative is not treated as a parent for purposes of filing a FAFSA unless that person has legally adopted the applicant.

Adoptive Parent:
An adoptive parent is treated in the same manner as a biological parent on the FAFSA.

Deceased Parents:
If one, but not both, parents died, answer the parental questions about the surviving parent. Do not report any financial information for the deceased parent on the FAFSA. If the surviving parent dies after the FAFSA has been filed, the student must submit a correction updating his/her dependency status to independent, and correct all other information as appropriate. If the surviving parent is remarried as of the date the FAFSA is completed, answer the questions about both that parent and the person he or she married (stepparent).

Divorced Parents:
Answer the questions about the parent the student lived with more during the 12 months preceding the date the FAFSA is completed. If the student did not live with one parent more than the other, provide information for the parent who provided more financial support during the 12 months preceding the date the FAFSA is completed, or during the most recent year that the student actually received support from a parent.

If this parent has remarried as of the date the FAFSA is completed, answer the questions on the remaining sections of the FAFSA about that parent and the person he or she married (stepparent).
A stepparent is treated in the same manner as a biological parent if the stepparent is married, as of the date of application, to the biological parent whose information will be reported on the FAFSA, or if the stepparent has legally adopted the student. There are no exceptions. Prenuptial agreements do not exempt the stepparent from providing required data on the FAFSA. Note that the stepparent's income information for the entire base year, must be reported even if parent and stepparent were not married until after the start of the year, but were married prior to the date the FAFSA was completed.

Legally Separated Parents:
The same rules that apply for a divorced couple are used to determine which parent's information must be reported. A couple doesn't have to be legally separated in order to be considered separated for purposes of the FAFSA. The couple may consider themselves informally separated when one of the partners has left the household for an indefinite period of time. If the partners live together, they can't be considered informally separated. However, in some states, a couple can be considered legally separated even if they still live together. If the couple's state allows legally separated couples to live together, and they are legally separated, then they are considered separated for purposes of the FAFSA. In this case, the applicant would report the information on the parent that provided the majority of the student's financial support.

Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act
The California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003, which extends new rights, benefits and obligations to individuals in California Registered Domestic Partnerships, became law on January 1, 2005. If you or your parent(s) are in a Registered Domestic Partnership, this legislation may affect your eligibility for state and university financial aid. If this new law reflects your family's living situation, contact the Financial Aid Office. You will be asked to complete a Domestic Partner Information Form, and your eligibility for state and university aid will be reevaluated. Your eligibility may increase or decrease based on the new information provided. The provisions of the Act do not apply to federal aid.

Parental marital status + FAFSA  = a complicated situation. Know the rules and you will be fine.

The information above was provided by UC Davis and Lauren Kahn, M.A. Educational Consultant of Lone Star Ed Consulting, LLC.

If you would like more information about Lone Star Ed Consulting's college planning services, please e-mail Lauren Kahn or call her at 512-294-6608. 


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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Seniors, Time to Apply for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA)

Provided by: Lauren Kahn, M.A. Lone Star Ed Consulting 512-294-6608

Seniors, besides merit scholarship options, there is also another way for you to finance your college dreams. Apply for federal financial aid. As FinAid.com says, "Few students can afford to pay for college without some form of education financing." It is time for the U.S. government to show you the money! If your parents make less than $150K in combined income and you are a U.S. citizen, I would advise you to at least submit your application for federal aid. Financial Aid comes in all sorts of packages: including grants, loans, and work study options. If you need information on the types of financial aid available, visit finaid.com.

If you plan to attend a private four year school, the retail cost of your first year of college could be as high as 60K. This estimated cost includes the total cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, room and board, books, travel and incidental expenses. The average cost of a private four year school for the 2008-2009 year was approximately $36,000.00 (collegeboard.com). At a public four year university, the average cost for a first year student was approximately $16,000.00, with only $6,600.00 for tuition and fees. The room and board cost for students is estimated at $8K a year. However, this cost will greatly vary based on dorm options and food plans. (It is my recommendation that most first year students live on campus in university housing, unless there is limited housing on campus and there are safe housing alternatives nearby campus.)

This is a reminder for the parents of college-bound seniors to submit their online FAFSA in the next few days. Parents need to keep in mind financial aid is given on a first-come, first-served basis from “pools” of money; waiting to submit the FAFSA may be harmful to your son or daughter’s potential for receiving significant need-based financial aid awards.

To complete the online FAFSA:  Click below. 

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