Getting Accepted to a U.S. Service Academy

November 11, 2009
by Sal Allen America has over 12,000 students in attendance at one of the three regular U.S. service academies at any one time. These students (called midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy and cadets at both the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy), receive some of the toughest academic, mental, physical, and […]

by Sal Allen

America has over 12,000 students in attendance at one of the three regular U.S. service academies at any one time. These students (called midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy and cadets at both the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy), receive some of the toughest academic, mental, physical, and leadership training of any category of college and, are in a class of their own. The service academies attract and train some of America’s best young men and women to be professional officers and leaders in the U.S. military, as well as prepare them to be diligent and effective leaders and managers in government, corporate, and private enterprises worldwide. The service academies have produced several U.S. Presidents, numerous members of Congress, major industry leaders, military heroes, a host of Rhodes Scholars and even a Nobel Prize winner in science. The U.S. service academies also produce more astronauts than any group of schools anywhere. The service academies are often ranked amongst the best, if not the most difficult, colleges in the United States.

It has been estimated that it costs between $250,000.00 and $350,000.00 to graduate one student, which makes the U.S. service academies the most expensive colleges in the country. Each student’s tuition, books, labs, and other fees are completely covered. Each student receives full room and board. In fact, these students enjoy some of the best dining of any college. All uniforms are custom fit to each student and everyone is given several sets of athletic gear, to make sure each student is equipped to handle the more rigorous physical fitness expectations placed on them. Health care is not a problem either. Every student receives full medical care without any insurance premiums or co-payments, and any student needing immediate care is often seen within an hour of signing in for treatment. There are facilities and clergy to lead each student’s religious faith, with an emphasis on religious diversity. There is even a basic salary that each student receives to give them some flexibility, when it is time to relax.

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for each student to attend one of the U.S. service academies, for the four years it will take to graduate, is a whopping zero dollars! That’s right, zero. It does not matter how little or how much your family has saved for Johnny or Jane to attend college. The United States government has agreed to pay the entire bill. For the parents (and any student trying to figure out how to get a great college education), this fact is a huge relief. At graduation, each student receives a salaried, full time job, and an opportunity to grow. For most families, it is a great honour to be accepted and to graduate from one of the service academies.

So, how do you get into a U.S. service academy? What are the steps? Do you have to know somebody? What are the admissions offices looking for in a student? Do I have to be a sports superstar? Do I have to be a genius? When do I begin to apply? What are my chances?

During your junior year of high school, there are a bunch of things you must be doing to make yourself competitive. Each service academy evaluates an applicant on something called a “Whole Man (or Woman) Score.” The U.S. government is looking for the best overall students out of each high school class and it is willing to pay for it. There are nine general categories that are evaluated and scored: academic performance and difficulty in grades 9-12 (3.0 GPA or better), SAT/ACT scores, organized team sports participation, displays of leadership (JROTC, Civil Air Patrol, Boy or Girl Scouts, high school class president, etc), outside activities that benefit the community (church voluntary work, 4H Club, community parade involvement, nursing home volunteer, etc), employment that shows good time management skills (farmers, part time job), medical fitness, physical fitness, character, and your ATTITUDE. Your academic performance is a major measurement in nearly every college application. However, it is imperative that an applicant, hoping to be accepted to a service academy, be involved in as many different activities as possible, during their high school years. How many sports did you play? Did you letter? Did you have a part-time job that limited your participation in other activities? Are you in JROTC, Civil Air Patrol, or Sea Cadets? I once heard an Admissions Officer say that he would rather have a student that can get 70 percent done in 10 minutes, than someone who can get 90 percent done in an hour.

Begin your application process by contacting the service academy of your choice and completing a Pre-Candidate questionnaire online. You must be a U.S. Citizen to gain admittance, except for those applying as international students. You cannot have children, nor be responsible for any children. This questionnaire gets you on the map. You will be sent a bunch of forms to fill out and return, and ultimately scheduled for a series of appointments. Arrive early for all of you appointments and be ready to go!

Medical fitness and physical fitness are two measurements that are not normally evaluated in most colleges, but they are evaluated here. All applicants will be sent to a local military medical facility to have a “service academy candidate physical completed. Having a broken bone that did not heal correctly, major dental issues, bad vision, diabetes, allergies since 12, flat feet, bad personal hygiene, etc are all limiting criteria and will halt your application. Being too tall or not tall enough can also eliminate you from competition. Additionally, you will be required to complete a Candidate Fitness assessment, or CFA, that will measure your agility, upper body strength, aerobic strength and endurance. One such test involves throwing a basketball, while kneeling!

During the spring of your junior year, each applicant must request a nomination to attend a particular academy (see www.senate.gov and www.house.gov ). You do not need to know them personally. If you are selected to attend and receive a nomination, you will have been “appointed” by your designated nomination source. By federal law, these appointments are strictly limited in number by the governmental position that the nominating source holds. If you can qualify for more than one nomination source, you will increase your chances. The nomination sources are: The U.S. President, U.S. Vice President, U.S. Senator, U.S. Congressmen, Secretary of that service (ie, Secretary of the Navy for the U.S. Naval Academy), children of POWs/MIAs and Medal of Honor winners.

One of the most important things you should be doing is getting yourself known to the Candidates Admissions Office. If you can visit the campus, do so! Talk with the students and breathe in the spirit and atmosphere of the school. It may be your home for awhile! Ask the admissions office to match you with a freshman student for a weekend, so that you can experience the routine. Keep taking the SAT’s/ACTs to improve your score AND keep in front of the Admissions Officers!

Eventually, you will be assigned and receive a visit from a school representative. They will also want to meet your parents. At Annapolis, this representative is called the “Blue and Gold Officer.” His/her main job is to talk candidly with you to assess your attitude and motivation to attend. They also want to know what you want to do once you graduate. You may look good on paper, but how you fit and function as a team player is equally important.

Each service academy receives between 12,000 and 15,000 applications per year. Of those, approximately 2,000 applicants are found fully qualified. Only about 1,300 will be admitted or about 10 percent. Of the fully qualified students, some will be eliminated because there were other more qualified applicants for the nominating source that they applied. Again, apply for as many nominations as possible. For example, if you can get a Presidential and a Congressional nomination, you have two categories by which to be considered.

For further information, please contact the Candidates Admissions Offices listed below. Also see www.collegeboard.com and www.act.org . Good luck! ---Sal Allen, USNA'86

USAF Academy,

HQ USAF/RRS, 2304 Cadet Drive, Suite 2300 CO 80840 (719) 333-2520 www.usafa.af.mil

United States Military Academy

646 Swift Road West Point, NY 10996 (845) 938-4014 admissions.usma.edu

United States Naval Academy

121 Blake Road Annapolis, MD 21402 (410)293-1000 www.usna.edu

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Merit, need student or career specific scholarships

November 8, 2009
Sorting out the confusion... The most common scholarships may be classified as: Merit-based: These awards are based on a student's athletic, academic, artistic or other abilities, and often factor in an applicant's community service record and extracurricular activities. The most common merit-based scholarships, awarded by either private organizations or directly by a student's intended college, […]

Sorting out the confusion...

The most common scholarships may be classified as:

  • Merit-based: These awards are based on a student's athletic, academic, artistic or other abilities, and often factor in an applicant's community service record and extracurricular activities. The most common merit-based scholarships, awarded by either private organizations or directly by a student's intended college, recognize academic achievement or high scores on the ACT and SAT standardized tests.
  • Need-based: These awards are based on the student and family's financial record and will require applicants to fill out a FAFSA to qualify if the scholarship is a federal award. Private need-based scholarships will also often require the results of a FAFSA, which calculates a student's financial need through a formula looking at the expected family contribution and cost of attendance at the intended college.
  • Student-specific: These are scholarships where applicants must initially qualify by race, gender, religion, family and medical history, or many other student-specific factors. 
  • Career-specific: These are scholarships awarded by a college or university to students planning to pursue a specific field of study. Often the most generous awards are given to students pursuing careers in high-need areas such as education or nursing.  

Get your scholarship forms and registrations in several weeks before the deadline. Because If you miss the deadline, no money will be coming in. Be extremely careful to follow all the guidelines. Some guidelines are more ridiculous than others, however if you don’t follow the guidelines you will be out of the runnings.

Make a copy of the entire packet and keep it on file in case your packet goes astray.  Make sure your name (and student ID, social security number, if applicable) appears on each page of the material to ensure that nothing is lost. 

Lastly, a great place to start looking for private money scholarships is:  www.fastweb.com

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[COA-EFC=(NEED/HGP)+(SD)]=TC

November 6, 2009
I know it looks like some crazy formula created by Einstein, Hawking or Tesla but is actually the formula that you MUST know. If you don’t know this formula and how it relates to each college on your child’s list you will be leaving money on the table. This crazy formula was created by our […]

I know it looks like some crazy formula created by Einstein, Hawking or Tesla but is actually the formula that you MUST know. If you don’t know this formula and how it relates to each college on your child’s list you will be leaving money on the table.

This crazy formula was created by our elected representatives in Washington DC and was recently amended by the Obama administration.

You can read the Higher Education Opportunity Act (all 432 pages) or come to a local workshop and learn the formula AND discover the secrets that admissions officers don’t want you to know because their goal is to keep as much money as possible and have you and your child pay as much as possible. (Click the link Workshop RSVP for dates/locations)

[COA-EFC=(NEED/HGP)+(SD)]=TC

COA references the Total Cost of Attendance for one year. This includes tuition, labs, books, room & board, travel, other expenses and fees.

The EFC is the federal formula for creating your “deductable” the cost that you are required to pay before you get any financial aid.

NEED is calculated by subtracting the EFC against the COA.

HGP is the Historical Giving Pattern, this number is reported to the Department of Education. This is the average amount of financial aid given. Is the college generally tight fisted or generous?

SD references the college’s desirability toward any one particular student. Is your student highly desirable (no they don’t have to be a star athlete or have high grades or a perfect SAT score) Some colleges are more apt to handing out financial aid to attract certain types of student.

Add subtract and divide these numbers to get the TC, True Cost for your student.

The exorbitant cost of college may be a hard thing to swallow, however AZCollegePlanning.com’s proprietary “How To Pay” formula custom designed for your family can show you how to pay for college without going broke, how to find best-fit colleges, generous colleges, all in a comfortable manor.

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How American is the American Opportunity Tax Credit

October 22, 2009
Many parents and college students will be able to offset the cost of college over the next two years under the new American Opportunity Tax Credit. This tax credit is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 signed by the Obama administration. What the IRS wants you to know about the new […]

Many parents and college students will be able to offset the cost of college over the next two years under the new American Opportunity Tax Credit. This tax credit is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 signed by the Obama administration.

What the IRS wants you to know about the new American Opportunity Tax Credit:

1. This credit, which expands and renames the existing Hope Credit, can be claimed for qualified tuition and related expenses that you pay for higher education in 2009 and 2010. Qualified tuition and related expenses include tuition, related fees, books and other required course Materials. (Note: room & board and meal plans are not on this list) This credit does not cover the ‘Total’ Cost of Attendance.

2. The credit is equal to 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent and 25 percent of the next $2,000 per student each year. Therefore, the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualifying expenses for an eligible student.

3. The full credit is generally available to eligible taxpayers who make less than $80,000 or $160,000 for married couples filing a joint return. The credit is gradually reduced for taxpayers with incomes above these levels.

4. Forty percent of the credit is refundable, so even those who owe no tax can get up to $1,000 of the credit for each eligible student as cash back.

5. The credit can be claimed for qualified expenses paid for any of the first four years of post-secondary education.

6. You cannot claim the tuition and fees tax deduction in the same year that you claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. You must choose to either take the credit or the deduction. Consult your CPA to find which one is better for your specific situation.

Complete details on the American Opportunity Tax Credit and other key tax provisions of the Recovery Act are available at the official IRS Web site at www.IRS.gov/Recovery

While it is important to know these deductions and credits, it is equally as important if not more important to understand the rules of the game. AZ College Consulting’s founder J.D. Wyczalek (why-zall-ick) says “It is important to understand the rules of the game. You wouldn’t use the rules for a baseball game with an opponent who is playing by NFL rules on a football field, would you? Nor would you use a 1040 tax form that was dated 1982. Understanding and implementing current college admissions and financial aid rules is critical. By understanding these current rulings, we can legally and ethically stack the deck in our favor. Let the fat cats figure out how to squeeze another dollar out of the other guy, not our child, not our future college student.”

The answer to your college problem is our solution, whether it be assisting in finding best fit colleges for your child, or finding colleges that have great financial aid packages or figuring out how to lower your college costs and coming up with the best plan to pay your share of college in a comfortable manor, we are Arizona’s premier college planning firm. We are just a click away.

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New Student Loan Rules Will Disappoint Many

October 20, 2009
A new law will help a lot of struggling students and parents -- but others will be very disappointed. The Good, Bad and Ugly of the New Student Loan rules. The Good: undergraduates that are eligible for subsidized loans will note the rates will be a lot lower. Congress passed a law cutting them in […]

A new law will help a lot of struggling students and parents -- but others will be very disappointed. The Good, Bad and Ugly of the New Student Loan rules.

The Good: undergraduates that are eligible for subsidized loans will note the rates will be a lot lower. Congress passed a law cutting them in half, from 6.8% to 3.4%. Don’t expect your rate to go down tomorrow; these rates will adjust over the next 5 years. The lower rate affects Stafford loans for students who qualify for federal subsidies, meaning Uncle Sam pays the interest on the loans while you're still in school. Plus limits on Pell Grants for low-income students will gradually rise from $4,800 in 2008 to $5,400 in 2012. (Pell grant recipients family AGI’s are typically 60-50k or less.)

The Bad: news is many other students won't get help and may even end up paying more. That includes undergraduates with unsubsidized federally backed loans, graduate students and graduates who may want to refinance their loans. Unsubsidized undergrad rates as well as all graduate school rates will remain at 6.8%, while loans taken out by parents under the federal PLUS program will hold at 8.5%.

Students seeking to consolidate all their federal loans into one loan under a fixed rate will see plenty of perks vanish. Why? Congress also is eliminating $21 billion in federal subsidies to student lenders. And that is going to cut deep into lenders' bottom lines, meaning lenders will need to scale back incentives they use to lure business away from their rivals.

The Ugly: while the Federal Government looks to bully its way into the student loan arena many are disappointed that the long overdue changes are not enough and do not do enough to help parents and students capitalize on the over $100 billion dollars of financial aid. It would seem that the Federal Government is looking out for its best interest by capturing this fragile market with empty promises.

Some are so bold as saying that the Federal Government is strong arming its way into the student loan arena with it eye on the prize. This prize is a long term goal to capture interest payments from student loans as another revenue source for the fat cats on Capitol Hill.

The Solution: AZ College Consulting, LLC Arizona’s premier college planning firm says to quickly learn the 156 strategies to lower your college costs. By understating the “rules of the game” your child will graduate with less student loans and you can pay your lowered adjusted share of college in a comfortable manor, pay off your house in a shorter period and build up a respectable retirement nest egg using AZ College Consulting’s proprietary college planning formula custom designed for your family.

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House passes bill to expand college aid for students

October 7, 2009
The House passes a bill to expand college aid for students, is this a good thing or a ploy to enslave college graduates with billions of dollars of debt? A bill passed by the House of Representatives will increase the maximum Pell Grant by hundreds of dollars but will change Federal Perkins Loans so that […]

The House passes a bill to expand college aid for students, is this a good thing or a ploy to enslave college graduates with billions of dollars of debt?

A bill passed by the House of Representatives will increase the maximum Pell Grant by hundreds of dollars but will change Federal Perkins Loans so that loans will begin accruing interest while students are still in school.

The measure, passed Sept. 17 and known as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, will oust private lenders from the federal college loan business and require all schools to switch to the federal Direct Loan Program by July 1, 2010.

Direct Loans are low-interest federal loans for students and parents that help pay for the cost of a student’s education. The lender is the U.S. Department of Education — rather than a bank or other financial institution.

The bill will now move to the Senate where it is expected to pass.

Larry Chambers, director of student financial services, said he is not convinced the removal of private lenders will result in substantial benefits for students.

“Having both direct lending and the Stafford Loan programs has fostered competition, enhanced services and provided students with choice,” Chambers said. “With only one lender — the federal government — students will no longer have a choice of a lender.”

Chambers said new changes being made to the Federal Perkins Loan will leave college students with more loans that begin accruing interest immediately.

Freshman Adam Melnick said loans that immediately start building interest, often known as unsubsidized loans, make life harder for students.

“We’re not making real money as undergraduates, so it’s hard to chip away at what we owe,” Melnick said. “Then when we graduate, the interest has already blown our debt through the roof.”

Proponents of the bill, however, point to the introduction of variable interest rates as proposed by the SAFRA. After college, the lenders’ interest rates will vary depending on their financial standing. Individuals with a low-income will not be subjected to higher interest rates.

Chambers said the bill would increase the current maximum Pell Grant from $5,350 to $5,550 during the 2010-11 school year, and by 2019, the Pell Grant scholarship should grow to $6,900. Pell grant eligibility is for families that make $50,000 or less annually.

While all this talk of reform is good and long overdue, let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture which is first getting our child into the best college they can get into and minimize the financial burden. This includes maximizing the amount of financial aid that our student can qualify for as well as limiting the amount of student loans upon which they graduate.

There are specific strategies that can be employed that can A. give our student the most financial aid possible, B. minimize the amount of student loans and C. help our child select a career that is best fit for him/her and find colleges that are typically generous with deep pockets. If you would like to discuss these strategies call our office at 1-888-237-2087 ext. 2 or if you have not attended a workshop come on out.

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Admission officers deny ‘friending’ prospective students

October 6, 2009
Is Big Brother (on campus) watching you? Though some universities, such as Hofstra University in New York, created admissions-specific social networking accounts, new media specialist Amy Peterson said she manages TCU's Facebook and Twitter sites differently. "We use Facebook as a way to have a conversation with current students," she said. Peterson said she relays […]

Is Big Brother (on campus) watching you?

Though some universities, such as Hofstra University in New York, created admissions-specific social networking accounts, new media specialist Amy Peterson said she manages TCU's Facebook and Twitter sites differently.

"We use Facebook as a way to have a conversation with current students," she said.

Peterson said she relays questions from Facebook that she is unable to answer to the admissions office, but the admissions counselors have no direct contact with the students who asked these questions.

Prospective students sent more questions regarding deadlines, financial aid and general admissions questions to the university's Twitter account, Peterson said.

"(Twitter) gets used a lot as a help place, like a help desk," Peterson said.

Rainwater said the university's Facebook fan base spanned wider than prospective students. Most of the fans on the university's Facebook site are college students or alumni.

However, admissions counselors do promote the university's social networking sites, Rainwater said.

"As part of our marketing process we send an e-mail out to all of our prospective students that we have e-mail for...and we provide them with direct links to the Facebook fan page, the Twitter page and the Flickr page, which we actually use really frequently," Rainwater said.

Rainwater said that the addition of an admissions-specific Web site would make finding information confusing.

"We really feel like, in terms of communicating students, the official university Facebook page that Amy Peterson manages is just a central location for all information," Rainwater said.

J.D. says: “Warning! College admissions offices are using all resources available to find out about your student. Keep your Facebook, Myspace, Youtube videos and other pictures, videos or other internet posts kosher and clean. A posted picture of an under aged minor at a party with empty beer bottles all around could be enough to keep you out of your top choice college even if you did not partake in any alcoholic consumption. Also be careful that if you select a fan page for a particular college, that it really is the college’s fan page. Some spammers and marketing companies are creating bogus fan pages to collect names and email address simply to sell them something."

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Obama orders that the FAFSA be made easier

October 5, 2009
The Obama administration pushes forward with its “Change” agenda which impacts the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid). High income earners tend to not fill out this form based on the Myth that they believe they make to much money to qualify for aid. While it is true that some of these families won’t […]

The Obama administration pushes forward with its “Change” agenda which impacts the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid).

High income earners tend to not fill out this form based on the Myth that they believe they make to much money to qualify for aid. While it is true that some of these families won’t qualify for federal grants which are reserved for the lowest income students and families. These high income families are leaving money on the table. Filling out this form accurately with understanding of all the nuances could result in a surprising financial aid award letter.

The Obama administration hopes that soon it will become simpler to provide tax return information that is requested on financial aid applications.

The IRS plans to set up a new system where you will be able to visit a secure web page, verify your identity and then retrieve the essential info needed—such as your adjusted gross income (AGI) for the prior year—in order to complete college loan applications, scholarship forms and other types of financial arrangements. The IRS hopes to have the system up and running next year.

Because of these new planed changes it is more important than ever to properly plan and have adequate time to implement these strategies so that you can qualify for as much aid as possible.

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Arizona State University Financial Aid

October 4, 2009
ASU's video on financial aid Learn the stratagies that can get you the most financail aid you can qualify for at one of our local workshops. Click the Free Workshop RSVP for dates and locations.    Send article as PDF   

ASU's video on financial aid

Learn the stratagies that can get you the most financail aid you can qualify for at one of our local workshops.

Click the Free Workshop RSVP for dates and locations.

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Obama’s new rules for private student loans

October 4, 2009
Are the new rules for Private Student Loans going to cause more confusion, frustration and chaos? As the Obama administration pushes forward on the “Change” agenda, some are wondering if it will be a positive or negative change. New rules put in place last week for private student loans stem from the Higher Education Act. […]

Are the new rules for Private Student Loans going to cause more confusion, frustration and chaos? As the Obama administration pushes forward on the “Change” agenda, some are wondering if it will be a positive or negative change.

New rules put in place last week for private student loans stem from the Higher Education Act. They have been hailed as good for student borrowers and were largely uncontroversial among lenders. Financial Aid officers and some higher education experts say the changes do not go far enough.

The disclosure rules require lenders to provide information about interest rates, fees, and terms, including the total cost of the loan at the maximum interest rate, when potential borrowers apply.

Lenders must tell applicants about repayment options and the total cost of each scenario. A sample form put together by the Federal Reserve shows that someone who is considering borrowing $10,000 at a maximum initial interest rate of 17.375 percent, for example, would be told that his or her loan would cost a total of $81,084 if payments are deferred while the person is enrolled, $50,707 if the borrower pays interest while enrolled, and $38,180 if the borrower makes payments on both principal and interest while enrolled. * This is why it is so important to understand and maximize all potential financial aid strategies so that your child is not burdened with an exorbitant amount of debt upon graduation.

Lenders also must inform applicants about federal student-loan options, which are often cheaper than private loans, and must refer them to the Department of Education’s web site for more information.

Upon applicant approval of a private loan, the lender must provide information on rates and fees, including estimates of the total repayment amount at the current and maximum interest rates, as well as the monthly payment at the maximum interest rate.

Private student loans carry risks and costs that fixed-rate federal student loans do not. Interest on private student loans can be variable, sometimes reaching 20 percent. The borrowing limits on private loans are also much higher than those on Stafford (Federal student loans). Due to Stafford loans not covering all the expenses college students require, students and parents have turned to private funding to cover the difference.

As college has grown more expensive, more students have turned to private lenders. Almost two-thirds of students who took out private loans had not exhausted cheaper federal financial-aid options. The new rules seek to reduce that proportion by requiring applicants for private loans to fill out a form indicating their knowledge of their college’s cost and other available forms of federal student aid.

Students and their families forgo available federal loans for various reasons. Some people do not fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a form required for eligibility to receive federal grants or loans. Some students and their parents may wrongly assume they would not qualify for federal aid. Others may be intimidated by the form, which has been criticized for its complexity and length, drawbacks that federal officials have been working to improve.

J.D. says: “Despite what changes the new regime makes, knowing all the numbers for your child’s college education is critical so that parents aren’t guessing and have an understanding of the process so that they can make an intelligent, educated decision. These are the things that parents and students learn in our free workshops.”

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