December 28, 2010
If you’re applying for financial aid or planning on getting a federal loan for college you will need to fill out a FAFSA (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/index.htm). You can do it anytime after January 1st (based on 2009 tax return) and can have your 2010 tax return information updated electronically from the IRS when it is available (new this year). There is no charge for the FAFSA.
Tip – log on now and apply for a PIN for one parent and your student. It will get backed up after January 1st and there will be a longer waiting period to receive your PIN by e-mail. Write this PIN down as you will use it for all 4 years (and longer, if you have other kids).
If your child is applying to a private school, you can check their website (financial aid section) to see if they require the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA. Each school has their own deadlines and some may be January 1. There is a charge for the CSS Profile which is found on the collegeboard.com site.
Welcome to the official start of your college preparation season! This process does seem overwhelming if this is your first time but it all gets done so try to have some fun with it.
One of the first things students will think about this winter is a plan for testing. All of you know that there are 2 major tests accepted by all schools – the SAT and the ACT. Many students will take each test once and see if they do considerably better on one test. Some students will take a test 2 or 3 times to see if they can improve their scores. Research has shown that more than 3 times is not worth the time.
There is also the option of looking into schools that are test optional – meaning you don’t need to send them either of the above tests. Check for a complete list of schools (over 800) at fairtest.org.
Reminder: There is a free SAT practice test run by Kaplan Test Prep on Saturday, January 22nd at Hopkinton HS. Your child will need to register (800-KAPtest). Call for other locations if you live elsewhere. Whether or not you plan to pay for test prep services, I think it is a good idea to take advantage of this practice test. It lets kids feel how long the test is and if they attend the scoring night with a parent, they will get their scores and know where they are starting from. Kaplan will try and talk you into purchasing their test prep services but you are under no obligation to do so.
Other options include buying a SAT test prep book, seeing if your school has a free online test prep service or using a free website such as Number2.com (also for ACT test prep). All of these will save money but require some student discipline to put in the time.
Some families opt for hiring an individual tutor to help in a particular subject area.
It is a good idea to visit the websites to check the testing dates for this winter and spring and sign up in advance. The ACT is not offered at Hopkinton HS and your child may have to travel farther away if you wait until the deadline to sign up.
For juniors with special needs:
It’s a great idea for your child to take a free practice test or try some online tests at Number2.com if he/she is considering using these tests for college admissions. It will give you both an idea if the testing route is a good one for your child. If you know from the PSAT or the PLAN that testing is not a good match, consider the list of schools at fairtest.org.
Testing accommodations are offered for both the ACT and SAT. Contact your school guidance counselor and these organizations very soon to see if your child qualifies and discuss the documentation needed to apply for these accommodations. A good amount of lead time is necessary for this process.