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FAFSA: FINANCIAL AID FIRST STEP FAFSA Simplification: 7 Changes to Expect 15 Myths We’re Busting About the FAFSA Process Understanding the FAFSA Process for Parents





MONEY MATTERS 2023 High School Grads Could Take on $37K in College Debt 18 Costs Down, Wages Up: Can You ‘Work Your Way’ Through College? 21 How to Pick a College Bank Account as Carefully as Your College 24


COLLEGE CONSIDERATIONS College Enrollment Is Down, but Here’s Why You Should Still Go

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9 Things First-time College Students Need to Know



The links herein are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Inceptia of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organization or individual. Inceptia bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.

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YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, WE HAVE GREAT ADVICE You may have heard – student loans have been in the news a LOT this year. Students are struggling under the weight of loan debt, and plans to forgive or alleviate that pressure are key political issues. And with all that comes questions about college affordability, and whether a degree is even worth it.

We hear you, and we’re here to help.

This year’s edition of Great Advice for Parents is focused on answering these questions, and questions about changes to the financial aid process, so students can make informed choices about college. Because Great Advice isn’t just for parents – it’s for students, too, and anyone else involved in these critical discussions. While we know the answer to these questions will be different for each student, we hope this guide helps you weigh the options and feel confident in arriving at an educated decision for the future. And we especially hope that our coverage of the new FAFSA changes will make navigating the financial aid process easier. The discussion around attending college and student debt will continue, and there will surely be more changes to come in the years ahead. But one thing that’s certain is that the more you know, the better prepared you’ll be for whatever comes your way. So read this guide, share it, save it, and come back to it whenever you need some guidance – after all, it’s just Great Advice.

Wishing you the best in your future endeavors,

Carissa Uhlman Vice President of Student Success Inceptia

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The new FAFSA is expected to have a streamlined application and an easier path to eligibility. When will the new FAFSA be available? The redesigned FAFSA is expected to launch in December 2023 for the 2024-25 academic year – a delay from the typical October 1 release date. You can still submit the 2023-24 FAFSA until June 30, 2024. Stay tuned for more updates on the new FAFSA deadline. Long-awaited changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form aim to make completing the form easier, unlocking grants, loans and other funds to pay for college. The simplification effort also expands eligibility for many types of student aid. Changes include a shorter form, simplified questions and data that’s automatically populated by the IRS (for tax filers). The FAFSA Simplification Act was bundled into the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. Many changes to the FAFSA are effective as of July 1, 2023, with all changes to be implemented by the 2024-2025 academic year.


• When you need to apply: Find out the FAFSA deadline • How much aid you’ll get: Estimate your financial aid award • What’s on your FAFSA checklist: What you’ll need to complete the application • FAFSA FAQs: Your FAFSA questions, answered

Here’s what’s in store for the new FAFSA.



Students no longer must register for the Selective Service in order to complete the FAFSA, and the question will be removed from the application. Drug-related convictions alone will no longer disqualify applicants, and the question won’t be included on the FAFSA.

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The current FAFSA is in only English and Spanish. FAFSA simplification aims to make the application easier for more students and their parents who don’t speak those languages.

The new form will be available in at least 11 languages.


IT WILL BE CLEARER IF YOU NEED TO INCLUDE ASSETS Currently, aid applicants have to include their own or their parents’ assets when applying for federal student aid to provide a full picture of their financial situation. Otherwise, applicants must answer a series of questions about taxable income to apply without consideration of assets (called the Simplified Needs Test). The act exempts applicants from having to disclose assets if they meet any of the following requirements (tax information will be imported to the application directly from the IRS): • They are not required to file taxes because their income falls below the filing threshold. • They have an SAI between negative $1,500 and $0 – automatically qualifying for the maximum Pell Grant award. • They (for independent students) or their parents (for dependent students) have an adjusted gross income of less than $60,000 (and do not file a tax return with lettered schedules A-H or file a Schedule C with net business income over $10,000 loss or gain). • They received a means-tested benefit, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.



The amount of financial aid you’re eligible for is calculated by subtracting your Expected Family Contribution (soon to be Student Aid Index) from the school’s cost of attendance.

The FAFSA simplification effort adjusts cost of attendance to include more factors and rules:

• Colleges must have standard allowances for living expenses whether students live on or off campus or have a meal plan. • The cost of obtaining a professional license, certification or other professional credential is no longer limited to a one-time allowance. • Private student loans are no longer included in the allowance for loan fees (however, private loans often don’t charge fees as federal loans do).



The Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, is being replaced by the Student Aid Index, or SAI.

The SAI, like the EFC, is used to calculate need-based financial aid. Your need will be calculated as cost of attendance minus your SAI.

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The makeover is meant to correct the assumption that the calculation equals the amount your family can contribute, as the name suggests. Most families pay more than the EFC amount after taking loans to fill aid gaps. In reality, the EFC (soon to be SAI) is an index number used by college financial aid offices to determine your need for aid.

The information you include on the FAFSA determines your SAI.



Pell Grant eligibility will be expanded.

• Maximum annual grants will be awarded based on family size, adjusted gross income (or AGI) and poverty guidelines. • Students who don’t qualify for the maximum Pell Grant, could still receive funds if their SAI is less than the Pell Grant maximum. • If a student’s SAI is greater than the maximum Pell Grant award, they could receive a minimum grant award if they qualify based on family size, AGI and poverty guidelines. The act also extends Pell Grant eligibility for students who previously received a Pell Grant if they were unable to complete their studies due to the closing of their school or if their loans were discharged under borrower defense to repayment. It also restores Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated students. APPLICANTS MAY GET MORE NEED-BASED AID Applicants will see their Student Aid Index set to zero automatically if they’re eligible for the maximum federal Pell Grant. The new formula would also allow an SAI of less than zero (negative $1,500). Both changes will allow applicants to receive more need-based aid. 7

The article FAFSA Simplification: 7 Changes to Expect was published on NerdWallet on August 9, 2023. ANNA HELHOSKI is a writer at NerdWallet. TREA BRANCH is a writer at NerdWallet.

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15 MYTHS WE’RE BUSTING ABOUT THE FAFSA PROCESS U.S. Department of Education Resource Article

The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid provides around $111 billion in federal student aid annually. Yet our Fiscal Year 2022 Annual Report found that only about 63% of high school students submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form between October 2021 and September 2022. Don’t let this be you! Read on for the facts you need to know for FAFSA. Myth 1: The FAFSA form costs money. FACT: No, no, no, no, no. The FAFSA form is free. The quickest and best way to fill it out is on Don’t complete your FAFSA form on websites that charge fees. Myth 2: My family’s income is too high for me to qualify for financial aid. FACT: That’s one of the most common financial aid myths, but there’s no income cutoff. Most people qualify for some type of financial aid, which range from grants and scholarships to loans and work-study programs. Many factors besides income – such as your family size and your year in school – are considered to create your financial aid package. When you submit the FAFSA form, you’re also automatically applying for state funds and possibly financial aid from your school, including grants and scholarships. In fact, some schools won’t even consider you for their scholarships (including academic scholarships) until you’ve submitted a

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FAFSA form. And you can’t know how much financial aid you’ll get until you fill it out.

Myth 3: The FAFSA form is really hard to fill out. FACT: Most people can complete their first FAFSA form in less than an hour. If it’s a renewal or you’re an independent student who doesn’t need to provide parents’ information, it can take even less time. Online, you’re asked only the questions relevant to you. And if you’ve filed your taxes, you can transfer your tax return data into your FAFSA form automatically.

This one-hour estimate includes these steps:

• gathering the necessary documents • filling out and reviewing the application • reading the important information on the “Confirmation” page that appears after you sign and submit your FAFSA form

If you get stuck, help is available by chat, email and phone.

Myth 4: I’m not eligible for financial aid because of my ethnicity or age. FACT: Absolutely not. While schools have their own eligibility requirements, federal student aid eligibility requirements do not exclude based on ethnicity or age. The FAFSA form is free, and you can access more than federal student aid with it. Many states and schools use it to provide their student aid, too. Myth 5: The FAFSA form is only for federal student loans. FACT: Not at all. In fact, the FAFSA form is one of the most widely used tools to access student aid: one application for multiple types of funding. When you complete the FAFSA form, you’re automatically applying for everything from grants and scholarships to work-study funds and loans from federal, state, and school sources. States and schools can also determine scholarships and grants using your FAFSA information. And the funding can be substantial. Myth 6: The FAFSA form kicks off on January 1, and you have to submit it by June. FACT: Nope! You have more time than you think. The FAFSA form is usually available on October 1; however, due to the new changes in the form, the 2024-25 FAFSA will not become available until December 2023 (this should be a one-time exception to the October release). There are three FAFSA deadlines: federal, state, and school. But the sooner you submit your FAFSA form, the more likely you are to get aid. Many states and schools have limited funds.

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Remember, too, that when you submit the FAFSA form you’re also automatically applying for grants, scholarships, and loans from states and schools, which may have earlier deadlines than the federal deadline. If you’re applying to multiple schools, check their deadlines and apply by the earliest one. Myth 7: I need to file my 2023 taxes before completing the FAFSA form. FACT: No, you’ll use your 2022 tax information to apply for student aid for the 2024-25 award year. You do not need to update your FAFSA form after filing your 2023 taxes because only the 2022 information is required. If your financial situation has changed in the last year, you should still complete the FAFSA form with the 2022 information, submit your FAFSA form, and contact the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend to discuss how your financial situation has changed. Myth 8: You have to have good grades to get a financial aid package. FACT: Applying for admission into school is different from applying for financial aid. Good grades may help with academic scholarships, but most federal student aid programs don’t consider grades for your first FAFSA form. In subsequent years, you’ll have to meet certain academic standards defined by your school (also known as satisfactory academic progress) to continue receiving financial aid. Myth 9: Since I’m self-supporting, I don’t have to include my parents on the FAFSA form. FACT: Not necessarily. You need to know how the FAFSA form defines a dependent student. The form asks questions to determine your dependency status. You’ll also need to learn who is defined as a parent for FAFSA purposes. Requirements for being considered an independent student go beyond living on your own and supporting yourself. Myth 10: I should not fill out the FAFSA form until I’m accepted to school. FACT: That’s another widespread FAFSA misconception. Do it as soon as possible. To receive your information, the FAFSA form requires you to list at least one school, but you should list any schools you’re thinking about, even if you haven’t applied or been accepted. And don’t worry schools can see only their own information; they will not be able to see other schools on your FAFSA form. You can add up to 10 schools. If you want to add another after submitting your FAFSA form, log in at and submit a correction. If you decide not to apply or attend a school on your FAFSA form, the school will disregard it. Myth 11: If I haven’t received enough student aid, I’m out of options. FACT: Don’t give up! Check out these options if you didn’t receive enough financial aid. These options can help you fill in the gap between the financial aid you’ve been offered and your school’s cost. Things like applying for scholarships, asking the school for a reevaluation, or finding part-time work are all ways to fill the gap.

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Myth 12: I only need to submit the FAFSA form once. FACT: You have to fill out the FAFSA form every year you’re in school to stay eligible for federal student aid, but filling out the renewal FAFSA form takes less time. Myth 13: I should contact the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid to find out how much financial aid I’m getting and when. FACT: No, the financial aid office at your school is the source for that information. The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid is always here to help, but we don’t award or disburse your aid. Remember — each school awards financial aid on its own schedule. Myth 14: The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the amount you have to pay for school. FACT: The EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college, and it is not the amount of federal student aid you will receive. The EFC is a number your school uses to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Other factor — the largest being the cost of your school — contribute to determining both the amount and type of aid you receive. New: The EFC is now the Student Aid Index (SAI). Learn more here! Myth 15: I can share my FSA ID with my parent(s). FACT: Nope. If you’re a dependent student, you will need your own FSA ID to sign your FAFSA form online, and so will one of your parents. An FSA ID is an account username and password that you use to log in to certain U.S. Department of Education websites. If you share your FSA ID, you’re risking identity theft, and your FAFSA form could be delayed. Next Steps Submit your FAFSA form. If you’ve applied and been accepted to a school listed on your FAFSA form, your school will calculate your aid and send you an offer (on paper or electronically) informing you of how much financial aid you’re eligible for at that school. Good luck!

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UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA PROCESS FOR PARENTS U.S. Department of Education Resource Article

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is the student’s responsibility, but when a student is considered a dependent student for FAFSA purposes, parents have a large role in the application process. Educate yourself about the process and opportunities so you can provide the guidance your child needs to do their part. Your child can apply for not only federal student aid but also student aid from states and schools with the FAFSA form. Do You Need Money for College or Career School? is a great resource to check out first. Many types of student aid are available. Encourage your child to prioritize grants and scholarships before money that must be paid back, such as loans. It is important to understand whether a child is considered a dependent student and who is defined as a parent for FAFSA purposes.

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Use this graphic to help determine who takes the parent role in the FAFSA form.

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Before Filling Out the FAFSA Form You and your child each need to gather these documents:

• Social Security number or Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen but an eligible noncitizen. • Federal income tax returns, W-2s, and/or other records of money earned. If you’re applying in the 2024-25 Award Year, use your 2022 tax return and other documents.

• You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into the FAFSA form using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT). • Both parents or the student and spouse may need to report income on the FAFSA form if they did not file a joint tax return. For assistance with answering the income information questions, call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable) - Records of untaxed income (if applicable)

If you or your family have unusual circumstances that should be taken into account, contact your school’s financial aid office. For example, an unusual circumstance could be unique medical or dental expenses or a large change in income not reflected in your tax information.

Learn what to do if your family’s economic situation changed.

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You and your child will need the following items:

• An FSA ID, an account username and password, is used to sign the application. You and your child each need to create your own FSA ID. (Only one of a student’s parents needs to sign the student’s FAFSA form, so only one parent needs an FSA ID.) • A save key, which only your child needs, is a temporary password that lets you return to a partially completed FAFSA form. If you and your child are accessing the FAFSA from different locations, your child should do his or her part and then share the save key with you. Filling Out the FAFSA Form The FAFSA form is available on October 1 for the next school year. However, remember that a one-time delayed release is necessary this year due to the form simplification changes. Look for the 2024-25 FAFSA to become available in December 2023. The FAFSA form should be submitted as soon as possible because funds are limited. States and schools use FAFSA information to award their aid, and state or school deadlines may be earlier.

Multiple ways to complete the FAFSA form are available:

• Log in at to fill it out online. • Complete a FAFSA PDF for the award year you’re applying for (note: you must print out and mail the FAFSA PDF for processing). • In some cases, your child’s school may submit the FAFSA form for him or her.

The FAFSA form is your child’s application, so keep in mind when it says “you,” it means “you, the student.”

Use the following resources if you need help while completing the FAFSA form:

• Watch the How to Fill Out the FAFSA Form video. • Select the white question mark icon next to a question to view a “tooltip.” • Visit the “FAFSA Help” page, where you can view trending FAFSA topics, browse FAQs, or search for more information. • Contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center to chat with, email or phone live support staff in English or Spanish. • Contact the financial aid office at the college or career school your child plans to attend.

Once your child’s FAFSA form is submitted, the “Confirmation” page will appear on the screen. Depending on your state, you may find a link to your state’s financial aid application here.

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Using this link, your child can transfer information into the state aid application. If you have more than one child attending college or career school and you’re logged in as the parent, you can transfer your parent information into your other child’s FAFSA form using the option on this page. An emailed confirmation should arrive within days after your child’s application has been processed and sent to the school. Read carefully and print and/or save it. Note: Some differences exist between the onscreen page and the emailed confirmation. The information you and your child report on the FAFSA form is used to calculate your child’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which • measures your family’s financial capacity, • determines how much federal student aid your child may be eligible for, • and may also be used by your state and the schools listed to determine grant and scholarship eligibility. Your child will receive an EFC on the Student Aid Report (SAR), which summarizes their FAFSA information. Using the FAFSA information and EFC, the financial aid office will determine the amount tof aid your child may receive. New: The EFC is now the Student Aid Index (SAI). Learn more here! After the FAFSA Form You and your child will receive emails confirming that the FAFSA form has been processed. It takes about three days for the FAFSA form to be processed and sent to the school. Learn how to check the application status online. You can also check your application by phone at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). If you submitted a paper FAFSA form, you can check the status after it has been processed (seven to ten days from date mailed). After your child’s application is processed, he or she will receive the Student Aid Report (SAR). Review your child’s SAR to ensure his or her FAFSA information is correct and complete. If necessary, make corrections. During the winter or spring, your child will receive aid offers from schools. Help your child understand and compare the offers. Encourage your child to read all communications from the school carefully and to supply additional information, forms, or signatures needed by the school’s deadlines.

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2023 HIGH SCHOOL GRADS COULD TAKE ON $37K IN COLLEGE DEBT By Elizabeth Renter As millions of Americans with federal student loan debt hang in the balance, waiting to learn whether some of what they owe will be forgiven, the machine that has churned out this debt for decades is ready to welcome a new class of college students. This year’s high school graduates could take on $37,300 in student loan debt in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, according to NerdWallet analysis of data from the Department of Education. These graduates-turned-freshmen may not see alarming tuition increases, but any improvements won’t compensate for the doubling of higher education costs over the past 30 years. Costs are down, but potential student loan debt is still excessive The average tuition, fees, room and board at public four-year colleges was $23,250 in the 2022-2023 school year, down 5.4% from the year prior after adjusting for inflation, according to the latest data from the College Board. College costs have been growing more slowly for a decade now, and decreasing for the past few years. These lower costs are reflected in how much students are borrowing. New college freshmen may take on less debt than those who began their college careers just a few years ago, but not by much. Using the latest data available on college costs and average loans, 2023 high school graduates could borrow as much as $37,300 over a five-year undergraduate career. This is down slightly from 2022 graduates, who were looking at a possible $39,500 in student loan debt. New student tip: Costs should always be a consideration in deciding whether or where to attend college, but finding those numbers can seem difficult. Colleges and universities should publish the cost of attendance on their websites. This number includes tuition, fees, room and board (meals), books and even some personal expenses. It doesn’t include financial aid. For that, look for the school’s net price calculator, and reach out to its financial aid office or an admissions counselor if you can’t find it. This will help you get a more precise estimate on how much you can expect to pay out of pocket at a school and makes comparing somewhat easier.

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Repayment plans add thousands in interest Students who borrow the maximum amount of federal student loan dollars – $31,000 for dependent undergraduates – would pay $387 in monthly payments on a 10-year repayment schedule. After 10 years, they’d wind up paying $46,453 including interest to whittle that debt down to zero. This is a modest payment estimate that assumes the current 4.99% interest rate throughout. However, that interest rate is expected to rise. While there are other repayment options available for federal student loans, the 10-year plan is considered the standard, and it generally results in the lowest total paid. This analysis assumes the student is paying on unsubsidized loans. But the federal government also subsidizes some qualifying loans, meaning it covers the interest while the student is attending classes half time or more, potentially saving thousands of dollars. New student tip: Students are not required to make payments on federal student loans while attending school and for a six-month grace period after. But if you’re taking on unsubsidized federal student loan debt while in school, you have the option of making interest-only payments during these periods. Because the interest is compounding, paying it as it accrues can save you considerably over the life of your loans. Increased grant disbursements are a relief valve If there’s good news, it’s that grant disbursements are up. Students may be able to lessen how much of their tuition bill is covered with borrowed money by qualifying for institutional, state and federal grants. The largest source of federal grant aid, the Pell Grant, is no longer enough to cover all higher education costs of the most at-need students, but institutional grants have been picking up a greater share of total grant coverage in recent years. In fact, institutional grants now make up more of total undergraduate student aid than federal loans, a change that occurred in the 2019-2020 school year, according to College Board data. New student tip: Grants are “free money” and don’t have to be repaid. Your best bet to get the maximum amount you’re entitled to is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, when it opens each year. Grants may be need-based, but they can also be awarded based on merit or even demographics. Like scholarships, every dollar of grant money you get is a dollar you don’t have to borrow and pay interest on.

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Parents borrow to pick up where federal loans leave off Because federal loans are capped at $31,000 for undergraduate students, those relying wholly on loans or attending more expensive institutions may need additional loans to cover their costs. Parents have been increasingly picking up this debt, which could impact their own long-term financial goals. A 2021 NerdWallet survey found that 26% of parents who took out parent PLUS loans to help fund their child’s education would be “unable to retire as expected” because of the debt. One in five of parents with these loans regretted taking them out. New student (and parent) tip: It’s tempting to help your child pay their school bill even when you don’t have the cash to do it. But if it involves borrowing, think twice. Unless you’re assured your child will graduate and support you in retirement, taking out loans to cover their education could do more harm than good. Paying for college often involves cobbling together money from multiple sources, but parent loans should remain a last resort.

The article 2023 High School Grads Could Take on $37K in College Debt was published on NerdWallet on May 2, 2023.

ELIZABETH RENTER is a writer at NerdWallet.

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COSTS DOWN, WAGES UP: CAN YOU ‘WORK YOUR WAY’ THROUGH COLLEGE? By Elizabeth Renter For the past few years, the out-of-pocket costs for attending a public four-year college have decreased and minimum wages have risen in many states. While you might think these shifts should make it easier for students to work their way through college, it would still take a herculean effort – adding a full-time job (or more) – to a full-time courseload. Assuming a student earns the average of state minimum wages ($10.40 per hour), they’d need to work 35 hours per week to cover the average costs at a public four-year school in their state. And that wouldn’t account for additional expenses, such as gas and car insurance, recreational activities or any unexpected costs. It also wouldn’t leave much room for the estimated 30-45 hours per week they’d need to dedicate to their full-time courseload. Wages and inflation affect working student outcomes The net cost of attendance – which includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and an allowance for personal expenses, minus grant aid – has been declining for the past six years, reaching $19,250 in the 2022-2023 school year for in-state students at public, four-year institutions, according to data from the College Board. Inflation has played a role in this real decline: The cost of higher education hasn’t grown as quickly as the overall inflation rate. Rising state minimum wages are further improving affordability. Over the past two years, 24 states have increased their minimum wages, and college students are more likely to work in low-wage jobs. As minimum wages increase, workers in low-paying jobs making more than the minimum generally get raises too — employers are likely to increase other wages to keep them roughly proportionate. But not every locale is benefiting from such increases. Twenty states either don’t have a minimum wage or have it set to match the federal minimum wage: $7.25 per hour. At that rate, a student would need to work 51 hours a week to pay the cost of attendance.

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About 40% of undergraduates work while in college, according to the Department of Education, but it’s unlikely they’re paying for their entire education. Most graduate with student loan debt. In order to graduate completely debt-free, working students would overextend themselves. Most full-time students take about 15 credit hours, which accounts for an estimated 30-45 hours of learning in and out of the classroom each week. Add to that 25-50 hours of work and you have an unsustainable schedule that is not conducive to learning, let alone getting good grades.

When loans are needed, borrow strategically State and institutional grant aid has climbed over the same period that net price of college has come down, according to data from the College Board. The two are directly related: College grants reduce the out-of-pocket costs of higher education. Grants can be based on a student’s financial need or merit. Still, in the 2020-2021 school year, undergraduates borrowed $44.7 billion in federal student loans. Loans are often a necessary part of going to college, and students would be wise to not jeopardize their chances of earning a degree by running themselves ragged at a job that may not have a dramatic impact on their bottom line. Here are some tips for working students to manage it all: Set a sustainable schedule. This goes for both your job and school. Taking on too many work hours or credit hours can hurt your chances of success when it comes to earning your degree. Fill out the Free Application for Student Aid ( FAFSA ). Fill the application out as soon as possible, every year. Some financial aid is first come, first served and waiting until the last minute could mean having fewer available grant funds. And grants don’t have to be repaid – we like grants. Apply for scholarships, every year. Incoming freshmen aren’t the only ones who should be scrambling to apply for scholarships. Keep an eye out for this type of “free money” throughout your college career, and apply every chance you get. 3 2 1

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Borrow federal first. If you’re borrowing money for school, look to federal student loans first. These will be offered in the financial aid package from your school after your FAFSA has been processed. They typically come with lower interest and more repayment options than private student loans. Ask for help. College can be stressful, and working through college compounds the pressure to measure up. Reach out to an advisor or student counseling if you need help with your schedule or just want to talk through all of the demands on your time. They no doubt want to see you succeed, and you can bet they’re familiar with the challenges you’re facing. 5 4

The article Costs Down, Wages Up: Can You ‘Work Your Way’ Through College? was published on NerdWallet on March 23, 2023.

ELIZABETH RENTER is a writer at NerdWallet.

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HOW TO PICK A COLLEGE BANK ACCOUNT AS CAREFULLY AS YOUR COLLEGE By Spencer Tierney Attending college can get pricey, so you’ll want to avoid costs from other places — like your bank account. More than 668,000 students paid nearly $15.5 million in bank account costs in a year, an average of almost $26 per person, according to a 2022 report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. What’s worse is that some colleges endorse costly bank accounts as part of their partnerships with banks. “Do not assume that because your college or university partners with a bank, that bank is offering you a good deal,” Aaron Klein, senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, said in an email. Before heading off to college, consider what factors you need in a college checking account. There’s no grade on this, but the wrong bank can cost you. Decide what features matter Checking accounts work similarly wherever you bank, but some features vary or aren’t available at every bank, including branches, highly rated mobile apps, certain account fees and perks such as direct deposit up to two days early. Decide a few things going in, like whether you need a bank that offers joint bank accounts to share finances with a parent and whether you’ll want credit cards or other loan options at the same place.

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The biggest banks generally have robust apps and big branch networks, but their account fees can be high. In contrast, regional banks and credit unions – the not-for-profit counterpart to banks – might have lower fees and more of a community focus, but they have fewer branches and might lag in technology. Online banks can have minimal fees and high-quality apps, but they often lack a branch network and the ability to deposit cash isn’t guaranteed. Nationwide ATM access is usually available at credit unions and online banks through shared networks, but they might not be as easy to spot as big bank ATMs. Just don’t limit your options to only accounts marketed as “college checking.” You might miss out on banking features you’d want. Check for fees Watch out for fees on monthly maintenance, ATM usage and overdrafts. You can often avoid a monthly fee, such as $5 or $10, by having a certain minimum balance or direct deposits into your account – or by finding a checking account without monthly fees. Using an ATM to withdraw cash outside your bank’s network can trigger a fee of around $2 to $3 from your bank, plus a fee from the ATM operator. And overdraft or nonsufficient funds fees can be $30 or more per transaction, which will kick in if a payment drops your account balance below zero. Carla Sanchez-Adams, senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, recommends looking into Bank On certified accounts, which don’t have overdraft or NSF fees. Transactions that would bring an account balance below zero get declined instead. Plus, these accounts can have screening practices inclusive of those with less banking history. You might have to pay fees for some services, such as getting a checkbook. “Not every account is going to be completely free,” says David Rothstein, senior principal at Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, who manages Bank On, CFE Fund’s national platform that promotes financial inclusion. Factor in account security This year, there have been three bank collapses. While bank failures are rare, federal deposit insurance protects your money. If a bank fails, you get up to $250,000 of your money back. Banks get insured through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and credit unions have the equivalent protection through the National Credit Union Administration. However, it’s more complicated with accounts at newer financial tech firms, such as Chime and Current, as well as with debit cards at firms like Cash App and PayPal’s Venmo. These companies typically partner with banks to provide “pass-through” FDIC insurance in their accounts. But if these companies fail, getting your money isn’t as straightforward as with a bank. This uncertainty is one reason why tech firms’ accounts aren’t eligible to be Bank On accounts.

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“It’s true that a lot of the fintechs have a relationship with banks behind the scenes, but that’s never really been tested,” Rothstein says. Beyond FDIC insurance, look for multifactor authentication in banks’ mobile apps to boost account security. Also, confirm that a bank provides monthly statements and spending alerts so you can monitor transactions and flag any that appear fraudulent. Go beyond checking when you’re ready Once you have a checking account for college, consider a savings account for money you won’t need to spend next month. See if your bank offers secured credit cards or credit builder loans, which can be good steps to establishing credit history. Secured credit cards usually require a cash deposit upfront equal to your borrowing amount, while credit builder loans entail making all payments before receiving the full loan amount.

The article How to Pick a College Bank Account as Carefully as Your College was published on NerdWallet on May 24, 2023.

SPENCER TIERNEY is a writer at NerdWallet.

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The pandemic may no longer be closing down campuses, but college enrollment still hasn’t recovered. In fact, preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, or NSCRC, show that fall 2022 enrollment dropped even further from 2021 levels.

It was not the rebound many experts expected.

“Of high school graduates who didn’t enroll in their first fall 2020 and didn’t enroll in their first fall 2021, there’s not a lot of evidence in these numbers that they’re coming back now,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director at NSCRC, in a press conference. “And the fact that many four-year institutions are still below their freshmen numbers from last year, much less going back to their freshman numbers from 2019, is very concerning.”

Though declining at a slower rate, total enrollment at schools that shared data with the clearinghouse fell by 1.1% to 10.3 million students in fall 2022, the NSCRC reported.

“For the first time since the start of the pandemic,” Shapiro added, “the declines this fall are steeper at four-year schools than they are at community colleges.” Four-year for-profit colleges saw higher declines than other institutions. Among for-profit programs, fall 2022 NSCRC data show:

• Undergraduate enrollment fell by 2.5%. • Graduate enrollment declined by 5.4%.

With the preliminary fall 2022 results, the total drop in college attendance since the pandemic began, both for for-profit and nonprofit programs, is now at 3.2%.

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Why is college enrollment declining? A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that many chose not to enroll in college at the onset of the pandemic due to changes in their household’s income, concern about contracting COVID-19 and uncertainty around the class format. But as the effects of the pandemic subsided and schools resumed in-person learning, enrollment still lagged. Shapiro said he believes there are other factors still at play, mentioning college affordability and concerns about debt as barriers to enrollment. He also noted that a relatively strong labor market for unskilled workers could be contributing to the decline in college enrollment. Higher employment has long been a driver of lower college enrollment. The Department of Labor reports that the economy has added, on average, 407,000 jobs every month in 2022. It also shows wages trending upward to catch up to inflation. For someone thinking of college, the opportunity cost of leaving the job market may be too high. And the actual cost of college is high. Data from the Education Data Initiative, a research organization focused on U.S. education statistics, shows tuition grew on average by 4.63% annually from 2010 to 2020. This has forced many students to borrow, on average, over $30,000 each year to pay for college. Kristen Ahlenius, director of education at Your Money Line, a financial wellness platform, sees a scenario where forgoing college could be beneficial. “I think forgoing, if you know what you want to do, absolutely could be the right decision,” Ahlenius says, noting how debilitating student debt can be. Why you should still consider college Even with soaring tuition and a student debt crisis taking over headlines, college graduates tend to be much better off than high school graduates in the long run. “The data continues to show that a higher level of education is associated with higher earnings and lower unemployment,” says Brian Walsh, a certified financial planner and senior manager of financial planning for SoFi. In 2021, the median annual salary for a worker with a bachelor’s degree was $22,000 more than that of a high school graduate, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And the Labor Department found that the earnings gap increases with the level of education. Holding a master’s, doctorate or other professional degree means you could earn more than double what you would make with a high school diploma. Degree holders are also more likely to remain employed. According to the Labor Department, the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders was 3.5% in 2021, compared with 6.2% for those with a high school diploma. The higher your degree, the lower your chances of unemployment.

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What to do if you don’t feel ready for college Even knowing the long-term financial value of a degree, the thought of such a large investment can be daunting. If you’re still unsure if college is for you, one of the best things you can do is explore your options. “Attaining higher levels of education can still provide value if you’re doing it in the right way,” says Walsh. “The end result is the same, but the path to get there has changed a bit.” Online learning, living at home for a couple more years, or enrolling in community college for lower- paying majors are just a few examples of how Walsh sees students attending college in ways that work for them.

The article College Enrollment Is Down, but Here’s Why You Should Still Go was published on NerdWallet on December 5, 2022.

TREA BRANCH is a writer at NerdWallet.

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9 THINGS FIRST-TIME COLLEGE STUDENTS NEED TO KNOW U.S. Department of Education Resource Article Planning for college or career school can be overwhelming for many first-time students. We want to make sure you have easy access to information about financial aid, budgeting, time managementand more. Get prepared by reading these planning tips before school starts. Confirm that your school has your financial aid ready. The first step to financial planning for college is to apply for federal student aid. If you haven’t submitted it already, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form as soon as you can! 1 Early summer is a good time to check with your school’s financial aid office to make sure that your paperwork is complete and you understand your financial aid package. You’ll also want to explore your options if there’s a gap between the cost of your school and the financial aid you’ve been offered. If you accept any student loans, make sure you only borrow what you need and keep track of what you’re borrowing. Learn to build a budget and manage your money. Learning how to budget when you start college can help you manage your finances in the long run — it’s important that you know how much money you’ve got coming in and going out. 2 Start thinking about your financial plan when building your budget: • Determine a time period for your budget. Are you budgeting for a month, academic year, or calendar year? • Find a budgeting tool, app, or spreadsheet template that helps you stay organized. It takes trial and error, so don’t feel discouraged if the first one you try isn’t the right fit. To track spending, many banks offer free budgeting tools that may be worth checking out. • Understand how much money you have coming in. This includes income from work and your financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, Federal Work-Study and student loans.

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• Understand how much money you have going out. Expected expenses include tuition, housing and food. But don’t forget about unexpected costs like equipment, books, supplies and personal expenses, which will vary from month to month.

The following image provides a sample breakdown of college expenses.

Expected costs include tuition, school fees, and room and board. Unexpected costs include equipment, books, school supplies, transportation and other personal expenses.

Tip: Consider opening an account with a bank or credit union that has convenient locations near your campus, and if you can, start an emergency fund in a savings account.

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Learn more about budget planning for college students.

Know how to save money where you can. Couponing and scoring deals – in newspapers, magazines, apps, and online – make saving money easier than ever. Be sure you take advantage of free resources and know where you can save money: • Some tech companies offer student discounts on laptops that could save you money on the equipment you need for school. • Consider buying or renting used textbooks . And if you’re planning to sell textbooks back to your college bookstore at the end of the semester, check with online retailers first to see what your books are worth. College bookstores sometimes only pay 10% of the purchase price, so you may be better off selling yours online. • Federal Pell Grant recipients may be eligible for discounted broadband internet. The offer may include a monthly discount on your internet service and some equipment, like your modem and computer. • Seek out student discounts from companies big and small. Theaters and venues often have special student pricing or rush tickets for an even better day-of deal. Be sure to also take advantage of free events, like on-campus concerts and performances, and free days for students at local museums. 3

Explore available campus food resources.


Look for programs that can help reduce your spending on groceries and dining out.

School meal plans usually include special food pricing, and local restaurants, cafes and stores often have student discounts or deals. If you’re feeling social, student club meals and potlucks are typically budget-friendly and a fun way to try new foods. You can also check to see if your school has a campus food pantry where you can grab what you need and go. Another option to explore is the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps supplement the food budget of people who qualify for assistance. SNAP was expanded to include students participating in the Federal Work-Study Program or a state-funded work-study program. Craft a strong resume and start networking. Work experience is just as crucial as good grades when it comes to job hunting after college or career school. So, don’t wait until you’re finishing your degree to create your cover letter and resume. Being able to effectively describe your skills and sell your strengths now is vital when applying for jobs and internships while you’re in school. 5

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Start looking for internships as soon as you can. Internships provide you with knowledge-building experiences in your field, along with networking opportunities. Surrounding yourself with peers who share similar interests and goals – and meeting people further along in their careers who can mentor you – can help you feel supported while you make important connections for the future. Once school starts, explore extracurricular activities and attend career fairs to introduce yourself to employers. Make sure you have a professional, appropriate email address to share with people you meet. Start with your name and keep it simple – you want them to remember you . Find a part-time job. If you’re planning to work part-time while in school, start looking for opportunities now – before you get to campus. This will help lower the stress of finding a job once classes start. Working during school can teach you money management skills and also help limit the amount of funds you need to borrow. If Federal Work-Study was included in your financial aid package, you may be able to find a job that’s relevant to your field of study. For example, you might try working at the science library if you are a biology major. But remember, being awarded work-study does not guarantee you a job – some schools match students to jobs, but most require you to find, apply, and interview for roles on your own. Often, the most competitive and interesting roles are filled quickly, so contact your school’s financial aid office to see what’s available and how to apply. Check out eight things to know about Federal Work-Study. Keep yourself (and your things) safe. Yes, you need to remember to lock your dorm room and use a laptop lock! Getting your laptop stolen can derail your studies, and leaving your door unlocked may put you or your roommate in harm’s way. Having a roommate for the first time can be tricky enough – be respectful and smart when it comes to protecting your shared space. Other tips to help you stay safe: • Be aware of your surroundings. Learn where emergency exits are in your dorm or wherever you are living, as well as around campus. • Know who to contact in an emergency. Schools often have a campus security or emergency number, so be sure to add it as a contact in your phone. • Protect your Social Security number (SSN), usernames and passwords. Your SSN may be one of your main identifiers when checking on things like financial aid or grades and could be used to register for classes. So, never keep sensitive personal information on a sticky note at your desk – usernames and passwords should always be stored in a secure place. 7 6

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