Why You Should Consider The Honors College

If you’re looking for an opportunity to stand out in college, you should consider looking out for an application to the Honors College at your school. First and foremost, the more advanced classes and degree requirements associated with graduating from an Honors College tend to look good on your transcript and can particularly help when applying to graduate schools. However, many schools’ Honors Colleges offer a wide variety of other benefits to the students enrolled in them.

For example, here is Dr. Linda Dulin’s description of an exciting event attended by students from McLennan Community College’s Honors College:

“This past weekend we took Honors College students to the University of Arkansas at Forth Smith to attend the Great Plains Honors Conference…These students presented posters and presentations over the research and independent projects they are working on this semester. Not only did they do an excellent job, but other institutions noted their excellence. More importantly, our students are changed by opportunities like these.”

Honors Colleges not only offer honors credit courses, but can provide you with opportunities to receive a faculty mentor, to take up leadership roles in the community, and to exercise your critical, analytical, and creative talents. Not to mention scholarships opportunities.

So if you’re interested in collaborating with other motivated students in a challenging yet nurturing academic environment, taking advantage of the opportunities to travel, learn, and excel, then you should consider applying to the Honors College at your school.

And if you are attending McLennan Community College here in Waco, you should apply to the Honors College here.

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Baylor Law School’s DACA Immigration Clinic

Baylor Law School will be hosting a free Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Immigration Clinic!

The Law School will be offering free assistance to immigrants who:

  • were born on or after June 15, 1982;
  • came to the U.S. before the age of 16;
  • have continually resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007, to the present;
  • are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces; and,
  • have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors.

Immigrants who meet those qualifications may be eligible for a social security number and employment authorization under DACA.

Baylor Law School will host this clinic on April 1, 2014, and April 3, 2014, between 6:00pm and 9:00pm.

APPOINTMENTS ARE REQUIRED, so set one up by calling (888) 497-0018 or sending an email to immigrationclinic@baylor.edu.

Applications can be found below:

DACA Applicant Info (English)

DACA Applicant Info (Spanish)

Post FAFSA: What Comes Next?

The FAFSA is completed! You’ve got it submitted, so…What’s next?

  • You should receive an email that your FAFSA has been processed in a few days.
  • Check your Student Aid Report through the link in the email or by logging in at the FAFSA.gov.
  • Read the first page of comments to be sure you don’t have an error or to find out if you are picked for verification.

If you are not picked for verification:

  • If you completed the FAFSA with estimates go back and choose “Make Corrections” to update with figures from this year’s tax return.
    • Change “Will File” to “Already Completed.”
    • Update the amounts either manually or through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool built in to the FAFSA.
    • Be sure to do this on both parent and student if the student filed a return.
    • Make any other corrections that need to be made.
    • Your college should receive your corrected information and will complete your financial aid award.
    • Normally, if you weren’t picked for verification originally, you won’t be picked after you correct you income tax information. However, be sure to check your Student Aid Report again after your changes have been processed.
    • If you haven’t received an award or any other information from financial aid within two weeks, give them a call to verify that they don’t need anything else from you.

If you are picked for verification:

  • You must wait until your tax returns are processed by the IRS, so if you or your parents haven’t filed them they need to be filed immediately. Processing usually takes about 2 weeks.
  • Your college should have a verification worksheet online under their financial aid forms which you must complete and turn in to the financial aid department. Be sure you have the one for the correct school year!
  • There are two ways to verify your tax information:

IRS Data Retrieval Tool – log in to the FAFSA and choose “Make Corrections”

  • Change status to “Already Completed” and answer the next 3 questions with a “No.”
  • It will ask for the PIN of whoever’s information you are trying to verify.  Enter the PIN and go to the IRS site.
  • Enter the information requested exactly like it is on your tax return, but without any periods.
  • Click “Submit” and the figures from the tax return should appear on the screen.
  • Transfer that information to your FAFSA and it will take you back to your FAFSA
  • Make any other correction you need to make.
  • Sign and submit the corrected FAFSA with your PINs.
  • Do Not make any changes to the income tax information that is transferred from the IRS once you use the Data Retrieval Tool.
  • Check the boxes on the verification worksheet showing you either used data retrieval or didn’t file a tax return and return your worksheet to the college financial aid department.

IRS Income Tax Transcript – use this if you cannot use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

  • You must request the transcript directly from the IRS at the IRS website, by calling the 800 number or going to an IRS office.
  • Check the box on the verification worksheet showing that you are attaching the Income Tax Transcript and send both forms to the college financial aid department.
  • Once you have returned the Verification Worksheet to your college, it usually takes about two weeks for them to complete the process and set up you financial aid award.
  • If you indicated on the FAFSA that your family received SNAP benefits, you will also have to attach paperwork verifying that information.
  • If you haven’t received an award or any other information from financial aid within two weeks, give them a call to verify they don’t need anything else from you.
  • The government picks you for verification but your college has the right to verify any information on your FAFSA if they deem it necessary.

Don’t forget if you have problems at any time during the process you can schedule an appointment with us or give us a call and we may be able to help you over the phone!

Our New Name

As many of you may have noticed, we changed our program’s name from “MAC Scholarship Program” to “MAC College Money Program” at the beginning of this year. While the MAC Scholarships we offer are a part of what we do for the McLennan County community, anyone who has filed his or her FAFSA with us knows that we do more than award scholarships. So we wanted to change our title to be a little more informative about exactly what it is we do for y’all. In addition to our MAC Scholarship, we offer a MAC Grant, FAFSA assistance, and educational presentations about the financial aid process itself. In short, we do everything we can to find you money for college.

So be on the lookout for MAC College Money Program! We may have a new name, but we’re the same program you know and love!

FAFSA Season Is Here!

The 2014-2015 FAFSA has been released! As we’ve mentioned before, your mantra should be “the earlier the better” when it comes to financial aid. We’ve prepared this handy blog as a way to make sure you’re set to receive different kinds of financial aid. So, if you plan on making an appointment with us to fill out your FAFSA, let’s kick off with a list of things you should make sure to bring with you when you head our way:

  • Your Dependency Status: Independent students will only need their own income information (and their spouse’s, if they’re married), while Dependent students will need their parents’ as well (see our earlier blog if you aren’t sure).
  • Income Information: Gather income information from the previous year for yourself and parents if required.  Your income tax return, and/or your parents’ if necessary, for this year will work if you’ve already completed it, but if not then be prepared to provide a close estimate of this year’s income (W-2 forms, check stubs or previous year’s tax returns will all help get a good estimate).
  • Value of Assets: Check your bank account balances and the value of any other assets, such as rental property or stocks (remember: Dependent students’ bank accounts should be as low as possible to keep from raising their expected family contribution (efc) number).  Parents: don’t include retirement accounts or the value of your home in your assets.  Educational savings plans are considered a parent asset even though the student is the beneficiary.
  • Student and parent Social Security Numbers and dates of birth:  If parent or parents don’t have a Social Security Number a student can still complete a FAFSA and parent number is reported as 000-00-0000.
  • Parents’ Marital Status: If you or your parents are currently married or divorced, you will need the month and year that occurred.
  • Residency Information: If you are not a citizen, you will need your Alien Registration Number.  If you don’t have one, you will need to complete the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) instead of the FAFSA for most Texas colleges.
  • PIN Numbers: If you are renewing your FAFSA, you will need the student and parent PIN numbers you used last year.  These can be retrieved online here if you don’t remember what you chose as your PIN number. If this will be a first time FAFSA you can apply for you pin numbers in advance or apply for them during the FAFSA process.
  • Driver’s License (Optional): You can report your driver’s license number if you have one; however, it is not required.

Stay Eligible to Keep Receiving Financial Aid

You need to make satisfactory academic progress in order to continue receiving federal student aid, including Pell Grants and loans. In other words, your grades need to be good enough and you must complete enough classes (credits, hours, etc.) to keep moving toward your degree or certificate in a time period that’s acceptable to your school. You also must renew your FAFSA each year in order to continue receiving grants or loans.

Each school has a satisfactory academic progress policy for financial aid purposes; to see your school’s, you can check your school’s website or ask someone at the financial aid office. McLennan Community College, as well as most colleges, requires you to successfully complete at least 67% of the classes you attempt. Your school’s policy will tell you:

  • what grade-point average (or equivalent standard) you need to maintain;
  • how quickly you need to be moving toward graduation (for instance, how many credits you should have successfully completed by the end of each year);
  • how an incomplete class, withdrawal, repeated class, change of major, or transfer of credits from another school affects your satisfactory academic progress; and
  • whether or not you may appeal your school’s decision that you haven’t made satisfactory academic progress (reasons for appeal usually include the death of a member of your family, your illness or injury, or other special circumstances).

If you are put on financial aid suspension and are denied your appeal, you may be required to pay for classes yourself until your completion rate and GPA reach the requirements. In some cases, you may be required to repay some of your Pell Grant money before receiving additional aid.

As long as you remain eligible, you may receive the federal Pell Grant for 12 semesters or the equivalent (roughly six years).  You’ll receive a notice if you’re getting close to your limit. If you have any questions, contact your college’s financial aid office.

Renew Scholarships Awarded by Your College

Check to find out what GPA you are required to maintain in order to continue receiving it.  Many scholarships have guidelines attached, such as requiring that you stay a full time student. Some scholarships only pay during one year and are not renewable, which may mean you need go through the regular scholarship application process if you wish to receive the scholarship during the following year.

Renew Outside Scholarships

Most outside scholarships you receive will only last for one year, especially if they are local scholarships.  Check with the scholarship provider to see if renewing is an option or if you can reapply for the scholarship each year.

Renew State Grants and Scholarships

The state legislature reviews and often changes State programs every two years.  We have an earlier blog on State programs but to be sure your information is up to date go to College for All Texans and search for your particular state grant.  Most state programs require that you maintain a certain GPA to remain eligible, and many require that you be a full time student. Also be sure to check on various veterans’ benefits if one of your parents is a vet.  Most college financial aid departments have a financial aid professional that works with the veterans’ programs and they can advise you on the paperwork required.

The FAFSA: What You Should Know

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is required by all college and university financial aid departments in order to award any type of Student Aid.  That normally includes scholarships!  So if you have been told you will be receiving a scholarship of any type, you will most likely be required to submit a FAFSA before your scholarship can be posted to your financial aid award.  Whether your family income is less than $20,000 or more than $200,000, you will need to submit a FAFSA every year you are in college.  The information required on the FAFSA (income, number in the household, number in college and assets) will be used to calculate your family Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number. This tells the college how much your parents or you can afford to pay toward your education for next year. So the lower your EFC number is, the more money you may be offered by your college.

There are three things that are important for your FAFSA:

  1. File it Early
  2. Be sure it is Accurate
  3. Do Follow-Up

We will look at the first two in this post and the third will be addressed in our next post.

Early

The FAFSA is available for each new school year on January 1st and it should be completed as soon after that date as possible.  If all the colleges you are considering are in Texas, our advice is to complete it before March 1st which, in most cases, will be the priority deadline for financial aid. If you are looking at out of state colleges, check with them for the Priority deadline.  Many experts nationwide have started recommending as early as February 1st and you may be applying for a scholarship that requires it to be submitted even earlier. The priority deadline is the date that colleges start awarding funds and, since everything besides Federal Pell Grant or Student Loans is awarded on a first-come first-served basis, you want to be first in line! You are actually eliminated from some state programs such as the Top 10% Scholarship if you don’t complete it before March 1st.  The financial aid deadline is very different from the priority deadline so don’t be fooled when you see a deadline posted on your college’s website; the financial aid deadline is the last date you can submit it and expect an award package for the upcoming semester.  The Priority deadline is the best-if-completed-by deadline. You do not have to wait until you make the final decision on the college you plan to attend to complete the FAFSA. You can list all your possibilities up to 10 schools so that should cover your choices. So apply Early to receive the most money.

Accurate

Since the FAFSA determines how much money you will receive, you should make sure it is accurate! The reason it is only available after January 1st is that you will need the previous year income information on yourself and your parents or spouse. (See here for more information about dependency.)

The information you will need is as follows:

  • Income information – You can use yours and your parents’ Income tax return, if it is already completed. Most people don’t have their return that early so you can do the FAFSA with an estimate and correct it later.  This will put you in line for money on the date you have filed it with the estimate, however don’t wait too long to enter the new information because at some point the college will be forced to by-pass your application if it isn’t correct. To get a good estimate you can use W-2 forms or last year’s tax return if income hasn’t changed much.  You should also have available other income information such as child support, or retirement benefits that were received during the year. If you or a parent paid out child support for another child, you should also have the amount that was paid during the year.  This information will help you because it reduces the income used in the calculation.
  • Number of people in your household – use parents household if you are dependent or the number in your household if you are independent.  Always include yourself in parent household even if you no longer live there. If you are independent due to marriage or a child you support but live with someone else, parent, grandparent, sister etc., you should only show your family that you are responsible for, for example: spouse and/or child and yourself
  • Number in college – count yourself and any siblings you have that will also be in college during the next school year. Do not count a parent that is in college.
  • Assets – Parent assets will include the amount of money they have in bank accounts, any property they own other than their home, any stocks they own that are not part of a retirement plan and any educational saving plans. They will not include retirement plans, their home, their business if it has less than 100 employees or their farm if they live on any part of the farm. Student assets are where you need to be careful!  Your parents will have a deductible amount before any of their assets count against you in the EFC calculation and even if they go over their deductible, which few parents do, only about 5% of the amount over the deductible is used in the calculation. However, dependent students do not get a deductible and all of their assets will be considered in the calculations.  This means that if you have $5,000 in your bank account you could lose $2-3,000 in financial aid because of it. So what you need to remember is it asks for your current balance of your bank accounts meaning as of the day you complete your FAFSA.  Therefore, take advantage of this loophole and make sure your accounts are as low as possible on day you submit your FAFSA.  If your account is a joint account with a parent, check to see whose social security number is on the account.  If your social security number is on it, then you must report the account as yours so you may want to move some money temporarily. If it is under your parent’s number then it should be added to their assets. Educational savings plans or IRA’s are considered a parent asset even though you are a beneficiary. So make very sure you don’t mistakenly show assets for yourself that you don’t have to!
  • Parent and Student Social Security numbers and Dates of Birth are required. If a parent doesn’t have a social security number you should enter 000-00-0000.
  • If parents are married or divorced you will need the month and year that occurred.
  • If you are not a citizen you will also need your Alien Registration Number.  If you have a social security card that is stamped “For Work Purposes Only” you will need to complete the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) instead of the FAFSA because you are not eligible for federal money but you could be considered for state funds.

The FAFSA is a “smart” form and it may skip some of the questions based on your answers to other questions and that is perfectly alright.  So you may not be asked for Asset information for example. It also triggers additional questions based on other answers, so you may be asked questions like whether you or your siblings are on a free or reduced lunch program or if your parents receive food stamps. So don’t be worried if you are asked different questions than someone else who has completed the form.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for our next post where we’ll talk about the importance of Following Up!

College Choices: How to Decide What’s Right for You

Did you know McLennan County has more college choices than any other county in the state? We are home to both McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical School-Waco, both of which rank nationally among community and technical colleges respectively. We also have a top of the line research university in Baylor as well as access to four-year degrees from other major universities through the University Center on MCC campus. There are plenty of choices out there, now it’s just a matter of choosing one to attend! To help you out with your decision, here are some things to consider.

What costs can I expect?

1. Traditional Four-Year College or University

You can look up the cost of attendance at a school you are considering at CollegeForAllTexans.  However, while the average cost of tuition at a state school is between $7,000 and $10,000 each year, the average total cost of attendance, which includes things like books and living expenses, is around $20,000-$25,000 per year. Private universities vary, so you will need to consult the state website or the college website for the exact cost of any specific private university.

2. Community College (Two-Year)

Again, exact costs for a specific community college are available at CollegeForAllTexans. However, the average cost of tuition is around $2,000-$3,500 each year and the average total cost of attendance is around $12,000-$15,000 each year.

3. State Technical College (Two-Year)

The average cost of tuition is $4,000 each year and the average total cost of attendance is around $15,000.  Remember: state technical colleges (TSTC) are considered year round with three semesters included in the cost.

Now how can you pay for it?

1. Grants

If your annual family income is under $50,000, you can expect to be eligible for some federal or state grants. The amount of your federal Pell Grant may range anywhere from about $900 to $5,645 each year and the state TEXAS Grant is close to the average tuition at a state college or community college (keep in mind that the availability of state grants varies from year to year). Check with your college to see if you need to complete other forms for State grants.

2. Scholarships

Most colleges have a scholarship application you should submit to determine your eligibility and you should sign up for at least one free online scholarship search like FastWeb, Cappex, or Scholarships.com. Always apply for any scholarships you may be eligible to receive, no matter what other funding you may be receiving. Full scholarships are rare and usually only cover tuition not dorm costs etc. Complete scholarship applications for all colleges where you have applied for admission.  You can always turn down the scholarship if you decide on another college, but you can’t go back and fill one out.

3. Student Loans

The maximum Federal student loan amount available to dependent freshman students is $5,500. You should also inquire about state loan possibilities. (See here for more information about state loans)

4. Parent Loans

These are usually offered by colleges to cover the balance of the costs, so check with the Financial Aid department at the colleges you are considering.

5. Work Study

There is also the option of working at least part time while in college, either through the college work-study program or an off campus job.  About 80% of college students work at least part time, so it’s not unreasonable to plan on working to pay some of your living expenses.

If you’ve been comparing the amount of financial aid available to the average costs of attendance, then you know at this point how important it is to apply for private scholarships. Federal and state aid can offer you some help, but you’ll probably have to look for more opportunities to attend the college of your choice.

How does this help me to make my decision?

If cost of attendance and taking out student loans are a strong concern of yours, then you can see that the local community college or technical college are your most cost effective choices. Most students that live at home can finish their two year degree with no student loan debt, or at least very minimal debt. Having completed your basics and earning your Associate degree, you can always transfer to another university to complete your four-year degree to cut the amount of student loans you take out in half.  If you live at home and attend the University Center on the MCC campus, you may even earn your four-year degree with no loans. The University Center allows students to attend classes on the MCC Campus and receive a degree from a four-year university, such as Tarleton State or Texas Tech.

If cost isn’t necessarily your first concern or you are set on attending a four-year university then experts agree you should go for it, but make sure to keep plenty of options.  Don’t automatically assume that you can’t afford to attend your first choice for college, but don’t ignore other possibilities either.  You should apply to several colleges and include one or two colleges that you consider “stretch” colleges.  In other words, colleges you would like to attend but don’t really think you will be able either to be admitted or afford. Also include a local choice just in case the cost of living on-campus turns out to be more than you want to spend. Then submit your scholarship applications to every school where you’ve applied for admission. Make sure to list all these choices on your FAFSA so you can compare your award package options for each one later.

When making your choice and looking at possible student loans, don’t forget to look at your career options and future earnings.  There are several good sources for career information available online and at some college websites.  MCC offers a Career Coach that can help you find out what kind of jobs you can get with a degree, the availability of those jobs, where they are available, as well as the starting salary. This will give you an idea of what you will be able to afford after graduation as far as loan repayment.  Keep in mind that repayment options for federal student loans are good, offering low interest with a 10 year payout, and there are even some jobs that will enable you to enroll in loan cancellation programs. However, you still want to be careful with your borrowing.

So compare all your options and try to visit the colleges you are considering, and then choose the one that is the right fit for you.  Remember, the goal is for you to be successful in college, no matter what you want to study or where you want to go!