Whether you’re in high school, college or just thinking about the next steps in your education, it can be tough to know where to start. Applications, admissions, financial aid and scholarships all have their own deadlines – and they happen while you’re also trying to balance your regular schoolwork, your job, your family and your social life.
To help keep you organized and on track, we’ve compiled some important and useful resources to use on your journey toward your educational goals.
What’s Going on with FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a vital part of your financial aid search, and it’s undergoing its biggest changes in decades—and opening for applications later than usual for the 2024-25 school year.
The “Better FAFSA” initiative is designed to be simpler and more accessible. As SavingforCollege.com says, the FAFSA overhaul “will not only make the form easier to fill out by eliminating two-thirds of the questions, but it will also affect the determination of financial need for low-, middle- and high-income students.”
Because of delays in implementing the new system, the FAFSA won’t open until December 2023. When it does, applicants should find it simpler to complete the form, access Pell Grants and qualify for need-based financial aid. (NerdWallet and USA Today run down many of the details for students and families; NCAN has a huge library of helpful resources for advisors, counselors and parents.)
One thing you need to do before you start the FAFSA in December is to create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID on the studentaid.gov website. This username and password is required to log in and access all Federal Student Aid websites, including the FAFSA. If you don’t yet have an FSA ID, uAspire has an easy guide to creating one, even if you or your parent or guardian don’t have a Social Security Number.
Finally, don’t forget that you have to update your FAFSA every year if you want to continue receiving the aid you qualify for! In the meantime, if you have income or life changes, here’s the Department of Education’s guide to updating the information you’re reporting.
Do’s and Don’ts for Your Scholarship Search: Hear directly from one of Scholarship America’s program designers about what to do (and not do) as you start looking for private scholarships – and download our Knowledge is Power quick-start guide for reference!
Scholarship America’s Scholarships: We’re not the only provider of private scholarships, but we are the largest! Browse more than 100 programs here on our website, including the impactful and renewable Dream Award and Barry Griswell Scholarship. (We also partner with more than 1,100 companies to manage scholarships, so check your and your parents’ workplaces for opportunities!)
Finding Your College Fit
The Common App: New and transferring college students can explore and apply to more than 900 partner colleges with a single application using the Common App, which opens August 1 each year. The Common App website also helps you plan your college road map and learn about ways to pay for college.
BigFuture: A program of the College Board (the folks who bring you the SATs), BigFuture is a one-stop college planning resource for high schoolers, transfer students, parents and adult learners – and your application to colleges automatically enters you into a scholarship drawing!
Setting Yourself Up to Succeed
Get Schooled: This free (and advertising-free) resource was founded by Paramount and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and provides students with tools to help you get into college, plan your path and secure your first job. You can access everything from personalized essay help to one-on-one texting with a financial advisor to résumé and job hunting advice. Did we mention it’s all free?
Getting College Credit for Life/Work Experience: Whether you took a semester off during the pandemic, or a decade off to raise a family, getting back to your education is both difficult and rewarding. CollegeTransfer.net has a valuable guide to changing or returning to school, and assessments like the College Board’s CLEP test can help you turn your life and work experience into college credit.
Keeping Your Study Skills Sharp: Anki offers a free, downloadable flash-card app and website that you can customize for all kinds of study areas. Whether you’re in college or you’re working your way back into academic shape, it’s a great way to use your free time to stay sharp.
Facing Challenges of Student Life
Who’s Who On Your Campus: College is a big change from high school—especially if you’re the first in your family to attend. Fortunately, there are all kinds of people on campus who can help you, and successful students take full advantage of the many campus support resources available to help. Never again will you have access to so much in one place—and most of it at no additional cost!
Swipe Out Hunger: Food insecurity is a real issue for millions of high school and college students, and a lack of good nutrition can derail your educational path. Swipe Out Hunger is a network of anti-hunger resources at more than 450 partner colleges. If your school isn’t one of them, there are still plenty of options out there; check this roundup, Google “food pantries” in your town or connect with your student services office.
Emergency Grants for Financial Setbacks: If you’re balancing work, school and family life, an unexpected expense can force you into some tough decisions. Emergency grants, provided by your school or a local nonprofit, can help keep you on track when setbacks strike; here’s an overview, and be sure to check with your advisors on campus for options that can help you.
Learning What To Watch Out For
Financial Aid Displacement Could Cost You: While a number of states have made it illegal, and many schools have stopped doing it, your private scholarships could fall victim to the practice of “displacement,” in which students’ institutional aid packages are reduced when they earn outside scholarships. Here’s what you need to know (and what you need to ask).
Some Scholarship Funds Can Be Taxed: It’s rare, but in certain cases, scholarship and emergency grant funds can be treated as taxable income. This infographic can help you and your family avoid an expensive surprise at tax time.
Making The Most of Your Downtime
Fitness Resources (for Free): Staying active doesn’t have to drain your bank account! Blogger Casey the College Celiac has a roundup of 13 excellent free fitness resources that college students can take advantage of.
Explore the Art World From Your Laptop: Want to get a little culture in between scrolling TikTok and hanging with your roommates? Google Arts & Culture started their free virtual museum collection to help people explore during the pandemic, and you can use it to check out everything from the Uffizi to the Met.
Get Involved in Campus Activities: Whether it’s a sport, a club, a game night or a volunteer trip, there are a million ways to stay involved and meet others. The linked guide has 100 activity ideas to organize, and your school’s office of student life or campus activities can point you to your people!
It’s a big deal to embark on your higher-ed journey, whether you’re a high school senior ready to move to your dream college, or a single parent looking to earn a new certification. These resources can help you navigate the tough questions and thrive on the way.