FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is used by colleges or post-secondary programs to determine how much financial aid you will receive to go to school. So what is it and why is it so important? There are a few types of aid in the FAFSA, so you could receive a Grant (which doesn’t have to be repaid, unless you drop out), you might be offered a Loan (aka you’ll borrow money that you’ll have to pay back with interest), and/or you may be eligible for federal work-study (working on or off-campus to cover part of your tuition). Now, you don’t need to accept financial aid if you don’t want, but completing the FAFSA will at least let you know what you are eligible to get to help you pay for school.
When working on the FAFSA, you’ll be asked questions about yourself and your family, including financial info, because this affects how much aid you’ll be eligible to receive. If you identify as a dependent student (where you still depend on your parent or guardian support), you’ll need your parents or guardian to help complete the form, but if you’re independent, you can complete it yourself. If you have questions, it’s best to check with your school counselor or a staff-member you trust. Your high school may even offer to help with completing the FAFSA and make sense of the questions they’re asking through something like a FAFSA night. You can also contact the financial aid office of the school you want to attend after graduation and they could suggest some work-study jobs where you are employed at school to help cover expenses. Important: if you are completing the form online, make sure you are on the actual FAFSA site at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa. There are some imposter sites out there!
A lot of people have tried to put this easily, so we’ll give this our shot too. Loans are money you’re borrowing and in the case with a Federal Loan, you’re borrowing money from the United States Government. Loans usually carry an interest fee, which is like a tax that is added on to the amount you borrow and is included on the payments you make over time.
Now for the difference. A federal subsidized loan means that while you’re in school (and up to 6-9 months after) the government will pay for the interest on the loan. On the other hand, a federal unsubsidized loan, means the interest has started accumulating towards your balance while you’re in school and you’ll have to pay that back. So if you took out $10,000 when you started school, the amount due after graduation will be different by your senior year depending on whether you have a subsidized or unsubsidized loan. The decision is made by the government as to which loan you’ll be eligible for when you complete the FAFSA, but if you end up needing to borrow money to pay for college, the government gives you this option regardless of your credit and usually at a lower interest rate than you would get with a private loan.
Loans from the government are one thing; you can always go to a bank or another organization to see if you can get a private loan and compare how much money you can borrow, how long you have to pay the money back, and see which has a better interest rate as well. One thing to keep an eye out for with private loans is credit checks and fees, because some places might offer you a low interest rate but have extra fees that you’ll have to pay to borrow the money. It’s a lot to wrap your head around, but in your best interest (get it?) to talk this over and ask as many questions as you can so you can minimize the amount you’ll be in charge of paying to go to school. We suggest contacting your bank or looking into verified private lenders on trusted websites.
We know: 99.9% of the time, tests are not fun and even less fun when they’re a few hours long on weekends. The question is “do I have to take the SAT or ACT?” and the honest answer is, “it depends.” Public high schools in Idaho require you to take one of the tests and some post-secondary schools in Idaho require this for admission, but not all. The SAT and ACT can be used for admission by some schools but they can also be used to decide how much financial aid you’ll receive or improve your chances for receiving a scholarship. On the flip side, if you apply to a school that asks for these tests and don’t score how you’d like, admissions will look at other things like GPA, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, or your essay.
So to sum it up, you don’t have to take either one of these or get a perfect score, but it may be required by your high school or wherever you plan on going afterwards (unless you’re on an Individual Education Plan that exempts these tests). Currently, the state of Idaho pays for public high school students to take the SAT, but you can pay out of pocket to take the ACT instead. Also, there are a lot of resources to help you make sense of the test and even prepare for it. We have a pretty cool video about the SAT (see below) and both the SAT and ACT have twitter accounts to help you practice: @SATQuestion and @ACTStudent.
So what’s the big difference?? There really isn’t. They’re both pretty similar in content, length, and style with some minor distinctions (3 subjects vs 4). They’re also both accepted at virtually all 2 or 4-year colleges. The neat thing is that you have 7 shots to take either throughout the year, and the school you want to attend will take the best score. **Word to the wise, don’t plan on taking a test 7 times because that’s a lot of sitting down and it looks like overkill from a school’s perspective which could count against you** If you have time though, you could even take both and see which one works out better for you. Some schools like seeing that you take both because it gives a better picture of you as a candidate to the admissions team. If you prefer one over the other, the ACT or SAT test scores can also be converted to each other by the admissions teams.
A credit is a unit of measurement that colleges use to determine how much work you’re putting into a course and semester. For every credit hour earned, the expectation is that students take 3 additional (uncredited) hours outside of class to study and complete assignments.
Colleges and universities use credit hours to determine cost of attendance and program completion. Financial aid usually requires students to be at least a part-time student (taking at least 6 credit hours per semester) or a full-time college student (12+ credit hours per semester). Students taking more than 15 credit hours usually have a lot to handle and it may not be advised to take that many classes unless you’re good at balancing your schedule or don’t have too many obligations outside of school.
Dual Credit classes are college-level classes where you earn credit for both high school graduation requirement and for college credit after successfully completing the course. AP Classes are high school classes that are focused on a final exam and depending on how you score, you may earn credit towards a college or university. The really cool thing is that if you do well on either, you’ll be saving money and time by not having to take the same class in college. On top of that, the state has given each public high school student and charter school student $4,125 to take dual credit classes and pay for exams, including AP tests!
Colleges and universities all have their own policy on accepting dual credits or AP test scores, so it’s good to check with your counselor or the schools you’re considering attending to see if they’ll accept what you’ve earned.
**One other thing to note is that if you fail a dual-credit class, you’re basically failing a college-class and that will go on both transcripts! On top of that, you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket to retake the course. If you’re taking a dual-credit class for the first time, take it seriously. Use it to get familiar with the style and pace of college classes.
There are a lot of scholarship resources out there. You can search online or find a lot in your local community and school. Here’s a list of some free scholarship search engines/resources. If you come across others, let us know! Caution: there are a lot of sites out there, but you shouldn’t have to pay for a scholarship search and don’t provide personal information if you’re not sure about it! Some sites will ask you for information to give you better results, but ask us or a peer if you’re unsure.
- Idaho Board of Education https://boardofed.idaho.gov/scholarships
- Idaho Community Foundation https://www.idahocf.org/nonprofits-students/scholarships
- US Govt Career One Stop https://www.careeronestop.org/toolkit/training/find-scholarships.aspx
- Chegg.com https://www.chegg.com/scholarships
- Collegeboard.org https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/scholarship-search
- Collegenet.com https://www.collegenet.com/mach25/app
- Fastweb.com https://www.fastweb.com
- Petersons.com https://www.petersons.com
- Scholarships.com https://www.scholarships.com
- Scholarship America https://scholarshipamerica.org
- Scholarshipmonkey.com http://www.scholarshipmonkey.com
- Scholarshipjunkies.org https://scholarshipjunkies.org
- Unigo.com https://www.unigo.com
- Future Farmers of America https://www.ffa.org/participate/grants-and-scholarships/local-engagement-programs-scholarships/
- National Society of HS Scholars https://www.nshss.org/scholarships/
- Your HS college/career counselor or Gear UP/TRIO coordinator
- Your school/community library, church/synagogue/mosque/etc., town hall, local businesses (related to your career interest), or other community organizations
- The financial aid office at the school you want to attend. They may have unique scholarships you could be eligible to receive
That’s a pretty big question and there’s a lot of ground to cover, but here’s a general checklist of things to get you ready for whatever’s on the other side of the door for you, whether it’s in four years or a few months:
- Talk to people about your ideas and interests! Everyone thinks about what they want to do or what they like doing, but it also helps talking about them. That way, you’ll learn more about yourself and start making sense of things. You might even have some suggestions come at you or even make some connections to get you going in the right direction!
- If you have the ability, take classes in areas that you want to focus on. Take classes in woodshop if you want to be an architect or want to go into construction. Want to go into finance? Take some extra math or econ classes.
- Visit. If you plan on going to college after school, visit the schools you would like to attend. A college tour will help you be sure about your decision and give you a new perspective aside from what you see online. If you want to go out and work after high school, visit some employers in your field of interest whether on a school trip or maybe just by stopping by. You could even score a job shadow after talking to employers. Talk to your counselor about this if you don’t know how to get started.
- Start building up your cred–whether it’s volunteering, getting involved in extracurricular activities at school, or working a part-time job, it all helps you stand out above the crowd and prep you for a better position wherever it is you want to go! Those things also look good on resumes.
- Get your paperwork ready–enlistment documents, housing paperwork, or vaccination records. Get those ducks in a row and check in with program personnel to see if you need to work on anything else.
- Pass your classes. This one’s obvious, but If you don’t graduate, you may not be accepted into the program you want to pursue and most employers require a diploma or GED before considering you for an interview.
- Prepare financially. Even if you’re volunteering or going into the military, the money you set aside can help you from entertainment to cases of emergency. The big thing is to make sure you have some money set aside and can access it.
An internship is basically work experience with an employer or organization for a predetermined amount of time. Internships are a good opportunity for students and job seekers to gain skills and experience that help prepare them for future careers.
Internships have pros and cons in that interns get that work experience to put on their resume and could potentially land a job within the same company once the internship is over–but internships don’t always pay well or at all and post-internship employment is no guarantee. There is also no standardization for internships and the scope of work and expectations can vary by employer and location; some organizations bring on interns from around the country and others are only looking for local talent to bring on for a few months.
If you’re looking to explore the idea of an internship, openings are usually placed around college campuses as well as areas where job postings are found (think Monster.com, Indeed.com, the local library, etc.). You should also ask your high school counselor about local internships during the school year or over the summer. If you can connect with an employer on a field trip or at a job fair, ask about internships. They may have opportunities for the summer or could even create an internship for the right individual (you).
When you find an internship opportunity, make sure to read the requirements and details about the application process for the position. If you’re unsure about a posting because it seems sketchy or vague, have a friend look at it or do some searching online about the organization/employer. Don’t give out your information online until you know you can trust a site or a posting.
The main difference between an apprenticeship and an internship is that internships are more exploratory whereas apprenticeships are focused on a certain career in a profession or trade. Apprenticeships are also directed towards employment and competency within that field and offer competitive wages, on-the-job training, and instruction for the apprentice. Apprenticeships have been gaining more and more traction around the country in recent years and are a great option for students who are sure of what they want to do after high school.
In Idaho, many types of business and industry offer apprenticeships, from technology to healthcare. The majority of employers are small and have less than 50 employees, but big companies take on apprentices as well, like St. Luke’s for positions like medical assistants.
The duration of an apprenticeship can vary. Most apprenticeship programs require three to four years of work combined with study to complete, but the requirement varies by trade and can be as little as one year or at most six years. Apprentices are also paid on an increasing scale through the time of the apprenticeship, usually starting at about 40-50% of what a journeyman or certified professional makes in the industry and getting up to 100% upon completion.
There is another opportunity for high schoolers called a School-To-Registered Apprenticeship Program, (STRAP), where juniors or seniors can earn credit through on-the-job training and related instruction. After completing the apprenticeship, students receive a nationally recognized certificate of completion that will show their skill and commitment to a certain profession. To learn more about STRAP, ask your local high school counselor for more information.