Prep Talk Blog > August 2009

Truth: It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement that you have qualified for financial aid at the college of your choice. Keep in mind you still have many options to choose from within the letter. It makes sense to take a careful look at exactly what is being offered.  

Take Your Time

While you should keep in mind the acceptance deadline, you need to sit down with your family to ensure you understand exactly what is being offered before you accept the terms. In some cases, you may feel that you haven’t had enough time to review the package before the deadline. Some schools will extend their acceptance deadlines. You will just have to ask for an extension.  

Realize You Have Options

Next, keep in mind that you do have options once you receive notification. You can accept the total amount awarded, you can claim a portion of the financial aid or you can choose not to accept any of the financial aid that’s offered. In fact, your financial aid package may include a variety of different types of financial aid sources.

Your letter may be broken down and awarded in areas like:

Work/Study programs
Here’s an example of what your letter may look like.

FAQs about FAFSA

While looking over your letter, some questions might arise. Use these helpful tools as you begin your review. 

The total amount awarded to me is less than I need.

According to an article that was published by The Wall Street Journal,

“If you get less aid than you need, you do have other options. The government sets strict formulas for the distribution of federal student aid, but also allows aid officers latitude in assessing special circumstances.” 

Check out this blog post from My College Options that discusses other ways to get more money for college.

There’s a ton of information within the letter. How do I make sense of it all?

Learn more about what your award letter may include and how to understand the information it provides. 

I received multiple letters. Now what do I do?

If you have received multiple financial aid rewards at different colleges, here’s a tool to compare and see which makes the most sense from a financial perspective.

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The state of Texas recently passed a new law that requires high schools to offer students the opportunity to earn up to 12 hours of college credit, a mandate that is part of a growing "dual enrollment" trend. In hopes of making college a realistic goal for students who might not have the resources to attend, more and more school districts are offering dual enrollment programs so students can spend less time and money as undergraduates.

Dual enrollment is not the same as Advanced Placement. The latter refers to advanced classes in high school that prepare students to take an exam in the spring. If you receive a passing score on the AP exam, it qualifies you to receive college credit. However, some elite colleges require a higher score than others, and not all colleges accept credit you earn in high school (whether it's through dual enrollment or through AP tests), though it may allow you to skip prerequisites.

In the past, dual enrollment meant taking college classes and earning college credit in addition to attending high school. The classes were usually off-campus (or online), and the colleges offering them weren't associated with the high school. Today, more and more high schools are becoming receptive to the idea of introducing college-level coursework to their students and allowing students to earn both high school and college credit with them. In Indianapolis, Ivy Tech Community College teaches dual credit classes on high school campuses to over 16,000 students. There are even "early college high schools" that work with low-income, underrepresented minorities who might not consider college otherwise. They offer a high school diploma and an Associate's degree through four years of advanced courses.

Dual enrollment may or may not be right for you, depending on your high school and your specific needs. Check back next week for some of the pros and cons you'll need to know to decide if dual enrollment is right for you.

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There are a ton of urban legends prospective freshmen share with each other, but one that turns out to be true for many students is the infamous “Freshman 15,” which refers to the purported number of pounds new collegegoers gain during freshman year. In fact, for some, the number is much higher. But there’s no need to freak out. A small dose of willpower—not a strict diet or crazy exercise regimen-- is all it takes to keep those dreaded extra pounds away. Here are a few tips that will allow you to enjoy all your favorite foods, snacks, and—ahem—beverages without breaking the scale:

1. Take the long way to class. Want to maintain your weight? Skip the campus shortcuts. That’s right—no more cutting across the lawn to get to class. Walk the long way around campus and learn to love climbing stairs. The kids at Boston College do: their campus is home to the infamous Higgins Stairs, a set of 120 steps that connect the upper campus to the lower campus. 

2. Limit the pizza deliveries. Pizza is practically a food group for college students, so it’s all right to splurge every so often. But don’t make it a nightly occurrence. Limit it to once a week and you might find that it tastes even better. Your wallet, as well as your waistline, will reap the benefits. 

3. Avoid going back for seconds at the cafeteria. If your campus cafeteria serves food buffet-style, load your tray with proteins and veggies that will fill you up. You can still grab some French fries, but you’ll be less likely to make them the focus of your meal. 

4. Beware of the salad bar fixings. Eating a big salad is awesome, but the bacon bits, heavy cream dressings, and croutons that you ladle on to it? Not so much. Be smart with your choices at the salad bar, or else you’ll undo all the good you are trying to accomplish by eating your greens.

5. Drink plenty of water. These days, water bottles come in so many shapes, sizes, and colors that they’ve become the must-have accessory on college campuses. This is one fad that you should follow. Taking frequent swigs of water throughout the day will not only refresh you and keep you alert through long lectures, but it will also keep your appetite at bay. In fact, many health experts say that you should drink a big glass of water before each meal so that you aren’t tempted to overeat.

It is possible to avoid the Freshman 15 without even stepping foot in the gym. But if you are looking to lose weight or defray the cost of stress eating during finals, a couple of trips to the campus gym each week will definitely help. What’s most important is that you establish habits that will allow you to enjoy your favorite foods, but still fit into all your clothes by the end of the semester.

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Truth: Did you know that community colleges were actually established to make the first two years of a four-year college more affordable? What’s more, going to a community college can be an excellent way to lay the general education groundwork before entering a four-year university.

Like with any major decision, choosing the college that’s right for you means you need to weigh both the positives and negatives of your decision. Discover some of the pros and cons of attending a community college. 

Community College Pros:

Teachers Are Focused On You Succeeding:
According to George R. Boggs president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges and former president of Palomar College (a two-year college in California), 

“Community college classes are taught by faculty who care about teaching and student learning, not by teaching assistants. The faculty members are fully committed to teaching and are not pulled away by research interests or the need to publish in order to get tenure. And community colleges are accredited by the same agencies that accredit major universities.” 

Most students select community colleges because they cost much less than a four-year university. It’s not uncommon for students who start at a four-year college to struggle paying off their student loans, what’s more, they often aren’t able to purchase things they need like a computer or even an apartment. Take a look at how you might be able to save thousands by attending a community college first.

Hands On Training, Not Just Lectures:
Students often comment that the professors are totally focused on helping you succeed in the career you wish to pursue.  Many students, like those at the Bronx Community College,  find themselves learning more by the hands-on approach community colleges offer. Since class sizes are smaller, the one–on-one teacher/student interaction allows students to fully understand a concept from more than just a textbook description. For instance, students often feel more comfortable asking questons because the classroom sizes are small and that means questions which would have often not been asked, get properly addressed.

Check out how this hands-on training approach is filling a need in a Florida community

Community College Cons: 

Smaller Course Selection:
Two-year community colleges are a great place to gather your general education requirements before you head off to a four-year school. Many community colleges have limited class offerings, so if you don’t see classes in the area you wish to major, keep in mind a community college can still be an affordable way to get your general education courses out of the way . 

Transferring Credits Isn’t Always Easy:
Transferring credits from a two-year school to a four-year school can be done, regardless of what you might hear. If you decide that you want to complete your bachelor’s degree, you should research which classes will transfer to the school you plan to attend. Have a discussion with your community college adviser and a representative from the four-year institution to determine what classes will transfer. Learn more about transferring from the blog, Confessions of a Community College Dean

Still not sure which school is right for you? Begin your search at

Have more questions about community colleges? We’d like to hear your comments!

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A fascination with sharks will bring Hannah Holmes to the University of Tampa this fall -- and her scholarship-winning essay will bring her experiences to our website, where she'll share stories of her freshman year with readers.

The aspiring researcher from Riverview, Florida has been helping out for years at the Florida Aquarium, where she prepares food for birds and sharks. A three-time nominee for Volunteer of the Year, she was recently hired as the junior biologist for the aquarium's quarantine team. Not even a college freshman, she already shoulders important responsibilities such as feeding fish, checking water quality, and maintaining tanks.

Initially, Hannah thought she was "seriously going crazy" during the college decision process. She knew she wanted two things: 1) to stay close to her family, and 2) to study marine biology and sharks, which fascinate her. "Moving out was going to be a big enough change for me," she said. "I didn’t want to limit family time to Thanksgiving and Christmas." Luckily for her, there's no better place to live than Florida if you're interested in marine biology programs.

Despite the higher price tag at a private school, Hannah and her parents decided that it was important for her to be able to pursue her desired major. The University of Tampa boasts impressive research facilities and proximity to several major aquariums, including the Florida Aquarium where she works.

In addition to her love for aquatic animals, Hannah is also a strong student. Homeschooled through high school, she was a member of the National Honor Roll and was a National Merit Scholar nominee. She has also previously interned in the water quality department of Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserves.

After college, she hopes to work in animal husbandry and eventually go into research. Though her upcoming freshman year may change her perspective on a few things, she's certain of this much: "Sharks are my passion."

Check out the MyCollegeOptions blog in the upcoming weeks to read Hannah's accounts of her freshman year of college and her pursuit of marine biology.

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Don Munce