The Basics of Financial Aid and What to Know

What is financial aid? Financial aid is defined as any type of assistance used to pay college costs. The first step in helping students and parents understand financial aid is learning what types are available and the differences between them.


Financial aid can be one of four things:


  1. Grants: These are essentially free money that students apply for and do not need to be repaid. They are available through federal and state governments, state agencies, and individual colleges.
  2. Scholarships: There are many different types, but most scholarships do not need to be paid back. They are awarded based on requirements of the scholarship.
  3. Student Loans: Varying from other types of loans, federal student loans are specifically designed to offer lower interest rates. Private lenders also offer student loans, but these often incur higher interest rates.
  4. Work Study: A federal program, work study offers students part-time employment to help students meet their financial needs while providing work experience on campus or in the community.

Learn more from about financial aid options, here.


The search for financial aid can be a little bit difficult, especially when students are not sure where to look. These are just a few tips to help students find the right financial aid:

  • Talk to the high school counselor or their ASPIRE mentor.
  • Contact colleges of interest and speak with someone in the financial aid office.
  • Use online resources such as those listed in ASPIRE’s Scholarship Database.

After learning and deciding which type of financial aid a student would like to use, the next step is to apply for it by using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is used to apply for many of the need-based financial aid programs offered by federal and state governments. To fill out the FASFA, students can go online ( and follow the step-by-step instructions.
To learn more about financial aid and resources to prepare for college costs, visit the ASPIRE online search for financial aid.

For a quick reference, check out the Financial Aid A to Z Glossary.

FAFSA Worksheet

Here is the link to the 2016-17 FAFSA on the Web Worksheet. Some of the ASPIRE sites might not be aware that it is now available. One of the changes is that the old PIN has been replaced by the FSA ID. When you apply for the FSA ID it is checked against your social security account and the process takes 2-3 days. The first page of the Worksheet explains how to get a FSA ID. If a family attends a FAFSA Completion Workshop and does not have FSA IDs they can save the application and go back into the account later when they have the FSA IDs and sign and submit the FAFSA.

Click here:

It is important to get the FAFSA submitted in the first week or two of January since the Oregon Opportunity Grant is “first come” and will probably be out of funds by late January.


George A. Letchworth, Ph.D.

FAFSA Changes to be Aware of.

There have been several changes made to the FAFSA this year and you should definitely be aware of them. The two biggest things to know are:

1.) The FAFSA Pin is out and the FSA ID is in.


2.) That the 2017-2018 application will be open October 2016, instead of January 2017.

The FAFSA has several reasons as to why they have made these changes, but the basis of these reasons is that they wanted the FAFSA to be easier and safer for users to access.


Whenever you used to enter your FAFSA pin, you would also have to enter very personal information to their website, like you full name and social security number. They felt that constantly having to enter this information was both uneccessary and risky. So, they created a system where you would indentify yourself with that information once to then get a user name and password to use whenever you have to sign in.

You can use your FSA ID:

  1. The FAFSA application
    • Free Money, yassss.
  2. The National Student Loan Data System:
    • Look at the history of all the aid you may have recieved over the years.
    • Enterance Counseling, Exit Counseling, Promisary Notes, Etc.
  4. Agreement to Serve:
    • Sign your ATS for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program
  5. My Federal Student Aid:
    • Look at any federal aid you may have recieved and who your loan servicer is.

It should also be noted that if you are a dependent, aka your parents information is still required on your FAFSA, then they will also need to get a FSA ID as well. It is best if they apply for this themselves so they there is no confusion as to who they are or what their login information is.

Here is the link to apply for your FSA ID


Timing is everything.

Or so the feds think. It also seems that most people seem to agree. The FAFSA application has traditionally opened Jan 1st, at midnight, for the aid of the year and the year following. (EX: Jan 2016 it opens, this application covers the 2016-2017 school year.) This has been the case for a while now, but starting in October 2016 that will all change.

Starting October, 2016 the FAFSA application for the 2017-2018 year will be open. They did this in part so that they would have more time to process and send in applications. They also did it so that the people who are filling out the appliation will already have the tax information they need to fill out their application. This means that the taxes that you file for 2015 will be used in your 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 FAFSA applications.

Uploading and waiting for your tax information will be a thing of the past. So mark your calendars for the FAFSAs early release: October 2016.

FAFSAPlusSocialMedia.pdf - Adobe Acrobat.jpg

All in all, these changes are made to make accessing student aid as easy as possible. The feds and us here at ASPIRE/OSAC want nothing more than for you to be able to reach your full potential.

-Chloe Shaughnessy

ASPIRE Media Specialist

Education Publications

There are tons of amazing resources out there that’s sole purpose is to help us assist our students. At ASPIRE we have a ton of resources here that are both digital and hard copy. Hopefully, all of you have already received those publications, but if you have not here is the link to where you can order them.


There are also several other sites and organizations that we partner with that offer amazing materials that you might want to hand out to your kids. The following list includes all of those organizations and a brief synopsis of how they might be helpful.


1.) FAFSA Publications: This is where you can find all things Financial Aid and FAFSA. This stuff is nice because it not only comes straight from the FAFSA website, but it also gives you an option to access them electronically. (The electronic versions can be found at THIS link.)


2.) ECMC PublicationsThe ECMC Opportunities booklet contains information to help high school students prepare for postsecondary education, choose a college, and apply for financial aid. Opportunities also covers financial aid issues such as filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as well as types and sources of federal and state aid, and eligibility criteria.


3.) The Ford Family Foundation PublicationsThe Ford Family Foundation is a private, non-profit foundation located in Roseburg, Oregon. Started in 1957, the Foundation now manages initiatives and makes grants to public charities in small and mid-size communities in rural Oregon and Siskiyou County, California. The Mission of The Ford Family Foundation is to help individuals through organized learning opportunities to be contributing and successful citizens and to enhance the vitality of rural communities in Oregon and other states.





FAFSA Completion Workshops

We are in the FAFSA season and will be conducting FAFSA completion workshops in January. At McKenzie, we will do our FAFSA Completion workshops as “hands on” experiences and families complete the FAFSA at the workshop.  The advantage of the workshop is that Will and I can answer questions that families may have as they complete the FAFSA.  The goal is to submit an accurate FAFSA in early January so as to be eligible for all federal and state funding that is available.


We have found that students and families need to know how to prepare for filling out the FAFSA. Having them obtain an FSA ID and complete the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet prior to the workshop is important. Below are resources that might be helpful to ASPIRE Mentors.


  1. 2015-16 Counselors and Mentors Handbook on Federal Student Aid.  Will has not posted this on the McKenzie ASPIRE web site since it is written for counselors and mentors.  This is the most current edition.

Click here:

The Handbook provides a good overview of what one needs to know about the FAFSA but it is dated because it discusses signing with a PIN instead of the current FSA ID.


  1. This 86 page document provides an overview of the FAFSA but most importantly explains each question on the FAFSA.  If you are doing a FAFSA workshop and a complex question is raised you can go to this document and the specific FAFSA question to get information.


  1. Will has posted on the McKenzie ASPIRE web site some useful FAFSA documents.  The FSA ID document might be helpful.


  1. Here is a link to the McKenzie ASPIRE web site that many ASPIRE Mentors might find helpful.  On this page Will posts the Power Points and the handouts that we use for each workshop.  The materials are current through Workshop #6.


If an ASPIRE site wishes to use some of the McKenzie ASPIRE materials that is fine but we would like to be notified and would love feedback on the materials so we can improve.


Cheers,  George
George A. Letchworth, Ph.D.

Guest Blog from OSAC in Washington D.C.


By Lori Ellis and Kristin Vreeland, HECC Office of Student Access and Completion

I am sure that you can all imagine our excitement when we found out that Oregon’s FAFSA Plus+ program was nominated and selected to participate in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher FAFSA Convening at the White House on October 21st. There was much celebration here at OSAC amongst our colleagues, shared the excitement with our esteemed colleagues at the HECC, and best wishes from our FAFSA Plus+ and ASPIRE sites across the state.

For those of you who missed the recent press release about this program, FAFSA Plus+ program is a pilot initiative launched in spring 2014, which resulted in a 5 percent increase in Oregon high school students at 42 participating high schools across the state completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

In the days leading up to the convening, the hustle and bustle here at OSAC never slowed with ASPIRE site visits, the annual ASPIRE Fall Conference, outreach at college fairs, and Counselor Conference presentations. There wasn’t much time to revel in our anticipation because we were all so busy!

On the day of the convening, the excitement and prestige of participating in such an exciting event finally sunk in. We were incredibly proud and honored to share Oregon’s success in expanding the number of students applying for financial aid, and excited to hear about other states’ work to eliminate barriers for first-generation students.

We arrived at the White House in the morning, and the sun was shining bright with a brisk breeze. After the required security checks, we joined Greg Darnieder, senior advisor to the secretary on the college access initiative and a strong supporter of ASPIRE, as well as other FAFSA completion initiative program leaders in the Eisenhower Executive Building. It was amazing to meet our counterparts from other states with whom we have been communicating through email and through the FAFSA online Professional Learning Community led by Colorado. We presented on Oregon’s FAFSA Plus+ program, sharing how the program was started, some challenges the program has experienced, and the technical support we provide to the sites. We highlighted the terrific bipartisan support that Oregon has had for college and career readiness. OSAC administers the Oregon ASPIRE program that has received strong support from educational leaders across the state, and the program has built a strong, sustainable infrastructure. Using the success of ASPIRE, we modeled our FAFSA program around this solid program. There were many questions and comments about how we were able to receive such strong buy-in for the program, and requests to see our program materials.

Oregon’s innovative work with schools was truly appreciated and we should be proud of our achievements so far in FAFSA outreach, but we like many states still have much work to do to improve pathways for first generation students. We were there to learn best practices with others across the nation, and we did. For example, Utah has an excellent training platform that they use to train people accessing the student level FAFSA data. Other states have agreements with their state departments of education to make the data upload process more streamlined. We will be forever grateful for this opportunity to learn from other states and share the developments that we have made here in Oregon to increase FAFSA completion on a national stage. We left the convening newly energized by what we learned from other states, and ready to reach higher.

All About Scholarships!

1.  SCHOLARSHIPS:  Free Money?

Free Money?  Maybe from a selfish standpoint, but not really.  Scholarships are investments that are repaid with careers that benefit specific purposes or society in general.  But, scholarships don’t come free; individuals, clubs, and companies work very hard to generate money to award to students who prove worthy of educational investment risks.  Scholarships are not like lottery winnings; they are awarded as a result of successful appeals in the form of Scholarship Applications.

So, the issue is, WHY should an entity who doesn’t even know you speculate on your success in school and in your career?  The answer to the WHY has how you fit the criteria for which the scholarship is to be awarded.  Unless your application clearly shows your match with this criterion, you will not even be considered.  The final decisions search for the very best match with scholarship intentions.

3.  SCHOLARSHIPS:  Where do you find them?
First, let’s be clear:  Finding and Applying for scholarships are YOUR jobs!  The ASPIRE program attempts to identify as many scholarships as possible, but consider this your starting point.  YOU must take it from there.  There are many resources available in the ASPIRE room, in the newspapers, on the internet, at individual schools and universities, at potential professional career organizations, at clubs, at churches, at businesses, ….. and the list goes on and on.  If you want scholarship opportunities, YOU make them!

4.  SCHOLARSHIPS:  Critical Criteria
Once you find a potential scholarship, your application becomes your representative in the award competition.  You must meet all of the scholarship criteria.  First – read the application to see what’s needed.  Don’t take this lightly!  If you omit a required document, chances are you won’t even make it to first base.  There will be lots of applicants, and the first screen will be “is this application complete?”.   We’re speaking from experience here folks.  As participants on several scholarship evaluation teams, we’ve seen and used the trash can at the end of the table for many applications that don’t conform to stated requirements.  Pay particular attention to:

  1. Due Dates
  2. How the Application is to be assembled
  3. Required Application contents
  4. Required references, letters of recommendations, transcripts, etc.
  5. The Quality and Appearance of your submittal package

5.  REALLY IMPORTANT CRITERIA:  Grades and Activity Charts
We just cannot emphasize enough the importance of Grades and Activity Charts (or excerpts, as required) in the packaging of scholarship applications.  If you don’t jump these critical hurdles, you just won’t make it.  Freshmen – NOW is the time to start work on these most important High School efforts!!

                                                                                                                                                                  Author:  Will Rutherford

Obama Administration Unveils Shifts in FAFSA

Hi All

Here is some interesting news. In 2016 students will be able to submit the FAFSA in October using 2015 IRS data. This should allow our students to have a good sense of their need based aid 3+ months sooner and using IRS data that is available. This has implications for us as ASPIRE Mentors. I am going to have to rearrange my college planning workshops and offer the “Preparing for the FAFSA” and “Completing the FAFSA” workshops in September and October.

Here is a link to the article announcing that.

Obama Administration Unveils Shifts in FAFSA

There should be more news forthcoming so stay alert.

Cheers, George
George A. Letchworth, Ph.D.

Top 10 Tips for Reducing College Costs


Hi All

I hope that you were able to participate in Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s webinar yesterday. I was familiar with the points that she covered and she was accurate in her recommendations. I am attaching a brief summary of her webinar with my reorganizing of the sequence of her points.

10 Tips for Reducing College Costs

Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s list 8-30-2015

  1. Tuition discounts: Pressure to recruit a freshman class.
  2. Net Price Calculators: Do for each college
  3. Need-based aid: Calculate the EFC on CollegeBoard for Federal and Institutional Methodologies.
  4. Know how to evaluate an Award Letter: Be clear on EFC, loans, work-study, need and merit based funding and if it is renewable.
  5. Appealing Award Letters: Competing awards, Specify need, professional judgement, better spring awards, summer melt.
  6. Test-optional colleges: If you have good GPA but low test scores
  7. College Savings: FAFSA formula and how 529 savings plans are assessed.
  8. Best loans: Student Federal Direct Loans-Subsidized and unsubsidized. 4.29% $31,000
  9. Choosing Colleges: Colleges 94% student discount, Master’s level 88%, Research Univ. 66%
  10. Schools that meet 100%/93% of financial need. Calculate your EFC!

George Letchworth’s Priority Listing-Where to begin.

  1. Tuition discounts: Pressure to recruit a freshman class.  Cost of Attendance (COA) is a sticker price.  Few students pay full price, be a knowledgeable consumer!
  1. College Saving: Save for college and enjoy compounding. Review the FAFSA formula and know how 529 savings plans are assessed. Set up an Oregon 529 College Savings Plan.
  2. Choosing colleges: Colleges 94% get a student discount; Regional-Masters colleges 88% get a discount; Research Universities 66% get a discount. Consider liberal arts colleges for smaller class sizes and access to fulltime faculty.  Choosing a college that is a good fit for the student and affordable is an important step!
  3. Test-optional colleges: If you have good GPA but low test scores.
  4. Schools that meet 100%/93% of financial need. Calculate your EFC.   Financial need=COA-EFC The family is expected to pay the EFC with cash flow, savings or loans.
  1. Need-based aid: Calculate the EFC on CollegeBoard for Federal and Institutional Methodologies.
  2. Net Price Calculators: Do for each college before becoming invested or applying.
  3. Evaluating an Award Letter: Be clear on EFC, loans, work-study, need and merit based funding and what is renewable for each year of college. Award letters are usually sent out in April and acceptance is before May 1.
  4. Appealing Award Letters: Competing awards, Specify need, professional judgement, better spring awards, summer melt. Be courteous but clear if you need additional funding to accept admission to the college.
  5. Best loans: Student Federal Direct Loans-Subsidized and unsubsidized. Annually adjusted 4.29% $31,000 total

If you attended the webinar or have comments on my summary please share with the group.



George A. Letchworth, Ph.D.

PS  Is everyone up to date on Oregon SB 81 and the Oregon Promise for those seniors planning on going to a community college?

The Newest Partnership in Education.

Hi All

Khan Academy has partnered with CollegeBoard on SAT preparation. I suspect the online preparation will be improved since Khan Academy is doing it.

The PSAT in October is the “new” PSAT and they are offering FREE test prep online!

Khan Academy Test Prep

We should send this out to our e mail list of students so they have the opportunity to prepare this summer.

Cheers,  George

George A. Letchworth, Ph.D.