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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

FAFSA, More Changes 2017

The only thing true about college is that things are always changing.

The DRT/Data Retrieval Tool was introduced a few years ago to help families pull information from their tax returns into the FAFSA forms.  It was designed to eliminate the need for verification since the information was coming directly from the IRS.  However, there were significant security issues last year.  So, the DRT was turned off and many FAFSA filers were not able to use it.

In the interim, the IRS and Department of Education made changes in order to "enhance the security and privacy of the sensitive personal data transferred into the FAFSA form from the IRS."  Starting this year, the information brought over will be encrypted.  Users will be unable to see the data when they access their tax forms with the DRT and the information will remain encrypted when it is transferred to the FAFSA.  The data entry fields will show "Transferred from the IRS" instead of the data. 

The colleges will be able to see the actual data and make any adjustments required.

Since the information will be encrypted, some changes need to be made both in the "income earned from work" questions and in the instance of IRA rollovers.  Because the FAFSA formula gives an allowance for the extra costs incurred when both parents are working, parents have to enter in how much each made from working.  In the past, the combined income was transferred from the joint tax return.  Now, the amount earned from work by each parent will need to be entered in manually.  In the event of IRA rollovers, parents (and students, if applicable) will need to indicate whether or not an IRA distribution includes a rollover.  If it does, the amount of the rollover will need to be indicated.  The processor will then deduct the amount "rolled over" from the total in the income calculations.

One problematic outcome of this change is that the correlation between income and the EFC will not be evident since the income data will be encrypted.  Manual calculations will be necessary.  If you need help in this regard, please contact Katherine O'Brien directly ( - Scholarships or Sham??? sounds great!  Who doesn't want to be rewarded for their efforts?  The idea of getting "micro-scholarships" for getting good grades, etc. sounds ideal.  A little too ideal, perhaps.  Let's take a look... was founded in 2012.  It's a site where students can create a profile and enter in their achievements.  Participating colleges (there are over 200 so far) promise students micro-scholarships based on their achievements (getting an A in a class, for example) starting in the 9th grade.  Of course, the students must be accepted at a given school in order to "receive" the micro-scholarships based on his or her account.

On the one hand, students are encouraged to do well throughout their high school careers by receiving the promise of awards.  Hopefully, this will encourage students to excel in their studies.  Students are rewarded for good grades, community service, working, taking tests (PSAT, ACT, AP, SAT, etc.), and extracurricular activities. On the other, the pressure of looming college applications is now obvious to students at an earlier age.  Some argue that this program puts too much pressure on younger students who should be exploring, etc.  However, by freshman year in college, I believe students should be maturing and developing a strong sense of cause and effect and the impact that their choices of today make on the opportunities, or lack thereof, of tomorrow.

Colleges pay a fee to participate. Apparently, is a mechanism they can use to attract students.  Colleges set the value of the various rewards, or micro-scholarships they offer, so have a way to attract the attention of students and compete with other colleges for their attention.  After all, who doesn't think well of a school after seeing the message pop up that says, "Great job!  $500 from XYZ University for you!"

I am unable to find any information regarding how the scholarships relate to the overall financial aid package.  Based on my experience as a college consultant, I am skeptical that students with accounts are receiving any more aid than they would have if they had not had an account.

So, the information regarding Raise.Me is inconclusive.  it might be a helpful tool to encourage a student, but will it have any real impact on the student's net cost at any colleges?

Get in the Groove to Succeed at Life (and School)!!

As I see it, we humans have two choices.  We can do the things that will make us successful, or we can be miserable.  For those who aren't sure, please watch: 7 Ways to be Miserable  Then you'll see just how to ruin, eh hmmm, improve your life.

In fact, setting clearly defined goals and a set daily rhythm is a  GREAT way to start your school year.  Even the most accomplished among us can improve their way of life, so take a few minutes to explore -

What's my sleep cycle like?  If you'd like to reek havoc on your life, be more depressed and less productive, have an irregular sleep cycle.  Keep your body confused about when to rest and when to rise, and you'll be more miserable by the day.  Happily, it only takes three days/nights to "reset" your body clock.  So, determine the optimum time to arise in the morning, count back 8 1/2 hours, and set that as your bedtime.  The MOST important set time in your day is your bedtime.  Give yourself half an hour to wrap up your day and get ready for bed, then let your head fall gently on your pillow.  If you need more sleep, adjust the plan accordingly.

Do I ever get moving?  Feeling good involves getting your motor running.  Just pouring coffee down your throat to wash down your sugar laden "breakfast" will not do the trick.  God gave us bodies on purpose.  In order to get our minds working, able to focus and concentrate, settle our moods, slow down our fidgets, get out and walk, run, swim, bike, etc.  Take a good half hour every morning to move your body.  Then, take a refreshing shower, eat a decent breakfast (which you'll be more interested in after exercising than you typically are), and get on with your day.

Is silence my friend?  Our worlds are NOISY!!!  I can't get a moment to clear my head, can you??  Integrating time in silence each day is calming, centering, and enables our minds to rest.  Meditation or prayer or Scriptural or spiritual reading can be part of this time, but they don't have to be.  Just sit under a tree, spend time alone, swim, whatever.  Yep, this can be combined with exercise, if that works for you.  Some people find using headphones or earbuds to be really helpful.  Just because I have them in my ears doesn't mean I have them connected to anything or am listening to anything.  I might just be using them to help my world be more quiet.  Journaling or drawing or coloring might be good things to do in your silent time.  Just let your thoughts rest and just be.  Just rest in God's presence, notice the beauty around you, just breathe.  Let your mind and your body and your soul get grounded for the day in the quiet.  Use a timer so you don't have to worry about when the time will end.  Let go - and be still.

What's the point?  Why did you get up today? this week? this month? this year?  "Uh, I dunno." is not an answer that is going to get you out of bed.  Set some goals.  Ask yourself where you want to be in a year.  What skills do you want to acquire?  What grades do you want to earn? Promotion do you want to secure?  Growth in virtue do you desire?  WRITE DOWN YOUR GOALS.  Make them specific.  My goal is to score at least 90% on every test this semester.  I plan to lose 5 pounds or gain an inch around my biceps.  I will count to three when I am upset and must respond, and I will be calm when I respond to X person,who tends to aggravate me, demand a lot, etc.  Make the goal measurable - set it so you can clearly determine whether you have accomplished it or not.  Make the goal realistic, something you can actually put into practice, "Actionable" in modern parlance.  In three months, I will be fluent in a language I know nothing of is, for the vast majority of us, an unrealistic goal.  Make sure your goal is realistic - I will keep my room 100% tidy at all times is a great goal.  However, accomplishing it when you have three roommates is not realistic; you can only determine your own actions.  Lastly, give your goal a deadline.  I will lose 15 pounds is a great goal - but it's not so possible when I have no deadline - I can always have that treat and put off my goal until some undefined future date.

Regulate Your Intake.  Garbage in, garbage out.  Junk food is called junk for a reason.  What's your favorite drug?  Winston? Marlboro? Pot? Sugar? Caffeine?  Nearly everyone in the US is a drug user.  We eat FAR more sugar than ever before and it makes our brains feel blah, feeds cancer and cavity causing bacteria, stresses out our livers, and can make us become diabetics.  Oh yeah, it also makes us fat and messes with our moods.  When we don't sleep right, we turn to caffeine.  Caffeine is very slow to leave our bodies.  A cup of coffee at 8am leaves enough caffeine in your body to disrupt your sleep schedule.  Let's not even consider having pop with lunch or dinner!

Am I Connected?  Spending time with friends is important.  We feel connected by our shared interests and activities.  We relax and have fun and enjoy the pleasures of life.  Movies are better with a friend (or a whole gaggle of them!)  Go to a game or a play or a concert.  Toss a frisbee around.  Take time at the lake or on the slopes or for a walk in the woods, good alone time, great with friends, too.  Dance, sing, play games, decorate your room, etc.  Have some fun!  We are social creatures.  Even when your workload is heavy, take a little time to connect with others (and don't spend all that time complaining about your workload!).  Do something fun for a bit... and you'll feel refreshed when you turn back to your work.