How Do Students Apply for a Direct Stafford Loan?

In working with students and their families on the college planning and financial aid process, I am frequently asked how students can apply for the direct Stafford loan. Let me start by saying, although they – and you – may be asking about the Direct Stafford Loan, the loan is no longer called the Direct Stafford Loan. That is something it was called years and years ago. Currently, this loan is referred to as the Federal Direct Student loan. Below is more information on this type of loan, along with how students can apply and qualify for it.

What is the Federal Direct Loan?

The Federal Direct Student Loan (formally called the Direct Stafford Loan) is truly a student loan. It is the student who applies for and receives this loan. Parents do not cosign for this loan.

What Is the Maximum Direct Loan Amount?

The maximum amount you can receive in a Federal Direct Loan depends upon your year of college:

• Freshman Year: $5,500
• Sophomore Year: $6,500
• Junior Year: $7,500
• Senior Year and Beyond: $7,500

Is this Direct Loan Subsidized?

If the student financially qualifies, a portion of the Federal Direct Loan can be subsidized, meaning the federal government will pay the interest while the student is in school at least half-time, for the first six months after the student leaves school (grace period), and during a period of deferment. This qualification is based on financial need as demonstrated by the FAFSA form.

Below are the amounts of the subsidized portion of the loan, assuming the student qualifies:

• Freshman Year: $3,500
• Sophomore Year: $4,500
• Junior Year: $5,500
• Senior Year: $5,500

How You Apply for and Accept the Federal Direct Loan (Stafford Direct Loan)

1. Fill Out the FAFSA

To apply for the Federal Direct Loan, you must first complete the FAFSA form. The FAFSA is the initial part of getting any federal student aid, including the direct loans, as well as receiving financial aid at many institutions. So, it is important to complete this form as early as possible. The form becomes available October 1st of every year. You need to fill out this form and add the schools to which you will be applying so that they have your financial information.

2. Accept the Loan from the School You Will Be Attending

Once the form is complete and you have been accepted to a school you will receive and award letter that will list the Direct Student Loan and its amount. Once you have accepted admission at the college of your choice, you can then accept the Direct Student Loan through the college. The school you will be attending will then notify the government about your attendance. You will then be awarded the loan and it will be credited to your bill. Any student can qualify for the Federal Direct Loan – even if your family makes $2 million a year. The only part of the loan that hinges on financial need is the subsidized portion.

Once you receive notice that you are awarded the loan, you will need to accept the loan.

3. Complete Student Loan Counseling

After you are awarded and accept the loan, you will need to complete the student loan counseling, which takes about 45 minutes.

4. Sign the Promissory Note

To finalize the application and acceptance of the Federal Direct Loan, you will need to sign the promissory note.

How Students Apply for the Direct Stafford Loan Takeaway:

Applying for the Federal Direct Student Loan (formerly referred to as the Direct Stafford Loan) involves four steps: (1) completing the FAFSA; (2) being awarded and accepting the loan from the school that you’re going to attend; (3) doing the student loan counseling; and (4) signing the master promissory note.

Looking for help with the college application and financial aid process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Important Are AP Classes for College Admission

There is so much to consider in the college planning process. One key factor is the high school classes that you take. When making class schedules for the next year, I am frequently asked just how important AP classes are when it comes to college admissions. The relevancy of taking AP classes really comes down to the colleges to which you will be applying and how those courses connect with you as a student. Read on for a deeper explanation.

Whether You Should Take a Specific AP Class

Let me first say that you need to take courses that challenge you but are not overly rigorous. There is no point in taking a class in which you would struggle just so you can say that you have taken the class. A poor or so-so grade in an AP class is not better than a good grade in a non-AP class. I have worked with many students who don’t take many, or any, AP classes at all and they got admitted into wonderful schools that are great fits for them and that provide them with a great education. So, taking a specific AP class was not an important admissions deciding factor.

Often students will ask, “Shouldn’t I take this AP class?” when they haven’t taken any other AP classes in their high school curriculum. We talk about the class itself to decide if they should or shouldn’t take it. Let’s say it is a student who is not very good at math, that it is not their strongest subject, and they are trying to decide if they should take AP Calculus. I am concerned that this student would struggle in such a class and would advise against it because it is extremely likely that the student would not get a good grade. You need to determine if the AP class is a good fit both in terms of interest and capabilities.

Are Colleges Looking for Specific AP Classes?

When it comes to considering AP courses, it is not about colleges looking for a specific set of AP courses on your transcript. One class is not going to make all the difference in whether you are admitted. When you are considering the highest and most selective colleges in the United States, of course rigor is important, but that is still only as it relates to the student and who they are – their interests and what they are capable of doing.

The Importance of AP Classes Takeaway:

It is important to understand that there are plenty of colleges – there is not just one college that is right for you. You need to be who you are and do what works for you. So, it’s not about saying that AP classes are so important for college admissions – that is way too general of a statement and absolutely not the case. Carefully weigh if taking a specific AP class matches your abilities and interests.

Looking for help with the college application and financial aid process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What Do Colleges Look For In Extracurricular Activities?

When reviewing college applications, admissions officers look at more than just the courses you took and the grades you received in those courses. They dive deeper to see who you are as a person and whether you would be a good addition to their school. One way to get a glimpse of who you are is by looking at the activities in which you were involved during your high school career. This is not something typically shown on the high school transcript – although classes focused on art, orchestra or band may provide some insight. Rather, the activities we are referring to are extracurricular activities, which relate to information that you will share during the college application process. I am asked a lot about what types of extracurricular activities colleges are looking for in a prospective student. The answer is not cut and dry. It is not simply that one type of activity is better than another. For example, a competitive math club is not necessarily better than playing football. And, being involved in 10 activities doesn’t make you a better candidate than someone who is only involved in one. What really matters is the depth of the activities rather than the breadth – and how involved you really are.

Colleges Look at Depth Rather than Breadth When It Comes to Extracurricular Activities

I visit colleges quite often – I have visited over 400 schools. When I visit them, I try to sit down and talk with the admissions officers. When it comes to extracurricular activities, they always say they are looking for depth, not breadth. It’s not about having 50 different activities that you are involved with once or twice. They would rather see that you are doing activities you enjoy and that you are doing more of them. So, it could be that you are a gymnast and your whole extracurricular life is about gymnastics. Whether it is competing, training or volunteering, it is all about gymnastics. So, that is incredible depth. Looking at activities in this light gives a college counselor a better glimpse of who you really are as a person.

When It Comes to Activities, Do Something that You Enjoy

When you participate in activities that you enjoy, you will more likely do more of those activities. This involvement shows who you are outside of the classroom, which is what the college admissions counselors are looking for. They are not looking to see necessarily how involved you are, but rather where your interests lie.

Extracurricular Activities for College Application Key Takeaway:

It is important to be who you are. When it comes to extracurricular activities and college applications, it is not about checking the box; it is about exploration, learning and growing. Remember, college admissions officers are looking to see who you are, not that you have participated in a plethora of activities.

Looking for help with the college application and financial aid process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Do Colleges Look at Weighted GPA?

This is a question that typically weighs heavily on every student’s mind. You’re taking more difficult classes – honors, AP, courses offered through colleges. These more difficult classes require more work, both in terms of actual workload, daily preparation and studying. So, of course you would want a college to give your grades in these classes greater weight when considering your application than regular track courses. So what consideration do colleges give to these more challenging courses? Here is a simplified overview.

Weighted GPA on the High School Transcript

The first thing college admissions officers look at is typically the high school transcript. Generally, a student’s weighted GPA is listed on that transcript, along with all the courses you took and grades you received throughout high school. So, if your transcript contains a weighted GPA, the college will look at it.

How Does One School’s Weighted GPA Compare to Another School’s?

So the weighted GPA is on the high school transcript, but what does this exactly mean? The weighted GPA is different amongst all the high schools in the United States because each school may weigh courses differently. Additionally, some high schools have high honors, AP and IB courses, while others may not have these offerings. So how do college admissions officers take into account a weighted GPA with so many differences among high schools? When they look at the student’s weighted GPA, they consider the courses the student has taken, the course rigor and what courses that particular high school offers.

Weighted GPA Takeaway:

If a weighted GPA is part of your high school transcript, college admissions officers will look at it, but they will consider it in relation to the courses that you have taken, the grades that you received in those courses, and the rigor of those courses.

Do you have more questions about GPA, standardized tests, and other college application admissions factors? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

If My Parents Are Divorced or Separated, Who Fills Out the FAFSA Form?

One very common question related to the FAFSA is which parent fills out the form and supplies their financial information if the parents of the student are separated or divorced. The rule is that the parent with whom the child spends the most time is the parent who completes the FAFSA form.

What If the Parents Are Not Legally Separated or Divorced Yet?

When determining who completes the FAFSA, it is important to note that you do not have to be legally separated or actually divorced for only one parent to complete the form. To trigger the one parent per form rule, the parents only have to be physically separated and living in 2 separate residences.

Which Parent Completes the FAFSA Form If there is Joint Custody?

There are times where the parents share joint custody of the child, i.e., where the student truly spends 50 percent of the time with one parent and then 50 percent of the time with the other parent. In this case, either parent can complete the FAFSA form. Ideally, you would want to select the parent with the lower annual income and the lower dollar amount of non-retirement investments. This is because it is a heavily income-driven calculation and non-retirement assets (Excluding your primary home) are considered as well. Certainly, there are other things to consider as well, but that is the parent you would probably want to choose to complete the FAFSA form if you have a separated or divorced situation.

We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

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