The Opportunity: A College Access Newsletter

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We believe in human potential, opportunity, and the ability to succeed.
We are student-founded, student-led, and dedicated to empowering students to access and afford college.

This is The Opportunity: A College Access Newsletter.

It features tools, tips, and advice from our own experiences and also the best college access tools we've found.

Issue Eleven: February 20, 2019
Issue Theme: Financial Aid February! #FinAidFeb


What do you know about financial aid? Test yourself with this short quiz: (Answers at bottom of this section. We know you won't cheat. :)

1. What’s the annual family income limit for being eligible for federal financial aid?

A. $20,000
B $80,000
C. $100,000
D. $250,000

2. The amount of federal financial aid available every year is about:

A. $300 million
B. $750 million
C. $150 billion
D. $300 billion

3. What percentage of full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions received financial aid in 2016-2017?

A. 25%
B. 46%
C. 72%
D. 83%

4. How much federal financial aid money went unclaimed by eligible students in 2018?
A. None
B. $300 million
C. $1.5 billion
D. $2.6 billion

You can find more quiz questions on our website!

Answers: 1.D; 2: C; 3. D; 4. D

How’d you do?

We’re driving home a point here: federal financial aid for college is readily available; there’s a lot of it; and yet gobs of students pass up on the opportunity. An estimated 661,000 eligible students last year did not file their FAFSAs. Truth.

College can be expensive. Don’t let it be any more expensive than it needs to be. In fact, if you follow the tips in our Guide, you’ll have a real plan for making college affordable. That’s why we started Fair Opportunity Project—it’s info by students and for students to make college happen. Our Guide is free and downloadable on our website. In Chapter 12, you’ll find key tips on financial aid--check it out!

(Remember that there’s also a cost of NOT going to college, and that’s the cost of missing out on higher-income jobs that require a college degree.)

In The Guide, you’ll find explanations about how colleges determine financial “need”; what merit aid is; where to find scholarships, and an explanation of student loans. (Here’s a short guide from the federal government that explains how student loans work.)

Bonus: A few sections from The Guide:

Finding a College’s Price

As you won’t usually pay the price that a university costs, understanding the types of institutional financial aid will help decode a college’s actual price. Every school is required to offer a net price calculator with which students can input their family’s assets and get a rough approximation of what they’ll pay. We strongly advise that you do this as it may surprise you what you’ll owe! If a school offers need-based aid, also assess whether the school offers merit aid that you can apply to receive. Oftentimes merit aid applications have different deadlines from regular applications, so make sure to confirm those ahead of time. To double check what you’ll approximately be paying, the US Department of Education has set up college cost calculators that allow students to see the mean price of cost, debt, and graduation indexed per school. Our recommendation is to use both the colleges’ calculators and the government’s assessment for a good, although not perfect, estimate.

Get Away from Bad Aid Information

There’s a lot of poor information out there on college expenses, most notably with the Ivy League, which has some of the best financial aid in the nation. For one of our writers, it was less expensive to go to Harvard than the University of Minnesota – as it would be for 90% of Americans. Other private schools are known for strong financial aid programs; here’s a list of 18 schools that ranges from Rice University to Mount Holyoke College, all of whom meet full financial need.

If these schools don’t align with your interests, here’s another list of 50 schools ranked according to ability to serve applicants whose families earn less than $48,000. Generally, public universities have much lower tuition fees for in-state students, making a higher education possible and affordable. In addition, many states have in-state tuition reciprocity with neighboring states, and some even have international reciprocity: for example between Minnesota and Manitoba. You should think a bit about the return on investment in education via tools like Edmit. The point is to seek out the facts yourself using tools like the college cost calculator and the annual “Best Bang for the Buck” college list from Washington Monthly.

Cute Doggy Helps with FAFSA
This cute puppy wants to help. FAFSA got you confused? Use the hotline!

Fair Opp Faves: Tools We Like

Each issue of this newsletter we’ll highlight one cool tool or resource. Maybe it’s for finding the right college, covering college costs, or staying on top of the application process. We only share tools that we’ve checked out and that are free for students.

(Also available in Spanish.)

We like the FAFSA4caster because it provides a quick and early snapshot of what federal aid you can probably expect and what your net cost might be for colleges that you're interested in. You can fill it out as a sophomore or junior--before you're actually ready to apply for college. It asks fewer questions and you can use estimates for things like scholarships that you hope to win.

Don’t forget that you still need to complete the FAFSA itself!

Also, remember that the largest source of grant aid comes from colleges and universities themselves. Don’t freak out or give up the college dream just based on the FAFSA4Caster—it’s only a starting point for understanding costs and aid.

What’s Your Question?

Send us your questions and we’ll respond to them here!

Question: Does where you go to college matter when it comes to finding a job?--Elliot M.

Elliot! You’ve got the long-term view in mind! That’s good. This is also a really good question. Let’s tackle it a few different ways.

One. Where you go to college matters a lot for how likely you are to finish your degree. You need to earn the degree before you can land those jobs that require a college degree. This might seem obvious, but about 40% of students who start college haven’t graduated six years later. Some colleges are much better at graduating their students than others; you can get this information and some useful comparisons from College Results Online.

Two. Some jobs require specific majors, such as engineering or nursing or teaching. If you have one of these specific kinds of jobs in mind, make sure the college you choose offers that kind of major. Not sure? Ask the admissions office or the career advising office how they prepare students for these jobs.

Three. Choose the college where you’ll have lots of opportunities to connect with professors, take on a research project or internship, lead a club, and push your learning beyond the classroom. Seriously. These are the things you’ll put on a resume and talk about in a job interview.

Thanks, Elliot, for shooting this our way. There’s a lot more we could write here, but we think these are pretty good guidelines to use. And don’t forget to dig into college life first!

Resource: Scholarships & Information for Undocumented Students

Undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid, but may be eligible for state or college financial aid. Click on the map above and you'll find an interactive tool that shows each state's policies on undocumented students and eligibility for in-state tuition. Map is based on these sources. Scholarships and other college resources for immigrants are at

Learn about The Mentor Network

Upcoming Dates to Know

FAFSA state deadlines may be earlier than you think! Here’s a PDF state-by-state listing from

Oct. : The FAFSA 2019-20 application is now open. Here’s a great checklist. FAFSA completion is really important! You can check your school and state’s completion rates on this amazing webpage from

March 1: FAFSA deadline in Michigan

March 2: FAFSA deadline in California for many programs.

March 8: Regular registration deadline for April 13 ACT

March 9: SAT test date

April 13: ACT test date

May 1: College enrollment deposit deadline

Ongoing: Free FAFSA completion and college info workshops throughout Illinois.

Ongoing: College fairs offered in cities nationwide; dates and locations here.

Have a date you want us to include? Let us know!

Got a question for us? We've got an app for that!….

On the Fair Opportunity Project website, you'll find a blue "Ask Us a Question" in the bottom right corner. Submit your college question and we'll send your answer in a jiffy!

Your donation to Fair Opportunity Project will allow us to reach more students with free resources about college admissions and financial aid.

That’s it for this issue! Thanks for reading. More tips and tools in our March issue. You’d make us even happier by sharing this newsletter. It’s all about giving and getting a Fair Opportunity.

Did someone forward this email to you? Want to offer this newsletter to your students & families? Be sure to subscribe!

Previous Newsletters

Issue Ten: February 6, 2019 (It's National School Counseling Week! #NSCW19)

Issue Nine: January 23, 2019 (It’s #NationalMentoringMonth!)

Issue Eight: December 18, 2018 (Been There, Done That!)

Issue Seven: November 29, 2018 (Great Organizations that Help Students Succeed)

Issue Six: November 13, 2018 (Scholarship Searches Don't Need to Consume Your Life)

Issue Five: October 31, 2018 (The College Essay Should Not be like Halloween)

Issue Four: October 17, 2018 (Finding the Right College (Part Two))

Issue Three: October 2, 2018 (Finding the Right College (Part One))

Issue Two: September 19, 2018 (Making the Most of High School)

Issue One: September 4, 2018 (Thinking about College & How to Pay for It)