I’ve received several questions this week about Bright Futures, the popular Florida scholarship funded by our Lotto dollars. The application for this state scholarship opens on December 1, so high school guidance counselors across the state are distributing information to students and parents about how to apply.

There are a few different Bright Futures awards, each with its own set of GPA and test score requirements (which are increasing), along with minimum community service requirements. These can all be found at the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Student Financial Assistance website.

What’s probably most important to note about Bright Futures are the following:

1. You need to complete this application before high school graduation. It’s not imperative to complete the application now; but it should be done before your student receives her diploma.

2. Every Florida high school senior should complete a Bright Futures application, even if you plan to go to school out of Florida and even if you do not plan to apply for any other financial aid. You never know – financial circumstances can change, Johnny may find that it’s too cold up north and transfer after a year or two; or some other reason may force a return to Florida. If you don’t have a Bright Futures application on record, you can’t get the money.

3. Bright Futures awards can be used at all accredited Florida colleges, both public and private.

4. Although Bright Futures is currently a merit (performance-based) program, in order to receive an award a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) must be completed. The 2013-14 FAFSA opens on January 1.

5. Completing the Bright Futures application is easy. Completing a FAFSA, a Federal form, can be considerably more difficult. Completing a CSS Profile (for select schools) can be a real pain in the @$$.

6. The future of Bright Futures is uncertain. Award amounts and requirements (Bright Futures must be re-earned annually) are subject to political will and budgetary constraints. You can click here to read more about the various factors affecting the future of Bright Futures.

And if you want to know more about college funding strategies, including tips on appropriately preparing a FAFSA and how to qualify for all types of financial aid and merit inducements, then you should check out my upcoming workshop in Weston. This is my last workshop of the year. If you are the parent of a 10th or 11th grader, don’t think you can put this off. Once the calendar changes to January, 11th grade parents are suddenly “on the clock”. The window of opportunity starts to close day by day, week by week.

I often hear from parents, “I wish I met you a year ago, or even 6 months ago”. Don’t be this parent. Get educated on higher education now, and put a plan together to pay ‘wholesale’ for your child’s college, wherever s/he attends.

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