I received several questions yesterday (and today) about Bright Futures, the popular State-awarded merit scholarship funded by our Lotto dollars.   The 2015-16 application for Bright Futures officially opened yesterday (Dec 1), so high school guidance counselors across FL have been talking to 12th grade students and parents today about how to apply.

Here are a few important notes about the Bright Futures program:

– Bright Futures scholarships are available to Florida high school graduates who meet minimum academic, testing and service requirements, and who attend a college in Florida.  There are three different award levels (based on student achievement) and the eligibility requirements/award amounts can/do change.   Click here to view what current college students are eligible to receive.

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

– TO BE CONSIDERED, students must complete and submit a Florida Financial Aid Application (FFAA), also known as the Initial Student Florida Financial Aid Application.   They must do so in their last year of high school (12th grade), between now and anytime before graduation.   It’s really easy to complete and submit this application.   Just click here and follow the instructions.  One note:  though it’s not imperative to complete this application before the summer, I recommend getting it done now!

Even if your student plans to go to school out of Florida and even if you do not plan to apply for any other financial aid, you should complete and submit this application.  You never know – financial circumstances can change.  Your child may find that it’s too cold and snowy 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 (aka the FFAA) on record prior to your child’s graduation from high school, you can’t get the money.  No Application on File = No Bright Futures Award (Ever)!
–  Bright Futures is a merit (performance-based) program (at least for now), and you no longer have to complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to be eligible.  That said, Bright Futures will only cover a fraction of the total Cost of Attendance, and its future (pun intended) is uncertain.  Award amounts and requirements (Bright Futures must be re-earned annually) are subject to political will and budgetary constraints.   I’ve written rather extensively about this program –  you can click here to read up on its unintended consequences and perhaps not-so-bright future.  

– Both the Florida Dept of Education and I encourage all families to complete a FAFSA (and a CSS Profile, if applicable) as well. Note that the lion’s share of the $150 billion of grants/scholarships available to middle class families will be predicated on information you provide to your child’s university through the FAFSA and the CSS Profile.

Completing the Florida-based Bright Futures application is rather simple.  On the otherhand, completing a FAFSA, a Federal form, can be considerably more difficult (by the way, FAFSA goes live on Jan 1).  And completing a CSS Profile (for select schools) can be a real pain in the @$$.  But worth it.   Consider that the Wall Street Journal continues to report that six-figure earners are ‘routinely’ earning five-figure awards.  (And once again, I’m already seeing early returns for my students that continue to support this assertion).  And last year, as in years past, my students received an average of $33,000 per year – click here to see at which schools).

And if you want to know more about college funding strategies, including tips on how to make affordability a cornerstone of your child’s admissions strategy and what you can do when your child is still in 9th, 10th or 11th grade to help them qualify for all types of financial aid and merit-based scholarships, then you should check out my January workshops in Weston and Miami.   This is especially pressing if you are the parent of a 10th or 11th grader.  Once the calendar changes to January, 11th grade parents are suddenly “on the clock” – this is the year that colleges (and the gov’t) will evaluate your financials to determine your EFC (Expected Family Contribution – what they think you can afford to pay for one year of your child’s education).  If you want to know what that means and how they make that determination, then register for and attend my workshop.  

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