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Figuring Out Financial Aid? Updated Guide Offers NYC Students Help with the FAFSA and Comparing Financial Aid Packages

The Center for New York City Affairs, home to Insideschools, has published a second edition of its popular guide for high school students who are applying to college and beginning their all-important quest for financial aid: FAFSA: The How-To Guide for High School Students (And the Adults Who Help Them).

We hope this guide will be useful to students, families and the many caring adults in New York City public schools and communities who help families navigate the U.S. Department of Education's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

This year's guide has been updated with the latest information and a new section on what students need to do after they file the FAFSA. It includes an update on FAFSA verification demands and a new section on how to compare college financial aid offers.


Download FAFSA: The How-To Guide here. New this year: a Spanish language version of the guide!

Watch Thursday's policy forum on Financial Aid at The New School

FAFSA: The How-To Guide for High School Students was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Capital One Foundation. This guide is part of the foundation's efforts to empower students and provide them with resources to help plan for their academic futures.

Event: Taking the fear out of financial aid

Written by Insideschools staff Wednesday, 15 January 2014 16:07

Taking the Fear Out of Financial Aid: Making Higher Education Easier to Achieve for NYC Students

This event, presented by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, home of, is still happening tomorrow (Thursday) morning! Flooding at the university has not affected our event space.

Securing college financial aid can be intimidating for NYC students. Aid is crucial for low-income and first generation college students—but they need help, particularly navigating the government's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), finding grants and loans and working with college aid offices. Experts say the system is needlessly complicated and should be reformed. Join the Center for New York City Affairs for the release of its latest "FAFSA: How-To Guide for High School Students" and a discussion about what needs to happen nationally and locally to ensure that the next generation of college students can afford to matriculate.

Q: A lot of my friends spent almost all winter break working on college applications that were due January 1. But I am applying to several schools that have "rolling" decisions, and some of them say they will take applications as late as April. So am I right to take it easy and get my applications in later? What's the big hurry?

A: You may not be in a hurry, but colleges are eager to know if they will enroll a full first-year class. On the one hand, "rolling" policies seem flexible – you apply when you want, as long as it's before the deadline, and you get a response as soon as it's ready. But on the other hand, this also means that a college may fill all its available spots earlier than expected. When that happens, the last students who submit their applications may find themselves on a "wait list." That is not a pleasant situation.

A couple of years ago this happened with a CUNY - LaGuardia Community College.  Students who thought they'd have no trouble being admitted learned that more people than anticipated had applied, filling the class early. Those students had to wait to see if they could get into a different CUNY school instead.

What to expect from the new schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, just announced this morning at MS 51? More collaboration between schools--and less competition. Less emphasis on test scores. And more consistent efforts to improve the quality of teaching.

The new chancellor is not against school choice—which expanded under the Bloomberg administration. But her focus during nearly half a century of teaching has been to improve neighborhood schools—not to close the bad ones.

I first met her in the mid-1990s when she was was a principal of PS 6 on the Upper East Side. She transformed a school with lackluster teaching into a national model for writing instruction, a lively place with teachers who willingly adopted new methods. She eliminated “tracking,” or grouping children by ability, insisting that all children could benefit from a challenging curriculum. She replaced textbooks with classroom libraries of children’s literature, and allowed each child to choose a different book based on his or her interests and ability.

We mourn the passing of Judy Baum

Written by Insideschools staff Sunday, 22 December 2013 10:08

Judy Baum, who toiled for nearly 40 years to help every New York City child receive a good public education, died Friday, December 20, at the end of another day of doing the work she loved.

In what turned out to be her final blog post for Insideschools, she encouraged students and parents to visit museums, libraries and parks over the holiday break, providing a helpful link to free activities.

Only hours after the post appeared online Friday, she died of a heart attack. She was 77.

"She really was a model New York citizen—always guided by the belief that she had a perpetual stake in the success of public education," said Laura Zingmond, a friend and colleague at Insideschools. "She wanted every kid to have a safe and nurturing place to go to school."

Ask Judy: What to do over the holiday break?

Written by Judy Baum Friday, 20 December 2013 10:36

Holidays are upon us! If you are one of the lucky ones to have vacation days along with your kids -- or if you are a high school student used to travelling around the city on your own, here are some ways to enjoy your time.

Catch up on museums! This list of free museum days [PDF] was compiled by The Fund for Public Schools. It includes 28 museums, large and small, in all boroughs.

Here are some special events and exhibits, forwarded to us by District 3 Family Advocate DJ Sheppard:

For the final event of the year at El Museo del Barrio on 1230 Fifth Ave (between 104th and 105th Sts), kids can ring in the holiday season by making a crown for Three Kings Day, listening to stories and taking in a concert by El Sistema. Free for all ages on Saturday 12/21 at 11 am. 

The 31st Annual Wreath Exhibition at the Arsenal Gallery in Central Park (at 830 Fifth Ave at 64th Street) is open Monday-Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, except for city holidays.

"The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter." The main branch of the New York Public Library displays an exhibit of books from its collection celebrating the rich history of children's literature. Fifth Ave. at 42nd St. 

City Harvest Gingerbread Extravaganza at Le Parker Meridien includes gingerbread structures of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and Grand Central, on display through Jan. 6, at Le Parker Meridien (119 West 56 Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues). Visit the exhibit for free or submit your vote for the most creative confection for $1. All proceeds will go to City Harvest and all voters will be entered to win a five-night stay at the Parker Palm Springs. 

New York Transit Museum's Holiday Train Show in Grand Central Station: Grand Central Station's 12th annual Holiday Train Show includes a 34--foot-long display, festooned with miniature versions of city landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. Open through Feb. 23 in the shuttle passage off the main concourse at 42nd Street & Park Ave.

Other ideas?

Don't forget city parks. Snow makes its own fun, but there are plenty of other attractions: Ice skating, bird watching, zoos, playgrounds special events and indoor recreation centers as well. The Department of Youth and Community Development lists community centers and other local groups that offer activities for kids during school vacations.

And my favorite: check out the fanciful decorations in department store windows, and on shops and buildings up and down the main street in your borough.

We'll be back in the office and online on Jan. 2, 2014!

Happy holidays to all.

Give to Insideschools this holiday season

Written by Clara Hemphill Thursday, 19 December 2013 10:33


Did help you this year?

You may have attended one of our workshops, or called us for advice on how to find a good school for your child.

Perhaps you read one of our hundreds of school profiles, or watched a video about what to look for on school tour.

Some 160,000 New Yorkers turn to Insideschools each month. Now, at this holiday time, we are turning to you. Donations to Insideschools are tax deductible and will help us help other parents in 2014.

Insideschools is based at The New School, which provides us office space and a modest amount of in-kind support – but we depend entirely on private donations and foundation support to fund our day-to-day work informing parents, students, and everyone else about New York City’s schools.

As New York City enters a new phase of city and school leadership, you can count on Insideschools to keep you abreast of all the changes. Can we count on you to help?

Please take a moment to DONATE NOW as generously as you can, and please forward this email to others who care about our kids’ education. With your support, we can keep working hard to make sure all of our children get the best education New York City can provide.

Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season and all the best for 2014.

Clara Hemphill and the Insideschools staff

Donate Now

"Thank you so much for the work you've put into this very comprehensive tool that has become my savior."

Brandice Reyes, East Harlem parent

Pol still fighting to fill G&T seats

Written by Anna Schneider Monday, 16 December 2013 13:51

Politicians and parents in November petitioned the Education Department to let qualified children fill Gifted & Talented seats that remained empty after the October enrollment deadline. In a reply last week, the DOE refused the request, saying it would be "extremely disruptive" to schools and families to allow children to enroll now.

"Office of Student Enrollment (OSE) conducted multiple rounds of waitlist offers for available seats at G&T programs citywide," wrote a DOE official in a response to Councilwoman Gail Brewer and Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell's November letter requesting the DOE allow qualified students access to empty G&T seats at two Upper West Side schools.

The DOE said that they had conducted "multiple rounds" of waitlist offers after too few families accepted offers to fill seats at PS 163 and PS 165. 

O'Donnell disputes the DOE's explanation. "I have heard from students who scored as high as the 96th to 99th percentiles on the test, and were still given no offer, although they ranked PS 165 and PS 163 as top choices in the initial process," he wrote in response to the DOE's letter.  

O'Donnell will continue to press the DOE to open up seats. He says that schools and families do not find the post-October 31st enrollment disruptive. 

Karen Alicea-Dunn has been trying to get her son, Dylan, who scored in the 96th percentile on the G&T exam, into PS 163's G&T program for two months. In November, the school told Dunn that Dylan could enroll in the general education program -- but not the G&T. Dunn isn't worried about switching elementary school programs mid-year. "I'm ready," she said.

In late November, WNYC reported that at least 24 schools citywide still have room for more kids in their G&T programs.

Download a copy of the DOE's letter response to Brewer & O'Donnell here [PDF].

Download a copy of O'Donnell's letter here [PDF].

Message to next chancellor: Bring in parents!

Written by Pamela Wheaton Monday, 16 December 2013 10:39

by Jane Heaphy, executive director of Learning Leaders

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's goal of increasing parental involvement in schools is exciting! This is what we have been waiting to hear.

Families have a vital role to play in our schools' success. Research shows that parents who understand the school system and know how to support education at home can contribute hugely to a child's development. That's why Learning Leaders builds family-school relationships, provides interactive workshops and trains parents to volunteer in NYC public schools.

While there is increased recognition of family involvement as a key factor in children's success, more effort is needed to bring in parents. The city's recent education budget cuts and the introduction of Common Core Standards make this more important than ever. A renewed focus on families would help our students and I look forward to hearing the next chancellor's plans.

HS Hustle: Should teens start school later?

Written by Liz Willen Friday, 13 December 2013 10:22

It may be a small step, but a Queens principal became something of a hero in my eyes when he acknowledged a reality of life in high-pressure New York City high schools: Kids are exhausted and need more sleep.

Townsend Harris Principal Anthony Barbetta came up with a new policy that forbids teachers from assigning homework one day of the week or giving tests on designated odd or even days, a New York Daily News story said.

"Maybe it will give [kids] more time to perform community service or participate in extracurriculars — or even get a little more sleep," Barbetta said of the new policy

Townsend Harris is one of the most highly regarded high schools in New York City, and students say the workload is formidable.