College Board Forum 2023

Fund Your Future: Watch What Happens Live

On November 1, College Board Forum attendees got a behind-the-scenes look at BigFuture® Live, tuning in for a timely conversation on funding your future alongside more than 6,000 virtual registrants.

BigFuture Live launched in 2022 to offer students and families the opportunity to get their questions on college and careers answered. Over the past year, more than 100,000 people have registered for over 30 virtual community events on career exploration, college planning, and financial aid. And feedback from students shows they’re looking for the practical guidance provided by these events to help them plan their next step after high school.

The session, “Fund Your Future: Financial Aid and Scholarships,” spotlighted the many ways students and families can make college more affordable. From scholarships to federal aid and loans, the discussion ensured that BigFuture students and families were aware of the options and how to best navigate them. 

Questions centered around two primary topics as panelist Karla Weber Wandel of the University of Wisconsin-Madison reminded viewers, “You don’t actually know what you're eligible for until you start applying─so apply to find out.”

Q: What criteria do students need to meet to be eligible for funding?

A common misconception is that scholarships and financial aid are only available to certain students. Panelists clarified that financial aid can be categorized as merit-based or need-based. 

Merit-based financial aid is generally awarded to students based on their personal achievements. With merit-based aid, many colleges will determine a student’s eligibility during the college application process based on application information shared. Private scholarships are generally merit-based. Those can be explored using the scholarship database of 23,000 scholarships on BigFuture that offer $1.5 billion per year in funding.

Need-based aid is typically awarded based on a family’s financial circumstances and the information shared on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).  As our panelists continued the discussion about need-based aid, the conversation turned to the 2024-2025 FAFSA application anticipated to open December 2023. The process generally requires students to partner with their parents or guardians, so having conversations about the financial aid process early is important. The 2024-25 FAFSA is changing to provide a better experience for families, and we’re also hearing that the 2024-25 changes will expand the Federal Pell Grant Program to more students. 

Q: What should families be doing now to help fund students’ future?

Families were encouraged to explore two actions: (1) Create their Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) to apply for federal funding before the FAFSA opens in December and (2) explore the CSS Profile®. Information included in the CSS Profile can be used for need-based aid. Even if students don’t believe they may qualify for aid, completing the FAFSA gets them started on the process should finances unexpectedly change. “And you can make a friend in financial aid to make sure that you have all the information you need going forward,” said Pam Mason of Johns Hopkins University. Financial aid counselors at colleges and universities are ready and willing to help you navigate the process.

After the live event with students, Forum attendees had the opportunity to share feedback on the BigFuture Live program. Mason highlighted the value of the short Q&A format, which forces panelists to provide clear, concise information that’s digestible on topics that can be complex and difficult to understand. Attendees recommended repackaging content and personalizing event topics based on where students are in the planning and preparation process. Before closing, attendees were encouraged to volunteer to participate as content experts at upcoming BigFuture Live events and to spread the word within their communities.

It’s clear that BigFuture Live is so much more than a 45-minute conversation. It offers the team invaluable insight to ensure that the content and guidance available on BigFuture continues to be responsive to students’ questions and needs.