It’s time for Florida Bright Futures!
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus! Particularly if you happen to be a college-bound resident of Florida. Funded by the State Lottery, every year the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) hands out an impressive amount of cash to high school graduates heading off to college. But, just like you have to earn your Christmas presents by being good, in order to qualify for this free money, you have to meet a small list of criteria. The good news is that these guys really want to support higher education so they offer three separate programs to attract as many potential shining stars as possible to complete postsecondary education and keep Florida bright.
Created in 1997, the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program has assisted hundreds of thousands of young Floridians in pursuing postsecondary education, both academic and vocational. Initially, the program paid a fixed percentage (100% to be precise) of the college fees as well as contributing towards the cost of books. Over the past few years, however, the form of payment has been changed to a fixed-dollar amount calculated on a cost per credit hour basis. With college fees ever increasing, the percentage covered by the Bright Futures Scholarship has decreased to about 75%. Though the scholarship no longer covers the full cost of college tuition, this can still prove to be very helpful in keeping college-incurred debts down.
The Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program offers three different scholarships to assist successful Florida high school graduates to go to college. The top scholarship in this program is the Florida Academic Scholars (FAS) award followed by the Florida Medallion Scholars (FMS) award and the Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholars (GSV) award. All three scholarships are only available to Florida residents who have attended a Florida high school and will be enrolling in an eligible Florida college. There is funding for both part-time and full-time college attendance. While most of the recipients of these awards will be attending university straight after graduating from high school, some students may choose to delay their studies. These students should still apply for a Florida Bright Futures scholarship as eligible students have up to three years from high school graduation to begin using the scholarship.1 Once you have been awarded a Florida Bright Futures scholarship and have started to attend college, you can continue to receive the award each year while you earn your baccalaureate degree if you maintain your GPA.
Though it takes some navigating to find all the specific information on this program, the Florida Student Scholarship and Grants website run by the Florida Department Of Education (FDOE) does provide you with complete details of the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship program as well as information on many other financial aid options. To learn about the eligibility requirements for the three Bright Futures scholarships, your first click after entering the website at http://www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org/ssfad/bf/ is Programs Offered. Here you have the option to click on Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program that will take you to a fact sheet telling you all you need to know about eligibility, applying, and award procedures. There is a tick list of initial eligibility requirements stating that the applicant must be a Florida resident; a U.S. citizen (or eligible non-citizen); must not owe any outstanding debts on state or federal grant, loan, or scholarship program; and must meet specific coursework and minimum GPA and test score requirements. Students applying for the FAS award must carry a 3.0 GPA and have achieved a minimum SAT score of 1270, or 28 on the ACT. Students applying for FMS award must carry a 2.75 GPA and have a minimum SAT score of 980 or 21 on the ACT. Applicants for the GSV award must also carry a 2.75 GPA and must earn a minimum score of 440 on each section (Critical Reading and Math) of the SAT, or a minimum of 17 on English, 18 on Reading and 19 on Math on the ACT. Getting good grades isn’t everything though – you must get good grades in specific classes, so be sure to check the course requirements early (as early as grade 9 if you can!) and allow yourself plenty of time to take the necessary classes. As well as reaching these academic targets, students intending to apply for a Florida Bright Futures scholarship need to also rack up a minimum number of hours performing community services.2
If you have met all the requirements and are hoping to receive a Florida Bright Futures scholarship, it is a good idea to apply early as the funds are finite and can run out depending on the number of applicants. Students should apply during their final year of high school any time between December 1st when the Florida Office of Student Financial Assistance opens up the application process and the date of graduation. If at all possible, try to get your application in before Christmas to maximize your chances of being awarded a scholarship. Remember, this is certainly the case when sooner is better, as scholarship funds are not bottomless.
Start the application process by completing the Initial Student Florida Financial Aid Application (FFAA) online at www.FloridaStudentFinancialAid.org. This application gives the FDOE permission to evaluate the applicant’s high school transcripts for eligibility for a Florida Bright Futures Scholarship.3 Though the Florida Bright Futures scholarship is merit based and not offered according to financial need,students must now also complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The application requires families to provide tax data, including documented earnings for the previous year. Any one who neglects to submit a complete, error-free FAFSA will not be considered for a Florida Bright Scholars award. The rest of the application process can also be completed on line. Be sure to keep an eye on your application status to make sure that all your information has been properly submitted (your transcripts and test results should be submitted automatically if you have provided all the correct information) and to find out if you have been successful in your application. The final determination and information on how to access your award, if you are successful, will be posted on your Initial Student Florida Financial Aid Application (FFAA) record.
Whether you are a high school freshman or in your senior year, if you live in Florida and have worked hard at your studies, it is definitely worth a visit to the Florida Student Financial Aid website to see if you are eligible for some free money. The Florida Bright Futures programs offer thousands of Florida students each year the opportunity to attend college at very little personal expense. If you are a high school senior and think you meet the necessary criteria, start your application process on December 1st and it may just start to feel like Christmas for you this year!
1 “Go Higher Florida, Education Pays.” Facts.org. (08/11/11)
2 Florida Student Scholarship & Grant Programs. Florida Student Financial Aid.org (6/11/11)
3 “How and When to Apply.” Florida Student Scholarship & Grant Programs. Florida Student Financial Aid.org (6/11/11)