Graduate from college with less debt…do your homework!

Congrats! Those first steps of writing essays, paying application fees and sending transcripts are done. Phew! Now you can sit back, relax and wait for those acceptance packets to start rolling in, right?  Wait, don’t start relaxing yet! We know you are the type of incoming freshmen who wants to graduate with less debt—so listen up. Now is the perfect time to begin growing your understanding of the Financial Aid world.  We are here to guide you through the months between applying to college and receiving Federal Financial Aid to go to college.  So what can you do now to help better understand the “ticket price” of your future education?

Step 1) Do your research! –Know how much it currently costs a student to attend the Universities you’re interested in. Keep in mind amounts for the 2013-14 academic year have not been set. You should be concerned over the four direct costs to attending college. They are:

1.      Tuition and Fees

2.      Housing

3.      Food Plan (board)

4.      Books

See you’re already more financially aware. Baby steps!

Step 2) Now take those totals and use them to help you figure out how much you may need to pay out of pocket. Again, keeping in mind that the cost of attendance you researched is for this academic year and will likely increase. You can calculate an estimated Financial Aid Award using the FAFSA4Caster: https://fafsa.ed.gov/FAFSA/app/f4cForm

Remember this is not your official application for student aid. You can begin completing your FAFSA, or FREE Application for Federal Student Aid, beginning on January 1, 2013. This application will be your access to Federal and State aid including grants and student loans.

Step 3) Now that you’ve seen an estimated guess regarding the amount you may need to pay out of pocket, let’s talk SCHOLARSHIPS! Almost all scholarship applications are due six to nine months prior to the award year they are for.  Time is of the essence! Let’s get started:

  • Contact your prospective colleges to learn about the institutional scholarships available. Most will be determined by academic criteria (GPA & ACT score). Some may require a separate application form and others may use the admissions application.
  • Set up a meeting with your HS guidance counselor!  Many high schools have generous alumni who have set up scholarship funds.  These are worth your while because most likely only students from the school district are eligible!
  • Check with community businesses and organizations such as credit unions, local grocery stores, or others like your local Red Cross. 
  • Use search engines, like www.studentaid.ed.gov, provided by the U.S. Dept of Labor to search for available outside scholarships.