As every good student knows, preparation is important for educational success. It is just as important to include financial preparation when making your college selection. Even if your first year of college is years away, it's never too soon to explore financial options that may be available to you.
Know Your Costs
When selecting a college, it's important to know how much it will cost. Colleges can vary dramatically in cost and often costs increase from year to year. Costs to consider when selecting a college include:
- Books and supplies
- Housing and meal plan (board)
Not only should you be aware each school's annual costs, but when the fees will be due.
Know Your Aid Options
Financial aid can help you pay for college. Types of financial aid include:
- Loans (which must be repaid)
It's never too soon to prepare academically. Excellence in academics can lead to scholarships to help pay for college. Scholarships are a form of financial aid often based on merit or academic achievement. You do not have to repay scholarships. Scholarships may be awarded for a limited time or for up to four years of college, and can be used to pay all or specific college costs.
Use the following resources to research scholarship opportunities:
Middle or High School Advisors and Teachers
Did you know that some schools provide programs that monitor your academic achievement from middle through high school, and successful completion can pay for tuition of the college you plan to attend? School administrators may be aware of scholarships offered through your school district or Board of Education.
Civic or Social Organizations
If you or your family belong to or participate in any civic or social organizations, this may be a source for scholarships. Activities such as scouting, athletics, theater, work, or religious affiliations may provide scholarship possibilities.
Scholarship Web Searches
You can obtain access to scholarship information through Web searches. Some searches may allow you to set profile information (areas of educational and/or personal interest) to provide scholarships based upon your profile data. It is advised to only consider searches that do not require a fee for information.
Grants, Loans and Work
Financial aid from the federal and state governments are often in the form of grants, loans, and work-study. The primary application for grant, loan and work-study consideration is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Although students attending college cannot officially file the FAFSA until January 1 of the year they plan to attend college, students can use the free FAFSA4caster to estimate their eligibility for federal student aid.
Working before college and/or during college is a way to help college become affordable. Setting goals to earn and save money for educational expenses, as well as personal expenses, can also help offset loan options. Even money earned from babysitting or working after school or summer jobs can not only help financially, but can also be considered as extracurricular activities on scholarship applications. Working can also prepare you for the skills needed to enter the workforce after your college education is complete.
You can obtain the most current information regarding financial aid by contacting the financial aid office of the college you plan to attend. Include in your financial aid preparation a visit to the financial aid office to speak with a financial aid professional to get details on eligibility requirements for financial aid and scholarships.
If you are considering more than one college, then you will want to contact each college separately. Applications and deadline dates may vary by college, as well as criteria for financial aid and scholarships. Do not assume deadlines and awards at one college will be the same for all colleges.