As winter turns into spring, thoughts of high school juniors should be turning to making college choices. Beyond the goal of finding a college that offers an exciting learning environment, you also want to be sure it is one you will like and can afford. The best way to determine this is by the campus visit. This gives you the chance to get a hands-on feel you really can’t get from a website or social media. See if you like the atmosphere on campus, and then talk to as many people as you can – administrators, professors, students, and the financial aid office. Here are four financial aid questions you must ask on your first campus visit to elicit the information you need to make a sound money decision:
1. What is the financial outcome of this college? You want to find the financial benefit of being a graduate of this college. Ask what percentage of the freshman class graduates, how many years the average student takes to graduate, how many graduates get jobs in their chosen career fields, and what salary they earn in their first year. More than anything, college is an investment and you want to make sure yours is solid.
2. Can I count on the same financial aid every year? Some colleges may make an impressive first-year offer to entice you to enroll, and then cut back in the second or third year. Also ask what happens if you decide to take classes over the summer, study abroad for a semester, switch majors, or need to attend more than four years. Try to think of all the possible variables in your education, and make sure you will have the money available to pay for those choices.
3. What do I have to do to maintain my level of financial aid? This is where you want to take a look into the future. Try to understand how the college’s costs might increase over the next four years, and think about whether the amount of financial aid will be able to keep up. Ask if you are required to maintain a certain number of course hours, whether work-study is available, and if outside scholarships could affect your financial aid package.
4. What is the average amount of student loan borrowing for your students? This gives you an idea of how much money you and your parents will have to borrow to afford this college. Find out how much the average student borrows in federal student loans each year, and ask whether that includes the amount their parents borrow or any private student loans.
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