With deadlines rapidly approaching, it’s time for high school seniors and their parents to check off more items on their college financial aid to-do list. Very soon you will be reviewing the financial aid offers you receive from potential colleges and trying to make the best choice for your family and your student. Here are some things you can do in February to make that decision easier:
• Take a Moment: First, just breathe and relax. You have come a long way in a short time, and should be very proud of what you have already accomplished. Don’t put more focus on what has yet to be done than on what you have already completed. Spend some “down” time with your child, too. This has been very stressful for him or her as well, and there is still a lot of uncertainty on the road ahead. Let your child know how proud you are, and that you are happy to be participating in this next grand adventure.
• Review the FAFSA One Last Time: That is probably the last thing you want to hear after putting all that work into completing the FAFSA in the first place. But take a few moments to review your application one more time. Make sure you have supplied the correct tax information for 2014, check that the name and social security number match official government documents, and review the list of schools that have been selected to receive your information.
• Get Financial Aid Savvy: A better understanding of the financial aid process will help you make smarter choices. The FAFSA is only the first step, the application. Based on the information you supplied you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which will list your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This will give you an idea of the amount of money you will be expected to pay, but it is not the final answer until you receive a letter of acceptance and financial aid award letter from each prospective college.
• Start Calculating: Each college should supply you with an estimated Cost of Attendance (COA), which is based on what it costs most students to attend that school. Make sure their figures are accurate for travel expenses from your home, actual living arrangements, and miscellaneous out-of-pocket expenses. The financial aid award letter will inform you of any grants and scholarships the college is offering. Subtract this from the total costs, and also subtract any other scholarships you acquired. The remaining amount is a good indicator of your out-of-pocket costs for each college.
• Learn About Loans: Many colleges include student loan estimates in their financial aid package, but you don’t have to just take what is offered. Learn about the differences between federal student loans and private student loans. Start researching what private lenders, such as Discover Student Loans, have to offer.
You’re in the home stretch. Use February to give yourself a financial aid education and you’ll make more informed college choices.