For most high school seniors, the late winter/early spring days could feel like a bit of a slowdown from all the hectic activities of the fall and early winter. Way back then it seemed like there would never be enough time to complete the FAFSA, apply for financial aid, and search for scholarships. While some seniors are still trying to finish the final steps, most feel like there is nothing left to do but wait for their acceptance and financial aid letters, make the final decision, and start packing.
There are, however, still a few things left that high school seniors can do now which could make things much easier money-wise in the fall. Here are some action steps you can take during the lull between application and acceptance which might just leave you with a little more money in your pocket:
• Learn how to compare financial aid offers: The initial steps in applying to college include submitting admission applications, completing financial aid forms, and answering verification requests. The next step is that you will hopefully start to receive letters of acceptance, along with financial aid offers. For those students who have not yet settled on a college choice, these offers will have to be carefully reviewed and compared. Since this task needs to happen quickly, as most final acceptance deadlines are early in May, the best approach is to prepare in advance. Calculate the full costs of attending each college on your application list, learn what the various financial aid terms mean, and have an open discussion with your parents about how much money your family can really afford to spend on your college education.
• Look for scholarships: Not all scholarships have deadlines in November or December. Some go well into the spring and even the summer. If you think it will be very close financially between two colleges on your list, try looking for scholarships that might tip the balance for your favorite. A few hundred dollars, or even more, can make a big difference in helping to pay for travel costs, living expenses, or book purchases.
• Set a budget: One thing that boggles the mind of most college freshmen is trying to figure out how to get by on the money they have available. Most grew accustomed to having their parents as a financial safety net at home, so trying to live within a budget can be a very unsettling experience. Talk with your parents about how much money you will need to get by at college, and whether they will be able to provide enough to meet your extra money needs. If their budget is already tight with family expenses, you might have to think about earning some type of income while you are attending college classes.
• Learn about credit: Take the time to learn about the use of student loan and credit card debt, so you will understand how much of an impact borrowing money now can have on your future financial flexibility. Most college freshmen simply do not understand what it means to use credit. You need to realize that any money borrowed must be repaid with interest, and that can have many long-term consequences.
• Search for opportunities to save and earn money: The effort to close the gap between college costs and available funding can begin now. Start looking at ways to save money on college textbooks, living arrangements and travel expenses to keep those costs as low as possible. Investigate ways to earn extra money now and during the summer. You might be able to sell some things online, earn extra money with part-time work, or save up any graduation gifts you receive so that you’ll have a head start on getting money together for your freshman semester.
Be sure that you don’t let up on your academics either, even though you might feel like you are coming down with a case of senioritis. Colleges can and do rescind acceptance offers, so don’t take any chances with your future. Use this gap time wisely and you’ll be setting a solid foundation for your college career.