09 Mar Financial Aid Questions for Campus Visits
As a smart high school junior, you have probably already scheduled some campus visits to your top-choice college possibilities. This can be a very exciting time as you get your first up-close and personal interactions with some of your dream schools. You want to meet everyone, see everything, and find out about campus activities that might be of special interest to you. In the midst of all this fun, though, don’t forget that you have a very specific purpose for visiting this college – you want to find out if it is the right fit for you.
You also need to get a handle on whether you and your family will be able to afford each individual college. Think about the money you just invested during this trip and multiply that by a couple of visits home during the year. Most families don’t even take this into consideration when they are putting together a college budget. Although your visit should definitely include stops at the admissions office, and chats with some professors and students in your possible major, make absolute certain that you check in at the financial aid office, too. Whether or not you think you may qualify for financial aid, this is a crucial part of your fact-finding mission. Plan for this meeting like you might plan for a future job interview. Have plenty of questions ready to go, and make sure you have a way of tracking responses. Here are some key questions you will need to ask financial aid officers that will help you decide whether it makes sense financially for you to apply to this college:
• Is financial aid need-based or merit-based? Financial aid is not always based on your financial need; sometimes it is based on your academic merits. Knowing the difference can help direct you to a college that is the proper fit so you will be able to secure the most financial aid possible. Need-based financial aid reflects your family’s financial position. If your family is not wealthy, it makes sense to look at need-based institutions. Size of college may not even matter, as some extremely appealing college choices have substantial financial aid resources. Merit-based means that money is awarded based on the applicant’s skill set, and financial need is not taken into consideration. If you have strong academic, athletic, or artistic skills, it might be more effective to search for merit-based financial aid schools.
• What are your deadlines? There are many types of admissions and financial aid deadlines, so you need to definitely clarify the specific deadlines at each college. Ask them exactly when they need financial aid applications completed to be eligible for institutional, state and federal financial aid, and then set your own mental schedule to get everything submitted about a week ahead of time.
• What are your financial aid particulars? You want a clear picture of how many students actually receive financial aid, how much they receive, and how many years they receive it. You also want to find out how many students actually graduate in four years, and what percentage of students go on to find jobs where they can earn enough to repay any student loans they acquired. These are all crucial factors to take into your calculations as you and your parents decide which school is the right fit for you.
• What else can I do? Sometimes the financial aid office is aware of additional opportunities that might make the money difference for you. Do they know of potential employment opportunities that can bring in a little more money, or are there additional scholarships they might recommend?
Get college smart before you even set foot in a classroom. Use your campus visits to gather information you can use to carefully weigh your options, and determine whether each choice makes financial sense. Learn more about paying for college in my book, Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro, which also contains information on completing the FAFSA, applying for financial aid, saving for college, and repaying student loans. Order it now and learn how to get more actionable data out of college visits.
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