The summer before your senior year of high school should definitely be packed with fun, but also with a steady stream of college application activities. If you are applying to any colleges using an early action or early decision application, you need to check their deadlines and make sure you have enough time to complete all the necessary requirements.
If you have not yet visited any college campuses, make that a top priority for this summer. An on-site visit is really the best way to get a feel for the campus itself. While there may not be as many students there during the summer, you should still be able to meet with some department personnel, the admissions office, and the financial aid office. You should be prepared to obtain information from all of these resources. After your trip, write down all the answers you receive to your questions as well as your overall impressions of the school, to help you make better decisions once you begin applying. Here are a few questions you definitely want to ask the financial aid office during your college visits:
• What does it really cost to attend this college? Although they probably cannot provide an exact figure for how much it will cost you, they do have a very good handle on what current students spend to attend. Of course, you want to hear about the tuition, room and board, and meal plans, but you also want to find out how they apply to the typical student. How much are students paying for books and fees? Do most students live on campus and participate in the meal plan? What is the cost of living in the surrounding community so you know how much of an entertainment budget you might need? During your trip, also be sure to keep track of your costs, so that you can allow for several trips back and forth from home during the year.
• What is the typical financial aid package? Again, this will be different for every student, but try to understand how much money is available for merit-based and need-based awards, and determine whether you might qualify for either. Get a firm grasp on how much of their financial aid is through the federal work-study program or federal student loans. Confirm that the amount of financial aid you receive will be consistent for all four years.
• What is the average student loan burden upon graduation? How much do students typically borrow to attend this school? Other questions to ask include how many students continue after their freshman year, what percentage of students graduate in four years, and what percentage of students find employment in their chosen career fields? These answers provide good indicators of the school’s ability to educate and graduate accomplished students.
The campus visit can be both fun and serious. Make sure you have your questions in mind so you can get the answers you need.