Another school year is quickly coming to an end. High school seniors are getting ready to graduate and move on to their college dreams, while juniors might still have a long road ahead of them. These students will deal with the FAFSA online availability of October 1, 2019 for the 2020-2021 academic year.
That means a lot more decisions will need to be made this summer. One way to gather necessary information is to take a few road trips and actually visit some of the colleges you have in mind. Talk to your parents about scheduling visits to your top candidates around family vacations, over a long weekend, or in conjunction with a school’s open house. You’ll want to get a feel for the campus and your particular area of study, but make sure you also spend time with the financial aid office and get answers to these crucial questions:
• How much does it really cost to attend this college? Most colleges have a published cost of attendance, but ask about costs over and above this amount that might put a strain on your budget. Think about whether you will be living in the dorms, off-campus, or commuting, and how that will affect your costs. See if you like the available meal plans, or if you might need to buy and cook your own food. Find out about book costs and entertainment expenses.
• What is a typical financial aid offer? They can’t give you an answer about your particular situation until they see your completed FAFSA, but they can give you an idea of what most students receive. Ask about need-based and merit-based opportunities. Find out how much of their financial aid comes in the form of work-study programs and federal student loans.
• How long does the financial aid last? Some colleges have a nice financial aid offer to motivate you to enroll as a freshman, but the package amount decreases for the sophomore year. Ask about the second year of financial aid as well. Try to determine how many students drop out after the first year, and see how long it takes to graduate. If it takes longer than four years, does the financial support continue?
• What are the job prospects from this college? If you will be taking on federal or private student loans to attend this college, you want to be sure you will have the financial wherewithal to repay them upon graduation. How many students get jobs from this school, and what do those jobs pay?
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