It’s an exciting time for sure. My granddaughter is the first of our 10 (and counting) grandkids to adventure on her own. And boy it’s gonna be an adventure. She’s applied to eighteen colleges and there are many invites for interviews, campus tours and all that goes with that. But.. then what?
The dorms are a biggy I know, but you should add the financial aid office to the list for every campus tour. It’s an essential stop to get your financial aid questions answered. Be prepared, its a lot of information and each campus student aid office may have something to add to the last one you visited. So don’t skimp and skip it.
Many colleges now have “kiosk” at the aid office. You may be surprised many offer “online kiosks” to help. Crazy, huh? Whatever happened to good old paper pen and a calculator?
The average undergraduate took out more than $4,400 in federal student loans for the 2018-19 school year. That’s a lot of money depending on a few clicks on the Kiosk machine. You can sit in an office with someone, but it may mean you will have to come back. It’s worth it even if it costs another night at a hotel. Once you have your appointment, be sure to know what questions to ask the financial aid adviser.
Financial Aid Questions to Ask During Your College Tour
1. What’s Your Priority Deadline for the FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is essential if you’re applying for financial aid. The opening date each year is Oct. 1, but each college has its own deadline.
But waiting until the last minute to submit the form means you’ll be the last to receive consideration. The “priority” deadline for your school maybe just a few days after the FAFSA opens.
2. Are there Merit-Based Scholarships I Qualify For?
If you don’t qualify for need-based financial aid, merit-based scholarships are your best way to avoid student loan debt.
But even if you qualify for subsidized student loans (which don’t accrue interest while you’re in school), every scholarship you qualify for is additional money for college that you don’t need to pay back.
And the time to ask about scholarships is before you receive your acceptance letter. They likely will be saying if you haven’t applied when you’ve been admitted, then I’m assuming you don’t need it.
During the meeting, it’s important to ask how much the average merit-based scholarship is to help you anticipate its impact on your tuition bill. Don’t assume you can’t qualify if you’re not graduating at the top of your class. Ask what are the SAT requirements, what are the GPA requirements. If you are a few points off you can retake the SATs.
3. What Additional Fees can there be?
Among the hidden costs of college, the financial aid office should be able to tell you if there are other fees you should be aware of associated with your particular major. Sometimes there is expensive equipment (like aviation) or pricy materials you’ll need to buy separately (like art supplies).
And although you may have an idea of the costs and budget for your freshman year, you’ll want to ask about upperclassmen credit hour costs (which are often higher to cover the expense of smaller classes).
If you don’t, you may find your financial aid package is short as you progress through your college years.
4. What Is It Going to Cost Me to Live Here?
Although the campuses may start to look the same if you go on enough tours, getting specific information about the cost of living is particularly important if you’re moving away from home for the first time.
If you’re not familiar with the area, the financial aid office is a great person to talk to. Get an idea of what is it going to cost you to live there:
- What is the typical cost of meal plans and what does the average student use?
- Is cooking allowed in the dorms? Is there a community kitchen? Where can you buy food?
- If you aren’t bringing a car, what are the average costs for public transportation? What geographic area does public transportation cover and what is its hours?
- What is the cost of entertainment ( like a movie ticket )?
Arm yourself with knowledge so you can budget your costs. A part-time job may be feasible depending on your schedule and college credit load.
5. What’s the Average Student Loan Debt for Graduates in My Major?
By using platforms like the College Scorecard, you can discover how much student loan debt the average student in your major graduates compared to first-year salaries.
Meeting with the financial aid office, you can get to specifics like how long it’s taking the you to pay off debt.
6. What If I Accept More Student Loan Money Than I Need?
You may be worried about not getting enough financial aid to pay for college. But what if you get too much?
Your college will receive your student loan or scholarship money first to cover tuition and fees. It will issue a check at the start of the semester for any money that’s leftover.
I hope this information is helpful for the beginning of the college journey. Once you get this basic information, the rest will fall into place. Good Luck!