Home away from home

Planning student housing

Leaving home for college is a big step, especially if you’re not exactly sure what to expect when you get on campus. Student housing comes in many different shapes and sizes, and even if you plan to live off campus, it’s important to prepare for life with new roommates and responsibilities. Here are a few things you can do to prepare:

  • Respect deadlines. Make sure to get your application for student housing to your college on time. If you miss the deadline, your options could be extremely limited.
  • Be honest. Many colleges pair roommates based on housing questionnaires, so you may not have much say your first year. But be honest about what you’re looking for, and chances are you’ll end up with someone who’s compatible. You can also use resources like Places for Students or Roomster to find other students in the area who might be looking for roommates.
  • Research your options. As a freshman, you may be required to live on campus in a residence hall. But take a look at other opportunities, especially for the next three years. Are you interested in joining a fraternity or sorority? Do you want to rent an apartment with some of your friends? Look into whatever you think might make the next few years memorable and comfortable.
  • Prepare for the situation. Is there a communal kitchen down the hall? Will you be sharing a bathroom with a lot of people? The more you know about your housing situation, the easier it will be for you to plan what you need, such as flip-flops for the shower or a case of Ramen noodles for those late-night study sessions.
  • Touch base with your roommate. If you can, have a conversation over the phone or by email with your future roommate or roommates. Now is a great time to decide who should bring a television or to let them know that you’ve got the mini fridge covered. Take the time to share your expectations about the coming year and to hear theirs.
  • Stay organized. No matter what your living situation is, you’ll be responsible for your space. Plan to stay on top of bill payments, any chores, and communicating with your roommate. Keeping your living environment as stress free as possible will contribute to a better experience at college.

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Options for filling in the financial gap

Planning how you are going to pay for college can be stressful, especially when your financial aid package doesn’t cover all your education costs, leaving a financial gap. This gap occurs when your college’s total Cost of Attendance exceeds the amount of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and financial aid. Here are a few options that may help bridge the gap:

  • Meet with the financial aid office. You can set up a meeting with the college’s financial aid office to explore more available options, especially if your family’s financial circumstances have changed or if there was an error in the information you submitted.
  • Look for scholarships. Use an online scholarship database like Tuition Funding Sources (TFS) to search for available local and national scholarships. You can also check around the community or with your employer and your parents’ employers for more scholarship opportunities.
  • Get a part-time job. Check if work-study is available, even if it wasn’t listed in your financial aid package. On- or off-campus employment opportunities can help pay for tuition and give you valuable professional experience.
  • Apply for additional funding. If grants, scholarships, and low-cost federal loan options don’t cover your college expenses, see if other government financing options or private student loans may help. See page 10 of the Financial Aid Journey Guide for more details.
  • Reduce your costs. Brainstorm ways you could save money. Is living at home or with relatives a possibility? Can you complete your degree in less time? What about beginning at a community college and transferring to your dream school later on?

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Counting costs

Do you have the money you need to pay for college?

One of the most important things you can do to prepare for college is to make a solid financial plan. Figuring out how you are going to pay for your education may seem like a daunting task, but taking the following 5 steps can help you estimate your college costs and the options available to help you pay for them:

  1. Complete the FAFSA. Regardless of your income, you should fill out and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. All federal financial aid and most state and institutional aid require the FAFSA to be completed.
  2. Estimate your total college costs. Use the Net Price Calculator on your college’s website or this one from The College Board to estimate your total college costs based on your personal situation. Don’t forget expenses like room and board, gas, bills, supplies, or other things while you’re tallying up costs.
  3. Determine if you need additional funding. Carefully assess all of the award letters you received to determine what the actual costs for each school would look like, and the financial aid you’ll receive.  See page 8 of Your Financial Aid Journey to figure out how much additional funding you may need.
  4. Explore additional financing options. If you do need additional funding, your college may be able to accept your tuition in installment payments, or you may be able to take out a Federal Direct PLUS Loan or a private student loan. Be sure to carefully research all of your options before making a decision that fits your situation.
  5. Know your financial aid deadlines. As you receive information from your school about enrollment and financial aid deadlines, create a checklist and keep track of time-sensitive items.

Remember, the more details you include in your plan, the more accurate your estimates will be.

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How College is Different

1974 vs. 2014

Quite a bit has changed since the 1970s, and not just your dad’s hairdo. Check out how the college experience is different today from what it was 40 years ago.

Comparing college in 1974 to 2014

College in 1974 vs. 2014

Income information taken from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Information about average undergraduate tuition, enrollment by gender, and popular bachelor degrees taken from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Coffee prices calculated with information taken from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States.

What do you find interesting about how things have changed?

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Registering for the fall semester

You’ve been accepted, you’ve made a financial plan, and now it’s time to register for classes. But how do you know where to start? Consider these tips when you’re registering for the fall semester:

  • Start with General Education classes. Even if you know which major you’d like to pursue, it’s a good idea to begin your freshman year with a few introductory courses.
  • Talk to an adviser. Most incoming students are assigned an academic adviser. This person can give you more in-depth information about the course catalogue and help you plan ahead so you don’t miss any infrequently offered classes.
  • Look up the professor. Talk to current students to find out what classes and professors they really enjoyed.
  • Carefully consider your schedule. If you’re more of a night owl, it might not be the best idea to schedule an 8:00 a.m. class. Take study and travel time, as well as jobs or other extracurricular activities, into account when you’re planning your schedule.

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Freshman orientation

What you should get out of it

For some, orientation is exciting: that moment when you realize you’re actually going to college. For others, it can seem like a chore — one more hoop to jump through before you’re actually there. But regardless of how you feel about it, there are certain things you should do during orientation to help make your initial transition and overall experience better.

Be sure to:

  • Get the lay of the land. Explore the campus and town beyond the orientation tour. You may discover a place that reminds you of home, a great local place, or just a quiet spot where you can go to relax.
  • Meet with key people. From financial concerns to scheduling classes, knowing where vital offices and administrators are can make dealing with questions a lot easier. Take some time to learn where the college’s financial aid office is, as well as your academic advisor and department head.
  • Get your accounts in order. Orientation is most likely when you’ll set up your student email, get your student ID, register for classes, purchase your parking decal, and get books — which is a lot to do.
  • Explore your interests. From sororities and fraternities to Ultimate Frisbee, there’s a good chance your college will have a club for just about anything. And because all these clubs and organizations are so available, now’s a good time to take a hobby to the next level, find a new interest, or build upon what you’re studying.
  • Learn where emergency services are. You might not need them, but it probably doesn’t hurt to know where the nearest student hospital and campus police locations are.

To help prepare for orientation, check out these considerations and this guide from HerCampus.com or take a look at this list of favorite questions from an orientation leader.

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How to make the most of your budget in college

Life is full of surprises. Maybe you have an opportunity to take a trip related to your field of study, or you’ve dropped your laptop. Since you want to be sure you have money available when you need it most, here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Stick to a budget. Living away from home means that you have the opportunity to manage your own finances. Plan how much you are going to spend each month and stick to it as much as possible. Use a free resource like Wells Fargo’s My Money Map or other resources like Mint.com to see where your money is going and keep track of your expenses.
  • Save. Create a savings account that you don’t dip into unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even if you can only afford to set aside a few dollars each month, every little bit helps. Here’s a list of ways to save while you’re in college.
  • Increase your income. Look into getting a part-time job to supplement your income and gain valuable professional experience while you get your degree. Start looking for your summer job early to secure employment for when you’re not in school.
  • Keep track of your financial aid. Some scholarships require renewal each year or may be dependent on academic achievement. Others are only a one-time gift. Make note of how much you are borrowing in loans, when they need to be repaid, and whether you need to find additional funding for next year.
  • Ask for help. Talk to your parents, a guidance counselor, or another trusted mentor. Managing money can be challenging and intimidating, especially if you’re new at it.

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Moneymaking tips for high schoolers

Make the most of your passion

It’s never too early to start planning for college. But as a high schooler, there’s one big challenge: what do you do to make money? Between studying, sports, and extracurricular activities, time can be a precious commodity.

Luckily, because of how connected and mobile we are these days, there’s a nearly endless list of ways to earn money for tuition and living expenses. It just takes a little thought. In an article featured on HerCampus.com, Janine Ko points out that you should consider your talents, passions, and resources when figuring out how to earn money for college. Depending on these factors, making money might be easier and more enjoyable than you thought.

  • If you like creating things, try selling your crafts at a local store, on Etsy, or ArtFire; or offering your artistic talents to local businesses in need of a new look or website.
  • If you’re always online, explore money-earning opportunities on YouTube and Twitter.
  • If you’re a good student, offer tutoring services for students who need a little help by taking to Twitter, putting out flyers, or working with teachers.
  • If you prefer to be out and about, use your resources to set up a service, such as using your car or bike to help neighbors with errands.
  • If you like sharing your opinions, try earning cash with one of these online survey companies.
  • If you’re interested in research and live near a university, get some firsthand experience by taking part in a paid study.
  • If you prefer to keep a consistent schedule, get a part-time job at a local shop or restaurant. It might not be glamorous, but it’s steady.
  • If you like giving back, check out jobs on craigslist and search “non-profit” or check out other classified sites for paid part-time positions with local non-profit organizations.

To find more details on the options above or to spark your own ideas, check out:

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Don’t forget to file

Last-minute paperwork for high school seniors

By now, you’ve probably selected where you’re going to school in the fall, so first off, congratulations! With that big decision out of the way, there are a few loose ends you should tie up before completely focusing on earning money and having fun this summer.

Between the end of May and the middle of June, you’ll want to:

  • Let your high school know where you are going and what scholarships you’ve received. Aside from needing the information for the graduation ceremony, high schools use this information to help evaluate their own performance and make adjustments, or earn honors and grants based on their success rates.
  • Notify the colleges you did not choose. If you are not going to attend a college that has accepted you, it’s important to let them know of your decision so they can start accepting students on their wait list.
  • Schedule summer orientation. Orientation may seem like a formality, but typically this is when you’ll begin registering for classes. So scheduling orientation as early as possible can help you get the classes you really want.
  • Send your final high school transcript. Even though this isn’t the first time your college will be seeing your high school transcript – and it’s not likely that much has changed – all colleges require a final and complete record of your high school performance. Failure to send it could even impact your ability to attend in the fall.
  • Send additional transcripts. If you took Post Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO), dual enrollment, or other courses at a nearby university or community college, you will need to have that school send a final transcript. Colleges only recognize final transcripts from the institution where the course was completed, so even though your high school transcript mentions these courses, it is not considered an official report of your performance.

Once you think you’re done with everything, it’s a good idea to follow up with your college to make sure they have what they need. It’s easy to think “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to paperwork. But things happen and letters can get lost, so be sure to check in. The last thing you want to do is find out something is missing a week before classes start.

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Celebrating Their Accomplishments

Graduation Day is a wonderful opportunity to show how proud you are of your student. But between planning a party and making sure you get the perfect picture at the ceremony, things can get overwhelming. Here are a few ideas to help you make this day unforgettable for everyone:

  • Plan a special party. This is a momentous occasion, and, whether you prefer a small or large gathering, it’s time to surround your graduate with the people he or she loves. Use a detailed party planning guide and checklist to help keep track of everything.
  • Choose a theme. Make your celebration a reflection of your student’s unique personality. Browse Pinterest, Etsy, or Party City to find great ideas for decorations, games, and treats.
  • Surprise them. Give a heartfelt speech that lets them know how proud you are and recalls the triumphs or challenges they’ve overcome.

Make memories. Create a custom hashtag so that guests can curate unforgettable moments on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You can also use a resource like Jostens®, Snapfish, or Herff Jones to make a special photo album or order a class ring.

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