Preparing to head off to college in the fall is a big, hairy deal. There are way, way, way too many details to keep organized. One detail that tends to get overlooked: paying for tuition.
Odd isn’t it? Most students would consider this a lynch-pin of attending college. Nonetheless, not one student is going to forget their cell phone this fall, but thousands will show up on campuses not completely sure how they are going to pay the tuition bill. It amazes financial aid offices around the country how many students fail to take care of this critical detail.
During recent conversations with financial aid professionals, I posed a simple question: “What do you wish parents and students would do or know to make the financial aid process easier?”
The answers were surprisingly consistent as they are relatively simple. [Climbs up on soap box]:
- Apply early. The FAFSA is available after January 1st every year. If you have even an inkling that you will be attending college during the next academic year, complete it. This gets federal and some state aid started — however, the beginning of the school year is when to consider applying for a private student loan if you need more funds.
- Educate yourself about the financial aid process. This website is a great place to start.
- Tuition needs to be arranged for or paid before classes start. Think of it as buying a tangible product rather than paying later for a service rendered. Starting an academic year is stressful enough without having to worry about being behind on tuition.
- Understand how loans work. Time and time again students are looking at the short term picture to the detriment of the future. Most loans have terms of at least 10 years. Be sure to research your options and shop wisely.
- Read the information your college is providing you, please. Most questions will be answered before they are even asked. (I heard this more than any other suggestion.)
- Take responsibility! “No one told me!” and “My parents take care of that stuff” are the excuses you should have left in grade school. This is your education and your future — the stakes are significant.
Eliminate a potential cause of stress this fall and deal with your financial aid and tuition bill today. [Steps down from soap box.]
That’s it for now — if you have any questions, please let me know. And enjoy the rest of your summer and best wishes for a successful school year!