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    what you need to know about paying for college

    What You Need To Know About Paying For College

    Posted August 19, 2021, 1:46 pm by Sara-Jean Gilbert

    The following TeenLife Blog features key information for students in the middle of their college application process. For more great resources, check out the presentations from the recent TeenLife LIVE College Prep Expo.

    Choosing the right college or university for you can be a stressful process, and paying for college can add to that stress. Anytime we add conversations about money to any process it becomes more stressful. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Truthfully, very few are comfortable with this conversation.

    Ready or not, it is time to start thinking about paying for college. It is so important to have this conversation with your family early and often throughout your college search. There is no “one right way” to pay for college because everyone’s financial situation is different. There are no “quick tips” or “simple steps” to follow. However, I will share tools with you, share advice, and you can use these tools to make paying for college a less stressful process. So, let’s talk about it!

    The first thing we need to do is talk about is the cost of attendance. To do that let’s define a few terms: sticker price, net price, and actual cost.

    Sticker Price

    Sticker price is the full cost of attendance (tuition, room and board, and fees) before scholarships and financial aid are applied. Sticker price can be found on school websites, under tuition and fees. It can be a scary number (particularly with regard to private schools).

    Advice: Don’t dismiss a school based solely on the sticker price. Remember, the sticker price only refers to cost, and does not include aid that the school or the federal and state governments offer you in financial aid.

    Net Price: Your Actual Cost

    Sticker price - financial aid = net price. Understanding your actual cost of attendance can take some time, it will require some patience and persistence.

    An example for calculating your net price: $45,000 (sticker price listed on school’s website) - $20,000 (financial aid like scholarships, grants, and loans) = $25,000 per year (net price, your actual cost to attend).

    How to Find Your Actual Cost of Attendance?

    To find your net price you will need to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) if you are able to or file an alternative application if you or your parents do not have status in the United States. When you file the FAFSA add the colleges and universities on your list and your FAFSA information will be shared with each of those schools. Those schools will put together financial aid offers which will include all financial aid: scholarships, grants, and federal loans that you qualify for based on your family’s financial need and your estimated family contribution.

    Use Your Resources

    Once the financial aid offer is shared with you, look through it carefully and compile your questions. Take time to talk with someone at the college or university who can walk you through the financial aid offer. No questions are stupid. Talking through the financial aid offer will help you and your family to best understand your aid. Ask your questions, use your resources.

    Advice: When you talk with someone at the college or university about your financial aid offer, ask about fees. Ask if all fees are included or what fees can be expected to be added before you receive your first tuition bill.

    Compare Your Financial Aid Offers

    Each college or university has different ways to meet demonstrated financial need (based on FAFSA or alternative applications). Gather your financial aid offers and compare the costs. Take some time to have a catch up with your family about your plans for paying for college. Add these details to your list of schools.

    Advice: Use a Google Sheet to note each school’s financial aid offer so you can see the net price amounts side by side. This will help you to stay organized and not confuse the costs between the schools on your list.

    Focusing on Value: The Visit and More

    There is a myth that your college search must be a logical and pragmatic process that should not be swayed by emotion or feelings. While certain parts of the search should be very logical and pragmatic, like paying for college, it is important to visit schools so you can determine the value.

    Value refers to what your college experience will be worth when you graduate. The college or university should let you know what experiences and opportunities you will receive when you attend. When you visit, the value should be clear. If not, ask about opportunities for students outside of the classroom that enhance their experience. Take note of everything on your visit, especially how you feel when you are on campus.

    Advice: Use your Admission Counselors as a resource. They can help you find information about anything at their college or university. As an Admission Counselor, it is my job to help you through your college search process. We are excellent resources, please ask your questions, take us up on our offers to help.

    Paying Your Bill

    Before making your decision about where to go to college your cost of attendance should be very close to what you and your family can afford. Once you know what that number is it is time to decide how you and your family will pay. Will you use savings, loans, or college payment plans, or other sources? Make sure you are part of the decision and you know your family’s financial situation.

    Advice: If you are very interested in a school but the cost of attendance is out of reach there are often requests that you can make from the school for additional aid. Check with your Admission Counselor to find out more. The school may be able to offer additional financial aid.

    Figuring out how to pay for college and understanding all the elements of paying for college is very difficult. Stay organized, keep gathering information, use your resources, and find the value in the schools on your list. It’s time to get started!

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    Sara-Jean Gilbert

    Sara-Jean Gilbert

    Sara-Jean Gilbert has been dedicated to enrollment management and student transition for 11 years: 8 years at Northern Arizona University and 3 years at Illinois College. Helping students achieve their dreams of going to college is the absolute best. She has a Masters degree in Student Development in Higher Education from the University of Denver and a Bachelors degree in Communication Studies from Seattle University. She lives in Jacksonville, IL with her family.