7 Smart Steps to Get You to College
1. Choose which colleges you'll apply to.  First, the obvious choices:

  • Your local community college
  • A nearby state college or university

Why “obvious?”  It’s all about the money.  These schools are funded largely by your state.  All else equal, they are likely to be your most economical choices.  (Please note:  In many cases, all else is not equal!)


After that, online searches are often better than visiting college fairs.   In any case, don't attend a college fair without first researching which schools there you want to look into.  Otherwise you’re likely to wander aimlessly, waste your time, and spend time visiting with college reps who have the best flag, the prettiest smile, or the glossiest brochures.


2. Don't apply where you want to go.  Apply where they want you.  (Or do both!)  This might sound like odd advice, but remember this.  When financial aid is allocated, you’ll have a better shot at getting more aid at a college that considers you a top prospect.


3. Complete the FAFSA as soon as you can.  This will usually mean on or about October 1st for the following school year.  Why worry about federal, state, and college specific deadlines that will often vary?  Just do it as soon as you can, or within a couple of weeks of October 1st, and you’re almost sure to be ahead of the game!

4. Begin a two front search for scholarships.
  • Sharpen your awareness and develop a process for identifying local scholarships.  These are often your best shot.
  • Register with one or two scholarship search sites.  Fastweb.com or Scholarships.com would be good choices.
Still feel lost on this subject?  Check out my scholarship guide!


5. Talk to your counselor about articulation agreements and what they mean to you.  Specifically, how they can dramatically lower the cost of a four-year degree and make admissions much less complex and stressful!


6. Come up with some numbers and work the math.  Try to get a feel for the long term cost of student loans of varying amounts.  This isn’t so hard.  Suppose you borrow $7,000 a year for 4 years.  That’s $28,000.  Throw in a little interest and you’re at $30,000.    


Finance that over 10 years at 5.5% (your rate could be higher or lower) and the monthly payment is $325.58 a month.  In the course of that 10 years, your payments would include $9,070 in interest.  This, of course, is just one example.  You'll want to run the numbers for yourself based on how much you're likely to borrow, interest rates available, and any other relevant variables.


7. Prepare to evaluate student aid reports (SARs) in light of each college’s cost of attendance (COA).  This will prevent you from being blinded by the appeal of large grants/loans which are more than offset by a high cost of attendance.  It’s the bottom line that counts!


(OK, 8.  I couldn’t resist this add-on!)


8. If you haven't started your senior year yet, talk to your counselor about maximizing free or low-cost college credits that you can earn before you graduate high school.  They may very well represent the very best value you’ll ever find in higher education.


ONE MORE THING:


For those of you “on the fence” about applying to your local community college, please check out how some of the numbers might stack up.  The easiest way to do that is to check out my free Choose Community College.

AND THE LAST THING:

If you haven't left me your email address--no problem! On the other hand, if you'd like .pdf copies of this page or others (including my scholarship guide) please submit your email address below. I'll put you on my list and get these out to you.

Thanks for reading!

Tim

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