(BPT) - Senior year: It's a time to finish college applications, solidify friendships and look forward to the freedom and the responsibility that come once that final bell rings. A lot of feelings surface during that final year, especially for parents. While your son or daughter might be overjoyed to finally fly the coop and live independently, you'll probably be dealing with your own mix of emotions, and you'll want to be sure they're ready to begin college in the fall.
For families with a child headed to college, senior year is best thought of as a transition year. Plan ahead to make sure your family stays on track.
To help you and your child with a successful transition, here's the essential list of landmarks on the road that will take your child from a senior in high school to a freshman in college.
1. Apply yourself in the fall
The journey to college begins early, and by the fall of senior year in high school, your child should be in full transition mode. They should be finishing campus visits and finalizing the list of colleges where they want to apply. Make sure they've spoken with admission counselors, thoroughly researched schools they're interested in and have everything they need to complete their college applications.
Keep tabs on important deadlines and stay organized to avoid missing any critical due dates. For example, will they want to apply early decision or early action? If so, make sure you have weighed how this could impact your financial plan for college.
2. Focus on financial aid from the start
For many parents, one of the biggest anxieties around college is the cost. Don't forget that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens on Oct. 1, and some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure you submit the form as soon as it's available.
Because everyone has different needs, figuring out how to finance your child's education requires some research.
At College Ave Student Loans, you can find private loan options for parents and students. Even if you're not ready to take a loan out yet, parents and students can try out the fast and easy pre-qualification tools to find out if their credit pre-qualifies for a loan, and what interest rates they could expect, all without impacting their credit scores. Calculators are also available to help you explore your options and see how you can customize the loan payments to fit your budget.
3. Spring time is decision time
Early in the spring, your child will start to receive their first acceptance letters. Once they've heard from all of the schools where they applied, they'll have a big decision to make.
They need to do more than just decide which school to attend; they'll also need to send in a deposit, complete their housing form and accept financial aid packages.
A crucial step in this process is comparing award letters from the colleges where your child has been accepted. In reading these letters, pay close attention to how schools list the total costs. For instance, some schools will subtract the awarded loan amount from the total cost of attendance, while others will not. This could make the net cost of some schools appear less than others when in reality they are not, so take your time reading the documents.
4. Tie up everything in the summer
Before they head to campus, you and your children should create a budget to keep tabs on college bills. This will help you to stay on track financially and set the right expectations about how they need to manage their money.
You can help your soon-to-be freshman by working with them to outline a monthly budget that will take into account expected and unexpected expenses. Take a look at their financial aid packages and any income they might be earning and block out the monthly mandatory expenses. Then decide how much money they can spend on things like entertainment.
If you find that scholarships, grants and federal aid don't cover everything, private loans could be one solution for some college-bound students.
For parents and students, senior year is an exciting period. Knowing what steps to take and staying ahead of financial matters with useful tools like the ones at College Ave Student Loans can help make the transition easier for everyone.
(BPT) - Whether you're a high school senior or an adult looking to change careers, a college degree can be the key to a bright future. As acceptance letters arrive in the mail, another important document is not far behind: financial aid letters.
"College is a major investment, and many people require financial assistance to pay for it," says Harlan Cohen, New York Times best-selling author and creator of the Naked Financial Minute. "It's vital to understand financial aid so you can make informed choices and avoid surprises in the future."
The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2016-2017 school year is $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities, according to the College Board.
In order to find out what aid you qualify for, you should start by filing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After your information is processed, and you've applied to the colleges of your choice, you'll receive financial aid award letters in the mail with the results from each school where you were accepted.
Not all financial aid letters are the same, so deciphering and comparing them can be confusing. To help get you started, the experts at College Ave Student Loans share tips and tricks for how to easily understand your financial aid letter.
Look carefully at symbols and terms: College award letters may use different wording and abbreviations. For instance, rather than spelling out the word "loan" you could see "L" or "LN". You might also see "net price" and "net cost." Look carefully at how each school calculates these amounts.
Some schools will subtract loan amounts from these figures. Just remember that loans need to be paid back, usually with interest; loans can help you spread the cost of college over time, but they don't eliminate the expense.
Know the difference between gift aid and loans: Gift aid is money that is awarded to qualifying students that isn't expected to be paid back. Gift aid includes things like scholarships, grants, and housing or tuition waivers. Not all applicants will qualify for gift aid, but most will be eligible for federal loans. As a general rule, you should expect that you'll need to pay loans back, usually with interest.
Be aware of the impact of outside scholarships: If a student is awarded a private scholarship, the financial aid letter may list its effect on the amount of money offered by the school or in federal aid because the student's financial need has already been partially covered. This could impact gift aid, loan amounts, or both.
Keep an eye out for work-study offers: If you indicated an interest during the FAFSA application, your financial aid letter may list approval for a work-study job that provides money toward your studies and fits with your class schedule. The money you earn is typically applied directly to your school expenses.
Understand your expected family contribution (EFC): Depending on your personal circumstances, there may be a line item for expected family contribution. This is the amount of money your family is expected to contribute toward your college education based on their tax and savings information.
This will impact your overall award package.
Think about additional costs: Your financial aid letter may not include all of the costs associated with going to school. Think beyond tuition and make sure you have an idea of what you'll be spending on housing, food, transportation, books, supplies, additional fees, and other living expenses.
If you find the amount of financial aid provided isn't enough (including the amount offered in federal loans), families may want to research and explore private student loans as an option to cover the additional expenses. Look for competitive interest rates and flexible repayment options that match your budget. College Ave Student Loans also offers a calculator that showcases how much families can save with various loan options at www.collegeavestudentloans.com.
Finally, if you're still unclear about the terms and conditions of any college award letter, it's important to reach out to the school to ask for clarification or discuss your options. You don't want to leave any money on the table.
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