Recently at our Wall Office, Ken O’Connor, CU Student Loan’s Director of Student Advocacy, presented a Financial Aid Seminar – where he introduced ways in which parents and students can select a college and efficiently pay for it.
THE BEGINNING – SELECTING A COLLEGE
Ken noted that over time, the factors taken into consideration in the selection of a college have changed.
“Twenty years ago students would choose a school based upon their area of academic pursuit and the college’s reputation for a degree in that field,” he said. “The most important thing for them was the learning aspect. Nowadays, as more colleges adopt standardized curriculum, the value of what is learned versus the costs associated with the program are important to consider during the selection process. Thankfully, with the convenience of the internet, it is now easier than ever to compare costs!”
Ken went on explaining that a school’s location may leave a student with the decision of whether or not to commute. Living on campus is convenient, but commuting can reduce costs. Ken encouraged prospective students to take all this into consideration when selecting a college.
In addition to cost, students should think about what kind of environment they can succeed in. Some people prefer the fast-paced hustle and bustle of a city campus, while others prefer the quaint, small town feel of a rural college. Some students are unsure of what they like, so Ken encouraged students to start visiting colleges before their junior of high school to visualize and experience the campus.
Did you know that 50% of people transfer schools at some point during their college years? According to Ken, they do! During transfers, students can lose credits toward graduation depending on how many classes are counted at the new school. Knowing what to look for in an institution and an education while searching for a school can help students zero in on the best option and successfully graduate, instead of having to transfer somewhere else. That being said, many students plan their college education around an expected transfer. They may attend a community college for their first two years, and transfer to a larger school to complete a four year degree, drastically cutting college costs. However a transfer is handled, a student’s goal should be to retain as many credits possible toward graduation.
Being familiar with the differences between State schools and Private schools can help you choose an appropriate college environment with affordable cost.
1. Are usually less expensive.
2. Will charge a higher tuition cost for out-of-state students.
3. May have much larger class sizes limiting individualized attention for students.
4. Getting admitted to your state school of choice may be more challenging than you think depending on how many students in your state are also applying, and depending on how many out of state students they are willing to admit.
1. Usually carry a much higher sticker price.
2. May award more scholarships and financial aid to help lower that sticker price for students.
3. Tend to have smaller enrollment and class sizes where professors can provide more attention to each student, justifying the higher costs.
NEXT UP – THE FINANCIAL AID PROCESS
“The financial aid application process can be a daunting task, especially when it’s being done for the first time,” Ken said. “However, the students that take ownership of their financial aid and bill pay process are students that can also take ownership of their education.”
There are differences between grants, loans, and scholarships. Ken encourages students and parents to make it a team effort when filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
“Getting students involved in the financial aid application helps develop the focus and discipline required to succeed in school. It also makes it easier when they have to re-apply the next year,” Ken said.
IN CONCLUSION – PAYING FOR COLLEGE
Ken explained that although a handful of students are fortunate enough to be offered full scholarships, the majority have to cover a “tuition gap” – the remaining tuition due after taking into account grants and scholarships. This gap can be paid out-of-pocket or with a loan. Some loan options are considerably better than others, so it’s important to know the terms and conditions of repayment in order to select the loan that is the best fit for the needs of the student and their parents. Ken recommends choosing a loan that the student can start paying off while attending college and will not penalize the borrower for early repayment. He noted that sometimes the monthly payment can be as low as $25 and it will teach the student financial responsibility in addition to assisting in getting the loan paid off faster. “Making payments while in school not only knocks out the debt, but also builds a positive credit history,” Ken added.
Ken O’Connor is a 10 year veteran of higher-education finance who has served thousands of students and parents, each having their own specific financial and educational needs, during his career as a financial aid counselor. By assisting so many families, Ken has gained experience in creatively solving a multitude of the financial problems that arise with attending college.