Checklist for College Prep

With your student’s final year of high school winding down, the list of things to do may seem limitless. One way to help manage the stress and emotions of the final months before your child goes off to college is to make an organized checklist.

Here are some items to include for each month between now and the start of freshman year of college:

March

□ If your student hasn’t made a final college decision, visit or revisit those that have offered acceptance and your student is still considering.

  • Use these trips to help your student envision what it would be like to attend each school and decide if it’s a good fit.
  • You may wish to help your student set up visits to specific departments or programs or to sit in classes.

□ Compare financial aid offers from the schools that remain on the list. Your student can contact a school’s financial aid office with any questions about the aid offered.

April

□ Work with your student to make a final college selection by the end of the month, as many colleges require a commitment by May 1.

  • Your student should notify the chosen school and make any required deposits.
  • Check for specific forms or actions that need to be completed, and add deadlines to your calendar.
  • Your student should also notify other schools that he or she will not attend and send a thank-you for any special assistance or offers.

□ Help your student understand the full cost of attending college.

  • Have a family conversation about what you will and won’t help with financially.
  • Encourage your student to continue looking for scholarships that can help defray the cost of attendance. You may wish to investigate how the college will apply any outside scholarships to aid already awarded, such as whether outside scholarships would replace institutional scholarships from the college or offset student loans.

□ Help your student set reminders for requesting final transcripts.

  • The high school counseling office may have required forms or processes for this.
  • Check on whether the student needs to make a separate request for transcripts for any college courses already completed, such as dual enrollment classes.

□ Check personal IDs and documents.

  • Have your student renew his or her driver’s license or passport if necessary before going to college.
  • Consider TSA Precheck and Global Entry if your student will be flying frequently or expects to travel internationally.

□ Help your student finish strong.

  • Advanced Placement exams occur at the beginning of May. If your student is enrolled in AP classes, be sure to help them understand if a particular score is needed to obtain credit for courses at the selected college.
  • Encourage your student to try to achieve the best grades possible for second semester of senior year. Disciplinary or academic issues could result in a college rescinding acceptance or scholarships.

May

□ Review the college’s timeline for completing actions and submitting forms and deposits.

  • Your student may need to sign up for orientation to enroll in classes, select a residence hall or roommates, opt in or out of college-sponsored health insurance and take other action.
  • Work with your student to set up access to a student or parent portal offered by the college.
  • Determine whether the college requires a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) agreement to provide parents with information about a student.

□ Make a four-year plan for coursework.

  • If your student has decided on a major, look for an existing flowchart or plan of required and elective classes available from the school. If none is available, look at the requirements for the major and start to plan out possibilities based on class offerings from previous years’ course catalogs.
  • Even if your student is undecided, you can look together for interesting entry-level classes, prerequisites for a particular academic college and graduation requirements to create a one- to two-year plan.

□ Plan needed transportation and accommodations.

  • Many college towns have limited hotel availability, especially on popular weekends for move-in, parent weekends, breaks and move-out.
  • Watch for deals on airfare, hotels and other accommodations and venues.

June

□ Work on life skills with your student.

  • Ensure your student can carry out the functions of everyday college life, such as waking up on time for early classes, doing laundry, arranging transportation, making appointments and preparing simple meals.
  • Discuss how your student will obtain money, such as from a job or from you, and access it for transactions. Many students use combinations of a credit or debit card, payment apps like Venmo or PayPay, cash withdrawals, and other forms of payment.

□ Encourage contact with future roommates.

  • Whether your student selected or was assigned a roommate, it can be helpful for people who will be sharing a small space for an extended time to have some preliminary conversations about preferences, habits, who is bringing what and any special needs.
  • You may want to encourage a meeting before move-in if the roommate lives nearby or can arrange to attend the same orientation session as your student.

□ Develop a network.

  • The college your child will attend may have parent associations, alumni groups or other organizations you can join.
  • Look for groups on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. These groups can be a forum for information and support now and throughout college.

July

□ Start exploring the college community with your student.

  • You may wish to find activities to participate in for future visits.
  • Your student may want to investigate student organizations, community service opportunities, events and activities as well.

□ Shop for books and supplies.

  • As soon as the class schedule is finalized, your student can start looking for assigned books. Encourage comparison shopping between the college bookstore, other bookstores and online sites. Also compare rentals to used and new purchases, and compare downloads and ebooks to printed materials.
  • Be aware that many college courses also require an electronic access code, which may not be included with used, rented or electronic versions.
  • Determine what dorm furnishings and supplies are needed and start shopping for those.

□ Talk to your student about common college student issues and how to get help.

  • You may wish to talk about drug and alcohol use, as well as other behaviors.
  • College students often face academic issues when entering college, even if they were excellent high school students. Discuss the advantages and availability of professor office hours, study groups, teaching assistants, help centers, tutoring and other resources.
  • Mental health can often be a concern for college students as well. Most campuses offer counseling and other services; encourage your student to be aware of how to reach out.
  • Your student may have specific physical, dietary, emotional or other needs. If you are unsure about the help available, contact student services or admissions for direction.

□ Consider dorm or renters insurance for lost, damaged or stolen valuable items like laptops, cell phones, bikes and other assets. Homeowners insurance may cover some losses for your student, but an inexpensive dorm policy from a specialized provider may be an option if you have a high deductible.

August

□ Make a communication plan.

  • Sometimes it’s helpful for the parents and the student to know when they will next speak to each other after the move.
  • You may want to set up a regular time and day for a video or phone chat.

□ Get ready for the big move. Be prepared for emotions to run high as your student faces a new situation and leaving behind familiar friends and family.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Is Community College the Right Place to Start?

Comm-College-the-Right-Place-to-Start

Many students choose to start their college careers at a two-year community college. Is it right for you? Compare your options below.

Two-Year Community College Four-Year College or University
Annual in-state tuition and fees*

Costs are typically lower at two-year colleges.

$3,000–$5,000

• National average: $3,347
• Iowa average: $4,541

$7,000–$32,000

• National average (public four-year): $9,139
• Iowa average (public four-year): $7,857
• National average (private four-year): $31,231
• Iowa average (private four-year): $29,650

Annual room and board*

Many students at two-year colleges choose to live at home and commute.

$0–$8,000

• National average: $7,705
• Midwest average: $6,486

$9,000–$12,000

• National average (public four-year): $9,804
• Midwest average (public four-year): $8,968
• National average (private four-year): $11,188
• Midwest average (private four-year): $9,691

Type of degree

If you plan to transfer from a two-year college to a four-year institution, you should first check how and if specific credits will transfer.

• Associate degrees and certifications for trade-related careers
• Transferrable general education requirements
• Bachelor
• Post-graduate degrees
Hands-on experience • Close association with area industries
• Often offer local apprenticeships and internships
• Can be limited for undergraduate students
• Opportunities for local, national and international internship, cooperative education and study-abroad programs
Campus experience • Traditional to commuter campus
• More limited campus activities
• Traditional
• Extensive campus activities and clubs
Confidence in major or career choice • Little opportunity to explore variety of majors
• Opportunity to achieve a two-year degree, work and then re-evaluate
• More opportunity to explore before declaring a major
• Changing majors and five- or six-year graduation rates are common
Classroom instruction • Career professionals
• Nontenured instructors
• Tenured professors
• Nontenured professors
• Other instructors
• Graduate students
Admission requirements • High school graduate
• Placement test may be required
• ACT or SAT may be required for specific degrees
• High school graduate
• ACT or SAT usually required
• Minimum high school grade point average
• Essay, interview or other requirement may be needed
Schedule flexibility

Do you need to work around a work or family schedule?

• Daytime and evening classes
• Some weekend classes
• Online classes
• Mostly daytime classes
• Some evening and online classes

*2014–2015 Trends in College Pricing, College Board

 By: Iowa Student Loan

How to Handle Multiple Acceptance Letters

Sometimes the most nerve-wracking part of the entire college admissions process is making the final decision. If you received admission or acceptance offers from more than one of your top choices, these tips can help you choose.

MultipleAcceptLetters_infographicDownload a PDF of this infographic.

  1. Be sure you know how soon you need to make a commitment by comparing dates provided in your admissions packet. (Most colleges and universities give you until May 1 to respond.) If you were admitted and met entrance requirements, you may have some time yet to consider your final choice before you miss the first deadline.
  1. Rank your options. Order your choices based on how well each school fits your needs.
  1. Get student perspectives. If you haven’t already, revisit campus and talk to students. Online resources — like social media, blog entries and comments, and reviews — are also great resources. You can learn a lot of helpful information from those who have been there.
  1. Delve into the nitty-gritty. Look up student retention rates to see if a high proportion of freshmen don’t stay in school; graduation rates for four, five and six years; and job placement rates after graduation. Freshmen do or don’t stay for myriad reasons, but an unusual proportion may indicate an issue you would also face.
  1. Look at your major specifically. How many students are in your major? Do they have trouble getting into the classes they need? Check out the list of required classes for your major and compare that to the number of sections available each semester in the school’s course catalog. Don’t forget to search for online reviews or comments specific to your intended major.
  1. Look at your bottom line. Your total cost to get through all your undergraduate years should be a major consideration. A good financial aid package may move your second or third choice up to the top spot. If a lack of financial aid is keeping you from choosing your favorite school, consider contacting the admissions office to let them know money is preventing you from accepting. If you’re a desirable candidate, they may be able to help with a little more financial aid, depending on their budget.
  1. Commit to one school. You should not agree to attend more than one school. Not only are you likely to lose at least one deposit, a school may rescind its offer if it finds out you are accepting additional offers. The only exception to this is if you are wait-listed at your No. 1 choice; in that case, you may decide to accept your second choice while you wait to hear. Just be sure you notify the second school immediately if you get in at your first choice.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Understanding Cost of Attendance

UnderstandCOA

If you have started the process of preparing for your child’s college career, you may have run into several things that have you confused – and maybe a few that have you nervous.

Cost of attendance may be the most confusing term you will hear even though it sounds mostly harmless.

What Cost of Attendance Means
The cost of attendance is rarely the amount paid to attend college. The cost of attendance is the “sticker price” and does not consider scholarships, grants, personal contributions (from a college savings plan or graduation checks, for example) and other financial assistance available to your student. Also, most cost of attendance figures include additional costs that may not be encountered – this is important as your student will most likely be presented with a statement called an award letter that assumes he or she will need those additional funds.

Understanding the Award Letter
Award letters are usually created by the college and sent in February or March. Award letters outline how much one year of college will cost by detailing the tuition and fees and room and board costs. The letter also shows all awards (scholarships, grants, work/study funds) as well as the EFC, or expected family contribution. You may be a bit shocked by the size of the EFC. Before throwing up your hands in despair, please consider the two ideas presented below to help calm yourself.

Transportation Costs
Take a look at one aspect of cost of attendance – “transportation costs.” Although your student will most likely travel back and forth from college for visits and holidays, the amount of these costs can be subtracted from the cost of attendance in most cases.

Two things to consider:

  1. When the time comes to travel, most students will be able to drive home. According to the Higher Educational Research Institute at UCLA’s 2014 freshman survey, approximately 57% of students attend a college within 100 miles of their home. Encouraging your student to carpool can reduce expenses by paying for only a fraction of the gas costs.
  2. Even if you do anticipate your student having travel expenses beyond gas costs, do everything you can to resist the urge to include the costs in any student loans you or your student take out – federal or private. Even a ticket to fly home twice a year can be something that can be saved for or purchased using money earned through wages by working during the school year (bonus: studies show that students who work 10-20 hours a week while in college have better grades and a higher graduation rate as a group). Most likely, the expected family contribution can be reduced by more than $1,000 by removing transportation costs from the bottom line for now.

Book Costs
Another quick way to reduce up-front costs and the amount you or your student may need to borrow is to look at the line item on the award letter for books. You may be surprised at the relatively reasonable prices of books in some cases. Trends toward loose-leaf books (printed on 3-hole punched paper – high quality, not Xerox copies) and book rental has helped reduce costs. Books are another item that can usually be subtracted from the bottom line cost of attendance – pay for books can be paid for with cash from savings, earnings or high school graduation cash. Encourage your student to only purchase books that he or she plans to keep – otherwise rental is a smart path to save money.

By: Iowa Student Loan

6 Things to Know Before You Apply to College

Once you have decided on your top college choices, it’s time to start the application process. Here’s what to know:

Things-to-Know-Before-Apply-Cllge

1. Know the types of applications and the deadlines for each
Many colleges and universities allow you to apply early, either with or without a commitment on your end. Know if the school offers early action, early decision, rolling admission or other types of applications and what you need to complete when.

2. Allow enough time
Will you need to complete a personal essay as part of the application process? Does the college require an admissions interview? Plan to complete each step in plenty of time to meet deadlines.

3. Understand yourself
Be prepared to explain your previous activities and academic achievements, as well as your goals and your motivations. Articulate what makes you different than everyone else, and make sure you focus on that uniqueness in essays or interviews. Also think about why each of the colleges on your list is a good fit for you.

4. Consider your online activity.
Some colleges may look up your social media profiles and pages. Make sure they don’t have a reason to discount your application because of what you’ve posted online. If your personal email address isn’t professional, create a new one that is.

5. Complete essays ahead of time
If you need to submit an essay online, have it written and saved beforehand, so you can copy and paste it into the application. This way, you won’t need to begin again if you experience technical problems, and you have a backup copy if needed.

6. Stay in touch
You should receive some confirmation that the college has received your application. If you don’t, reach out to the admissions office. Admissions representatives are also available if you have questions or need help completing the application process. Just make sure you contact the school; don’t ask your parents to do it on your behalf.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Choosing and Applying for a College

ican-choosing-applying-college

If it’s your senior year in high school, everyone is likely asking you a lot of questions:

What you’re going to do after high school?
Where are you going to college?
What will you study?
What career do you want?

It can be overwhelming, but if you don’t know the answers, that’s OK. There is still plenty of time and right now all you really need to focus on is where you might like to go.

Narrowing Down the Choice
October is college application month, which means you should be narrowing down your choices of colleges and getting in your applications. Narrowing down a college does not mean choosing a college. You shouldn’t choose a college this early in the year. You should still be exploring your options. The best way to explore your options is to apply for admission to the colleges you like best and see what happens.

And while you have several months ahead of you to be making your final choices, it’s important to apply now because the admission process opens the doors for you to start receiving a lot of information to help inform your choice.

Importance of Applying
Until you apply for admission, you are missing out on several key elements:

  • You won’t know what merit-based or academic scholarships you could receive from the college.
  • A college won’t consider you for other forms of financial aid such as grants or work-study or any need-based scholarships.
  • You aren’t yet eligible to begin any of the other steps that will help you make the best choice in colleges.

This is why it is recommend that you apply to at least three to five colleges or universities and that you get your admission applications in by Nov. 1.

You can still apply after Nov. 1, but by applying by then, you can start using more of your time to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which kicks off the financial aid process. Getting your application in also means you can start filling our housing and scholarship applications, both of which require you to apply for admission first.

So take this fall and really think about the colleges you’ve visited and explored online. Which ones stand out? Which ones offer programs of study that interest you? If you’re still at a loss, consider setting up a profile on College Raptor (www.collegeraptor.com) and exploring your options through a free online portal. College Raptor is a free resource that helps you align your college interests with your academic, social and financial needs.

You can also visit any ICAN Student Success Center or call ICAN at (877) 272-4692 to setup a time to talk about your options. ICAN’s team of advisors would love to sit down and talk about your decision-making process and how your interests and list of colleges fit together.

So get to work on those admission applications and by November, you’ll be ready to talk financial aid.

Contributed by: Iowa College Access Network

This is Contributed Content. Any opinions, advice, statements, services, offers, or other information contained in Contributed Content are solely those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect the opinion of Iowa Student Loan and/or this blog. See the “About” page for additional important information about Contributed Content.

In-State Vs. Out-of-State Colleges (Infographic)

As you consider different colleges, are you looking at both in-state and out-of-state institutions? Consider these important differences when you think about the location of your chosen school.

InStatevsOutofStateDownload a PDF of this infographic.

Financial
When it comes to public, in-state colleges and universities, tuition is usually less for in-state students compared to what students from other states will pay. Tuition costs for in-state and out-of-state students do not usually differ, however, when it comes to private colleges and universities.

Travel expenses can really add up if you attend school outside of your home state. If you go to school across the country or even a few states away, you’ll likely need to consider auto or airline costs if you want to head home during breaks as well as costs to either store your belongings or get them to and from school each year.

Social
If you attend school in your home state, it may be easy to travel home to visit with friends and family on weekends. And, it’s likely some of your high school classmates will end up at the same campus, giving you a sense of confidence in a new environment. If you want to be more independent, you’ll have to work a little harder to avoid the temptation of the familiar.

If you cross state lines for school, you may only see your family two or three times during the school year and you may be the only person from your high school attending college at your campus. You’ll be able to interact with new people, maybe from very different backgrounds than your own and with varied experiences than what you’ve experienced in your hometown. It’s an easy way to become more independent but could lead to feelings of loneliness for some.

Choices
Your number of choices for in-state colleges and universities are obviously limited compared to what is on offer in the other 49 states, but you can make the most of an in-state school. Check out study abroad opportunities, statistics on students from other states and countries, and learn what academic programs they offer that are considered cutting-edge or tops in the country.

Out-of-state schools may offer you more specialty program opportunities as well as different climates, new surroundings and different challenges.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Checklist for Parents of High Schoolers (Infographic)

As the number of high school years wane for your student, preparation for the next step should be picking up. Use these checklists to help your child plan for college.

ChecklistforHSParents-infographic

Download this infographic as a PDF.

Sophomore Year of High School

  • Start visiting colleges. Even if your student isn’t sure of major or career goal, visits to a variety of campuses will help him or her focus on the type and size of college, surrounding community and distance from home that is most desirable.

    Tip:
    Incorporate campus visits with other trips to see campuses further from home. Mix a few formal visit days with more informal walks through other campuses.
  • Explore college costs. Understand the net price, as opposed to sticker price, of different colleges. Use online net price calculators for an estimate of what your family may be expected to contribute, as well as financial and merit aid options for your student.

    Tip:
    Search for the college name and “net price calculator” in your internet browser.
  • Prepare for standardized tests. Both the ACT and SAT offer free practice tests online, and more robust preparation is available on those sites and from other test prep providers for a fee. Both tests have changed recently, so get a feel for your student’s weaknesses and strong areas.

    Tip:
    High school sophomores may take the PSAT10 to get a baseline score for the PSAT given to juniors. Use the results to prepare for the PSAT. Each state’s highest scorers on the PSAT qualify for significant merit scholarships from some colleges.
  • Explore career options. Most students are familiar with a limited range of career options and it may be hard for them to choose something they want to do for a daily job. Tools like our ROCI Reality Check and the Bureau of Labor Standards Occupational Outlook Handbook can help students get an idea of options and salaries.

    Tip:
    Help your child understand how salary is connected to the cost to earn a degree: Students should plan to take on no more college debt than they can expect to earn their first year after college.
  • Encourage reading and awareness of world events. These activities broaden perspective and can ignite a passion in your student. Search online for a list of recommended books to read before college and make thoughtful discussion of global, national and local occurrences a regular topic.

    Tip:
    News podcasts are often appealing to high school students and you can listen together during daily commutes.
  • Help your child be involved. Extracurriculars, from school clubs and honorary societies to youth groups and part-time jobs, play an integral role in preparing your child for college and beyond. Many colleges also consider involvement and leadership during the application process.

    Tip:
    Rather than being involved marginally in a lot of activities, encourage your child to become more deeply involved in a limited number of the activities he or she likes most.
  • Plan high school coursework. Help your student work with school counselors to ensure high school graduation, and college admission, requirements will be met within the next two years. Consider whether your student is taking the most academically rigorous classes he or she can manage well.

    Tip:
    Many high schools offer opportunities for Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual enrollment classes that may allow your student to earn college credit during high school.

Junior Year of High School

  • Understand the financial aid process. Although you and your student won’t complete the Free Application for Financial Aid until the fall before college, it’s wise to understand how grants, scholarships, work-study and loans work together to cover college costs.Tip: Help your student understand what your family may contribute to college costs and how that impacts the schools your student considers.
  • Take standardized tests. Put last year’s prep to good use by scheduling ACT or SAT exams on dates that fit well into the family schedule. This way, your student will be able to fit in preparation around classes, extracurriculars and needed sleep. Plan for your student to take either the ACT or SAT more than once as many colleges “superscore,” or accept the best subscores from multiple sittings.Tip: Some students perform better on the ACT, while others score higher on the SAT. Colleges accept either test, so use scores from practice tests and first sittings to help your student decide whether to take only one or both tests.
  • Get serious about the college search. School websites can provide valuable information about cost, the student body and academics. College fairs allow families to learn about many schools in a single day. More targeted visits are also in order during the winter and spring of junior year. Many college applications open by late summer or early fall of senior year, so help your child narrow the list of potential applications.Tip: Some families get more out of scheduled visit days that cater to juniors; others prefer individual visits designed around their student’s needs. Try a couple of each type early on to help focus later visits to the most desirable colleges.
  • Explore scholarship opportunities. Help your student search for and learn about scholarship opportunities from the schools he or she is interested in, community organizations and online scholarship searches. Knowing the requirements will help your student prepare to be in the running.Tip: Many colleges apply merit aid, or scholarships awarded based on academic merit, to reduce awarded financial aid, allowing your student to take out fewer loans.
  • Encourage writing. Essays, personal statements and short-answer responses are integral to the college application process. Help your student prepare by exploring the standards of good writing and talking about his or her accomplishments, goals and thoughts.Tip: A composition, language or English teacher may be willing to work with your student to perfect writing.
  • Compile a resume. Help your student think about activities, awards, accomplishments, academics, work and community efforts from the beginning of high school. Sometimes called a brag sheet, this document will become a resource for college and scholarship applications, as well as those your student asks to write letters of recommendation.Tip: Show your student how professionals use action words, short phrases and descriptions of results to create their resumes. These strategies will help your student prepare to fill in limited-character online college application forms.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Make the Most of Winter Break

WinterBreak-ICAN

Winter break is a good time to rest, relax, and recharge for the coming semester. And all that relaxation time can serve your future well, too.

Read, read, and read some more
Using winter break as a chance to read something fun and self-selected daily is a great way to keep your mind sharp without feeling like you’re still doing school work. Take a trip to the public library and see what’s on the recommended reading list, or check out what’s on some best book lists for the holidays.

Get Active
Relaxing doesn’t mean spending two weeks on the couch with a bag of chips; get out and get active. Visit your local recreation center or YMCA, check out a trampoline park or bundle up and get outdoors for a few hours. Fresh air and activities will boost your energy levels and keep you from becoming a permanent piece of the family room furniture.

Do Something Fun
Reach back into the recesses of your mind and remember how much fun winter break was when you were a kid; what were your favorite activities? Now, go do them. Sometimes the best way to relax and recharge is to have some good old-fashioned fun. Go sledding, build a snowman, get out that giant bucket of Legos stored in the basement and build something. Heck, get out every blanket in the house and build a fort to read in, just like when you were a kid.

Scholarships
In between rounds of snowball fights and reading hour, you should definitely use some of your time off to complete scholarship applications. While this activity may sound like the opposite of rest and relaxation, it will in fact make you feel a lot more relaxed to have some of those applications off your to-do list.

Volunteer
Another way to make yourself feel great is to volunteer some of your free time to a good cause. Look for opportunities at your local church, a community shelter or soup kitchen, or with a school group. Community service looks great on scholarship and admission applications, but more importantly you’ll be giving back to your community, helping those in need, and boosting your self-esteem in the process.

College Prep
For those that really want to make the most of your time off, there are a few more serious tasks you can tackle over break. Get a part-time job to increase your skills and increase the balance in your college savings account. Get in touch with someone in your desired field and setup a short-term internship or a job shadow. Spend a few days getting to know the ins and outs of your prospective career and make some connections. Networking is always useful and those connections could come in handy when you need a letter of recommendation or reference.

Contributed by: Iowa College Access Network

This is Contributed Content. Any opinions, advice, statements, services, offers, or other information contained in Contributed Content are solely those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect the opinion of Iowa Student Loan and/or this blog. See the “About” page for additional important information about Contributed Content.

Understanding Cost of Attendance

UnderstandCOA

If you have started the process of preparing for your child’s college career, you may have run into several things that have you confused – and maybe a few that have you nervous.

Cost of attendance may be the most confusing term you will hear even though it sounds mostly harmless.

What Cost of Attendance Means
The cost of attendance is rarely the amount paid to attend college. The cost of attendance is the “sticker price” and does not consider scholarships, grants, personal contributions (from a college savings plan or graduation checks, for example) and other financial assistance available to your student. Also, most cost of attendance figures include additional costs that may not be encountered – this is important as your student will most likely be presented with a statement called an award letter that assumes he or she will need those additional funds.

Understanding the Award Letter
Award letters are usually created by the college and sent in February or March. Award letters outline how much one year of college will cost by detailing the tuition and fees and room and board costs. The letter also shows all awards (scholarships, grants, work/study funds) as well as the EFC, or expected family contribution. You may be a bit shocked by the size of the EFC. Before throwing up your hands in despair, please consider the two ideas presented below to help calm yourself.

Transportation Costs
Take a look at one aspect of cost of attendance – “transportation costs.” Although your student will most likely travel back and forth from college for visits and holidays, the amount of these costs can be subtracted from the cost of attendance in most cases.

Two things to consider:

  1. When the time comes to travel, most students will be able to drive home. According to the Higher Educational Research Institute at UCLA’s 2014 freshman survey, approximately 57% of students attend a college within 100 miles of their home. Encouraging your student to carpool can reduce expenses by paying for only a fraction of the gas costs.
  2. Even if you do anticipate your student having travel expenses beyond gas costs, do everything you can to resist the urge to include the costs in any student loans you or your student take out – federal or private. Even a ticket to fly home twice a year can be something that can be saved for or purchased using money earned through wages by working during the school year (bonus: studies show that students who work 10-20 hours a week while in college have better grades and a higher graduation rate as a group). Most likely, the expected family contribution can be reduced by more than $1,000 by removing transportation costs from the bottom line for now.

Book Costs
Another quick way to reduce up-front costs and the amount you or your student may need to borrow is to look at the line item on the award letter for books. You may be surprised at the relatively reasonable prices of books in some cases. Trends toward loose-leaf books (printed on 3-hole punched paper – high quality, not Xerox copies) and book rental has helped reduce costs. Books are another item that can usually be subtracted from the bottom line cost of attendance – pay for books can be paid for with cash from savings, earnings or high school graduation cash. Encourage your student to only purchase books that he or she plans to keep – otherwise rental is a smart path to save money.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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