Plan to Make Some Campus Visits This Summer
A Little Travel Now Can Make A Big Difference Later
The new online availability of the FAFSA in October means that many rising high school juniors and seniors have to rethink their college and financial aid application timeframes. While this might previously have been completed at a more leisurely pace, there is now a lot more pressure to be ready to apply by October. This means you need to finalize your college list earlier than ever.
Beyond looking at financial considerations, one way to narrow down the choice of colleges is to schedule a few campus visits. An in-person review will give you a really good idea of whether or not you will be a good fit for a particular school. It is best to visit your college possibilities with your parents, but you can also go with the families of other classmates who are interested in the same colleges as you are. Many campuses offer special weekends or guided tours to help you feel more welcome.
Try to visit the campus of at least the top three schools on your list so you can get a hands-on feel for them. Websites and online videos can only take you so far. You can get a much better understanding of how you react to the total environment just by being there, meet some of the other students on campus, and possibly even meet some of your professors. Here are some things to keep in mind when visiting schools during the summer months:
- Keep Track of Your Travel Costs: If you are thinking about a school that is not in your hometown, your travel costs could be a big portion of your annual school budget. Keep track of how much money you spend on gas, tolls, hotels, food and other travel expenses. Then think about how many times you will be making that trip each year - for freshman orientation, in the fall, at Thanksgiving, for the December holidays, spring break, and back home again after the school year ends. Plus, your parents might want to visit during parents’ weekend. Those expenses can really add up over four years.
- Make an Appointment with the Financial Aid Office: Prepare a list of questions that you want to ask the financial aid officer at each college you visit. This is a great time to start getting a handle on exactly how much it is going to cost to attend this specific school. Questions you will want to cover include: what are the total costs to attend this school including tuition, living expenses, room and board, books and fees; how much money does the average student receive in financial aid and is that amount the same every year; do most students graduate in four years; what is the average student loan balance at graduation; how many graduates find jobs in their field of study, and what is the average beginning salary for those student? Work up a spreadsheet where you can easily record this information so you can compare everything once you get back home.
- Look Around the Town: One important aspect most students don’t think about is off-campus life, but you might end up spending a lot of time there. Try to determine the number of part-time jobs that will be available if you need more money, and also look at how much money you might be spending on eating out or entertainment opportunities. You will want to have some fun with your friends, so this information will also become part of your budgeting process.
Make sure you talk to other people, too. It’s summer, so there might not be as many students on campus, but do talk to those you meet. Ask about the dorms, food, and on-campus and off-campus activities. Try to meet some students in your major and ask about classes. Introduce yourself to a few professors and ask about scholarship opportunities. This is a great fact-finding opportunity, and you want to gather information from as many sources as possible. When it comes time to make a final college choice, you’ll have solid details on which to base your decision.