College. The big dance. Everything you have been dreaming of for the past four years is finally within reach. Preparing for college can be both frightening and magical. Whether you’re getting ready for college within your home state or gearing up for an out-of-state university, there are a few things you could do to prepare.
Preparing for college starts with the best college fit for you. If you have already selected a university, congrats! That’s a major step that relieves a lot of pressure. Now that you know your soon-to-be alma mater’s colors, let’s talk planning. Learning ways to prepare for college with these tips could take you from senioritis to a true college student by the time the first semester rolls around.
1. Determining Your College’s Cost of Attendance
You’ve probably glanced through a few booklets and brochures on tuition cost. Your parents or guardians may have gone over this in more detail, but it is important to know what the school-certified cost of attendance is for your chosen college.
Cost of attendance can include everything from tuition and fees, books, supplies, transportation, miscellaneous personal expenses, to an allowance for room and board (as determined by the institution). Contacting your school’s financial aid office to get an estimate of costs could help you plan for these upcoming expenses.
2. Applying for Federal Aid via the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAⓇ) is the form you need to fill out to apply for federal financial aid. If you anticipate needing support to cover the cost of attendance in college, this is usually the place to start.
The deadline to fill out the FAFSA is state-specific so you might want to check your state of residence and the school for which you are applying for aid.
3. Looking Into Student Loans
Filling out the FAFSA probably isn’t the only thing on your financial to-do list when you’re prepping for college. You could also weigh your student loan options.
The FAFSA puts you in contention for federal student loans—among other tuition subsidies like Work-Study or grants . Federal student loans currently have fixed interest rates , which means the rates will not change for the duration of the loan.
Each year, Congress determines what the fixed interest rate on federal loans will be—and interest rates vary across federal undergraduate loans, and PLUS loans for parents and grad students.
While these loans can be an important resource when it comes to funding your education, there are limits to the amount you can take out each year. For example, first-year undergraduates currently have a federal loan limit of $5,500.
4. Applying for Scholarships
No matter your financial standing, it still might be worth looking into scholarships . You may be able to help ease the financial burden by applying for as many scholarships as you can. Here’s how you could get organized.
Telling Everyone You Know You Are Applying for Scholarships
Perhaps your neighbor’s employer has an annual scholarship. Or maybe the organizations and clubs you’re involved with have scholarships. Or you could contact your chosen university to see if they offer scholarships. Family members and friends might be able to help you find college money you didn’t know was out there otherwise.
Focusing on Your Niche
Does writing essays make you want to pull your hair out? You could try to find scholarships that match your skill set. For example, if you like getting creative with video or photography, there are scholarships that are specifically designed to highlight that skill.
You might be better off focusing on scholarships surrounding subjects that don’t bore you. If scholarships that accept video submissions are your jam, narrow your search to just those types of scholarships.
For example, the Humane Education Network offers a scholarship for 16- to 18-year-olds that requires a three-minute video submission as an alternative to a written essay.
Knowing the Scholarship Deadline
You wouldn’t want to put a lot of effort into a scholarship you know you would be perfect for only to realize the deadline has already passed. Follow instructions carefully by looking for deadlines you can feasibly hit.
Some scholarship committees want a physical submission via snail mail. You might want to check to see if the submission needs to be postmarked by that date or if it needs to be received by then.
5. Saving, Saving, Saving
Scholarships and federal aid may help cover tuition, but they don’t cover your entertainment or spring break activities. If you currently have a part-time job, you could start socking away a portion of your paycheck into a separate cash management account, like SoFi MoneyⓇ.
Even if it’s just, say, $20 per paycheck, it could add up over the next year so you’ll have some fun money to start off college.
6. Choosing a Major
So far, you’ve made some pretty big decisions—selecting a university and how you’re going to pay for it.
But you might want to remember one important part (and the reason you’re doing this whole college thing)— selecting a major. Choosing the right major for you can be a bit challenging so you could focus on what you love to learn about and set up a few meetings with individual colleges to see what their programs in that area are like.
Another option could be to go directly to the source and speak with upperclassmen about majors that interest you. Students enrolled in your major could tell you the types of classes you would take and workload expectations. You could ask your admissions office to connect you with an upperclassman who might teach you how to prepare for college and your area of study.
7. Peace Out, Parents
When the day to move to campus arrives, you might have mixed emotions. It’s totally okay to feel a little stressed or overwhelmed. You have probably spent the past 18 years living with your family, and going out on your own as a college freshman may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You might want to savor the moment, and if you still feel homesick at college, it could be cured with a video chat with loved ones back home.
Checking Out SoFi Private Student Loans
Private student loans are another option for financing your college education, though they should only be considered once you’ve exhausted your federal loan options. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes a federal student aid package doesn’t cover the cost of college tuition and room and board—and private student loans could help bridge that gap.
While a student’s credit history is not considered when they apply for federal student loans, it may come into play when applying for private student loans. However, students can also apply for private student loans with a cosigner, in which case the private lender would review the cosigner’s earnings, credit history, and other financial details as well.
If you find that your federal aid options won’t cover your tuition fully, it might be worth learning more about SoFi’s private student loans. SoFi private student loans can have fixed or variable interest rates; fixed interest rates stay the same throughout the life of the loan, whereas variable interest rates can fluctuate with the market.
SoFi private loans also come with no origination fees, late fees, or insufficient fund penalties. And when it comes time to pay back your loans, SoFi offers flexible repayment plans.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.
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