Make Sure That “Dream School” Isn’t a Financial Nightmare With These Tips

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College acceptance letters are starting to arrive for students all over the country. While the reward of being chosen to attend the school students have been eyeing shows that all that preparation can really pay off, a new question quickly arises: How to pay for it.

Nothing can feel better than getting an acceptance from that dream school that a student has been eying for years. Nothing can feel worse than deciding that dream school is too expensive. But rather than set that that dream aside, consider some factors that can either help or hinder choosing the right school at the right price.

Know the scholarship and financial aid options

If students have completed the Federal Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA), they’ll have a better sense of what financial aid is available from the school, as well as federal and state options. More often than not, that dream school will offer a generous financial aid package. In many cases, schools at the top of a “dream school” list will offer financial aid packages to lower-income students that may ultimately be comparable to a back-up school that seems more affordable at first glance.

Don’t be afraid to look into scholarships from both the target school and around the local community. That good GPA and student resume that attracted a school to a student, will undoubtedly be equally attractive to scholarship committees.

Try to get a sense of the employment outlook

Landing a great job can be one of the draws of a “dream school,” as career placement or alumni networks can often help recent grads turn their degree into a well-paying first job. The career a student might look toward entering after graduation can have a large impact on the school they attend, as well. Take time to review outlook reports from the U.S. Department of Labor and see if those careers look to be growing, both in numbers of new employees and starting salaries.

Consider loans, but examine details closely

Filling the gap between scholarships, financial aid and the cost of attending school can mean taking out loans. Loans may seem the perfect way to meet the needs of attending that perfect school, but bear in mind they must be repaid after graduation. Paying close attention to details both in the contract and the payment schedule before signing a loan agreement may make the difference between choosing a loan or settling for a more affordable back-up school. Consider the loan’s interest rate, but also pay attention to whether the loan is subsidized or unsubsidized. With subsidized loans, you do not pay the interest that accrues during your college years, while unsubsidized loans will accrue interest before graduation. The more taken out in loans, the more a student will be paying per month after graduation.

Think about future degrees

Many occupations require post-graduate degrees, such as a master’s or doctorate degree, while other careers only need a bachelor’s degree to get started. Needing more degrees beyond a bachelor’s degree means more expense, but also allows for a chance to make some cost saving decisions as an undergrad.

If a dream school offers strong graduate programs as well as undergrad programs, consider choosing a more cost-effective school for the bachelor’s degree. Not only will it allow students to save money, but also give wiggle room in case their academic and career goals change during their undergraduate years. Those students who remain focused on their goals will be further motivated to succeed in college in order to reach their dream school when it comes time for a graduate degree.

Though it may feel like a difficult, even heartbreaking, decision at the time, taking a step back to look at where their dream school fits in the bigger picture of their life will help students in the long-term, as well as help address the immediate financial concerns of going to college.

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