Students who earned a bachelor’s degree typically earn nearly twice as much as their peers with only high school diplomas, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To reap the benefits of a college degree, students and parents should strive to avoid unnecessary debt post-graduation by making a game plan.
“It’s important to understand your financial aid options, and take action early to get money you’ll need for school,” says John Rasmussen, Wells Fargo`s Head of Education Financial Services. “Between applying for schools and studying for college entrance exams, don’t let this vital preparation get lost in the shuffle.”
Navigating this process can be tricky. And without proper planning or research, it’s easy to take on too much debt. With that in mind, here are some tips for families embarking on this journey:
• Fill out the FAFSA: Regardless of your family’s income, fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid.) If you’re eligible for aid, the schools you’ve been accepted to will put together financial aid packages for you based on this information. Additionally, you’ll need to complete this if you wish to receive federal aid. Remember to fill out the FAFSA every year you’re in school, no earlier than January 1 for the upcoming academic year.
• Estimate college costs: You can get an estimate of a college’s approximate cost by visiting the “net price calculator” on the individual school’s website. Play around with the variables to see how your total cost of college could change. For example, look at differences between living on and off-campus.
• Explore financing options: First, consider free aid, like scholarships, grants, state and institutional aid. Ask your financial aid office to give you information on self-help aid like the Federal Work Study program, and also consider federal student loans.
Additionally, check out private student loans, available through banks and other private lenders. For example, a Wells Fargo private student loan provides financing for eligible education-related expenses beyond tuition, such as housing, books, laptops, lab fees and more. With this plan, no payments are necessary until six months after leaving school.
• Know your deadlines: Be sure to obtain all important dates from your financial aid office. Keep a calendar for this and other college application deadlines.
• Free resources: Take advantage of online resources like the Wells Fargo`s “CollegeSTEPS” program, which offers tools and tips for college bound students and their families. To sign up and be automatically enrolled in the CollegeSTEPS Sweepstakes for a chance to win $1,000, visit http://www.WellsFargo.com/collegesteps.
Finally, check out Well Fargo’s “5 Steps to Financial Aid” video series, which offers helpful advice from “Mr. Fellows, your wiser college advisor,” at http://www.WellsFargo.com/fivesteps.
While financial planning can be overwhelming, particularly amid college applications stress, don’t brush this item under the rug. Investigating the breadth of merit-based scholarships, paid internships and student loans can prove helpful in managing education debt now and into the future.