Five Tips to Plan for College Financial Aid

By Kristin Boelzner, English major
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Posted in: Student Perspectives

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When thinking about college everything seems so exciting – the campus, new friends, and independence – but one question always seems to put a damper on that step towards adulthood: How exactly am I going to pay for this?

Let’s face it, college isn't cheap, but when shopping smart there can be ways which will either lower the overall cost of your education or help you along the way. To help decode and uncover the key elements when planning for college Sharon Eaton, assistant director of Financial Aid Office at UNH Manchester, and Derek Burkhardt, assistant in the Financial Aid office and recent graduate, gave students some key tips to consider when paying for school. No matter where you choose to go, these tips are incredibly helpful!

Eaton gave some really great tips for students looking to get ready for college. “The biggest advice that we can give to any student when they are preparing for college is to plan early” which Eaton stressed just does not include filing the FAFSA. While the FAFSA is a very critical component when paying for college, an overall plan is where a student needs to start.

Tip #1: Do your homework and know your prices
How does a student find how much an institution will cost? Of course, the easiest way is to check out the college’s website. More often than not, a school will have a “Tuition and Fees” or “Cost of Attendance” link that will take you to a brief chart or explanation of just what it might cost to attend that institution. They tend to include what the tuition would be for both in and out of state students, what a class costs per credit, and what fees the school requires to be paid.

On UNH Manchester’s website, all the fees are listed and explained in detail so you know exactly where your money is going! This is a great first step into seeing exactly what the college is going to cost because some even include out-of-pocket expenses like transportation, room and board, books and personal care.

In a perfect world every college website would be easy to navigate and have all the information presented for the viewer. Some websites don’t have a link to any tuition based page and don’t list the mandatory fees a student will have to pay. That might be the last time you think about that school or some extra research is needed. Whatever the case may be, try and get an overall picture of the cost before diving head first.

Tip #2: Know your deadlines!
Every institution is different and, therefore, have different deadlines. Their website is a great way to check when applications are due. When you know deadlines it is easier to plan ahead and make sure you are getting things done.

Along with tip number two, Eaton stressed to apply early. Whether it be for the FAFSA, scholarships or just general admission into the school, applying early will always work out in your favor.

Tip #3: Get to know you Financial Aid Office
They want to help, so stop in and ask them about anything. They have a wealth of information that is just waiting to be taken advantage of.

Burkhardt also suggests to visit financial aid via social media. UNH Manchester’s Finanical Aid Office has both a Facebook and Twitter where they post upcoming scholarships, and tips for budgeting and making college affordable.

“[Social media] is really great” Burkhardt said, “We don’t just post things we do, we look out to programs and organizations to share their posts.”

The financial aid offices are also the key resource for scholarships. Burkhardt recalled that it wasn’t until his junior year that he applied for scholarships and ended up getting $12,000 in scholarships throughout the next two years. “They come in tiers” Burkhardt said, “like a cake”. He mentioned that scholarships tend to fit either in a institutional, local, or national category. “Not many student’s take advantage of the institutional scholarships” Burkhardt said, “they are picked from a smaller pool so you are not competing with hundreds of other applicants, more like 12 in UNH Manchester’s case”.

Burkhardt stressed that scholarships are everywhere -- banks, employeers, churches and other organizations around your area. So get out there and search for them!

Tip #4: Talk with your family
Take an afternoon, sit down and discuss who is responsible for what. Knowing if help is available or if the college experience will be more on the independent side is important when planning.

Burkhardt also added that parents are a really great resource but shouldn't be relied on completely. Have extra plans, like a method of saving money, in place so if an unexpected event occurs, like a loss of a job, you have a little piece of mind.

Tip #5: Have a plan for out-of-pocket expenses
Eaton calculated that if a student saved $30 a week from when they got their acceptance letter to the first day of classes they would have around $180. That is a great savings for books or school supplies!

There are definitely more tips for incoming college students out there, but these tend to be the biggest. Along with all of this great information, Eaton stressed that your plan for paying for college just doesn't stop your first fall semester. When spring arrives there are new books to be purchased and prep for the next year requires more deadlines and FAFSAs.

“Don’t just make a plan for fall semester. Make sure it spans all four years!” Have a plan that will help in the long run and give you some piece of mind.

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Contact UNH Manchester's Financial Aid Office for more information.