College Planning Guide

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1 College Planning Guide

2 You have many postsecondary education options to choose from. But whether you decide to attend a four year college or university, community college or technical school, the knowledge you gain will be of value to you for the rest of your life, no matter where you go or what you do. A postsecondary education gives you more opportunities. Those who receive education credentials beyond a high school diploma have more jobs to choose from and earn much more than those who do not pursue an education beyond high school. For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a person with a bachelor s degree earns almost double what someone with only a high school diploma earns. Many students are not sure what career path to follow. But exposure to different academic subjects, people and points of view helps you decide what career you would like to pursue.

3 Contents Saving Money for College... 1 Types of Financial Aid Avoiding Financial Aid Scams... 5 Reducing the Cost of Education... 5 For Students: College Preparation Tips For Parents: Prepare Your Child for College... 9 Finding a College that Fits Your Needs Using the Internet to Research Options for College FAQs About College and Financial Aid Choosing Your Major Researching Occupations Planning Your College Visits What to Expect When Living at College What You Should Pack for Your New Home How to Manage Your Finances at College Non-Traditional Students and Distance Learning Where to Find More Information... 22

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5 Saving Money For College It s never too early, or too late, to save money for college expenses, especially since higher education costs are high and rising. Beyond tuition costs, there are expenses for books and educational materials, living expenses, food, and so forth. Even if you are a good candidate for scholarships, having extra cash may enable you to afford a college with higher tuition, borrow less in student loans, work less in parttime jobs, or take advantage of special educational opportunities. Also, budgeting and learning how to save early are good skills for independent college life, and life after college. Lots of college students get into financial trouble because they don t know much about managing their finances. Students who learn early how to save, budget and manage their finances have a head start on success. College Savings Options Here is an overview of a few of the many savings options, including the potential tax benefits or other benefits each may offer. Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESA). An ESA can help you save specifically for education expenses, and anyone can contribute to it. The contribution limit is $2,000 a year per child (for 2012), up to the age of 18, no matter how many accounts have been established. (Contributions are not tax deductible, and there are contribution limits for taxpayers based on their modified adjusted gross income.) Distributions are tax-free if they are used for qualified education expenses, such as tuition, books and fees, at an eligible educational institution (K-12, Post- Secondary, etc.). At the end of 2012, changes are expected to be made to the contribution limit and other items. Please contact your financial advisor for more info. State-sponsored 529 Plans. EdVest is Wisconsin s state-sponsored college savings plan administered by the College Savings Program Board and the State of Wisconsin. With EdVest, you can open an account on behalf of a designated beneficiary. Your contributions are placed in a trust fund established by the State of Wisconsin and are directed into special investment portfolios designed and managed specifically for the program. Earnings in your account will grow federal and state tax-free in Wisconsin, as well as potentially tax-free in other states, until the time your beneficiary is ready to go to college. The funds are then available to be used to pay for qualified higher education expenses at any eligible school. Contributions of up to $3,000 per beneficiary are deductible from WI taxable income each year if the beneficiary is your child, grandchild, great-grandchild, niece, nephew, or yourself. Contributions up to $65,000 may be excluded from federal gift tax pro rata over a five-year period. A low initial contribution of only $250 is required to open an account, and it s waived with an automatic investment plan. Start building your account with an automatic investment plan or payroll direct deposit of just $15 a month. Contribute up to $330,000 for a single beneficiary. Educators Investment Services provides 529 plans through our broker-dealer CFS*; contact us at (262) for more information. For more details, go to Education Savings Bond Program. This U.S. Treasury Department program allows interest earned to be completely or partially excluded from Federal income tax. The bond owner must pay tuition and fees at a college, university or vocational school or pay into a State tuition plan in the same calendar year that the bonds are redeemed. Series EE bonds issued after January 1989 and all Series I bonds are eligible. For more information about these bonds, check out the Education Planning web page on the TreasuryDirect website: www. treasurydirect.gov/indiv/planning/plan_education.htm. Prepaid Tuition Plans. These are state-sponsored college savings plans that allow you to buy tuition units. This means that if you buy units for one semester (or quarter) now, the units will still pay for one semester (or quarter) when your child goes to college. Previously, these plans locked you into state schools but with the advent of the 529 plans, there is a little more flexibility. Money Market Accounts or Special Savings. At the very least, you should set up a dedicated savings account or money market account for your college savings, and make a specific plan to contribute a certain portion of your income and earnings to it. With Educators High Yield Money Market account, you will automatically receive a higher interest rate as your balance increases to these points: $2,500, $10,000, $25,000, and $50,000. Also, you have access to your funds in case of an emergency without a penalty. Need help figuring out how much you ll need to save? Use Educators college planning calculators at that include: What will it take to save for a college education? What is the value of higher education? What investments can I use to save for college? How much should I budget for college living expenses? *Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. ( CFS ), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA / SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/ NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. Educators Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members. Investors should consider investment objectives, risks and charges associated with Section 529 plans prior to investing. More information about municipal fund securities is available at the issuer s official statement, which should be read carefully prior to investing. Most 529 plans are sponsored and administered by states. State tax benefits vary among the states, and some offer residents additional tax benefits if they invest in their own state plan. Consult your tax advisor for more information. 1

6 Types Of Financial Aid Financial Aid can take many forms: scholarships, loans, grants, work-study. These may be offered through the U.S. or state government, the college or university, or other organizations. Did you know that the National Consumer League s 2002 Teens and Financial Education survey revealed that teens are overly optimistic about their ability to obtain scholarships and grants to pay for college? When asked, 38% of teen students said that scholarships would be their main resource for covering the costs while only 10% indicated that they d use mainly loans. In fact, a report by The College Board indicated that loans comprise 58% percent of college aid packages while scholarships and grants make up only 25%. So it s smart to have a good, realistic grasp of the actual resources available for helping pay for the costs of higher education. This article profiles the major types of resources and provides reliable websites to help you find more. Scholarships Scholarships provide funds to pay part or all of your tuition. Some scholarships also cover other expenses such as room and board or books and study materials. Scholarships do not have to be repaid. Scholarships are available from individual schools and many other sources. A wide variety of scholarships are available beyond those offered by colleges and universities. Scholarships are offered by corporations, community organizations, national organizations, religious organizations, government organizations and foundations. You don t need to be an athlete or the smartest in your class to receive a scholarship. Numerous scholarships exist to award excellence in particular fields or for special student populations. For example, some scholarship programs recognize excellence in music, visual arts, theater arts, science, or entrepreneurship, just to name a few. Other scholarships may be designated for women, minorities or other groups. Individual companies may offer scholarships for employees or employees children, local community residents or study in a specific field. Other scholarships may be available after you have completed a specific amount of study, for example a semester or year. Scholarship information is available from your high school guidance counselor s office, local library, college library, college or career school financial aid office, and particularly the Internet. You don t need to pay for help in finding scholarship and financial aid information. Nor do you need to use a fee-based scholarship search service. Many of these so-called scholarship services or seminars are only interested in taking your money, not in helping you locate and apply for actual scholarships. excellent website, FinAid!, provides a guide to Financial Aid including links to several scholarship search sites. Tip: Apply for several scholarships. Most scholarships usually cover a small portion of tuition and fees, so one scholarship is usually not enough. Government Financial Aid Programs The first step is to fill out the FAFSA Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The U.S. government provides a number of grant and loan programs to help finance higher education. To apply for any federal aid program, you and your family must submit the FAFSA. The information provided in this form is used to determine what federal aid you may be eligible for. Most colleges and universities also use the federal FAFSA form as part of their financial aid process to qualify students not just for federal grants and loans, but also for their own scholarship and financial aid programs. There is no fee to file the FAFSA. It must be filed only once per year and preferably should be submitted online at The FAFSA website also provides information for completing the form. If you prefer using paper forms (a much slower process), such forms are available from the Financial Aid Offices of individual schools and from the Federal Student Aid Information Center at (800) 4-FED-AID. Federal Pell Grants This program provides grants for undergraduate study that do not have to be repaid. Applications are submitted through the individual school. Federal Stafford Loans: Subsidized and Unsubsidized These loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students, and loan eligibility increases for each subsequent year of study. Stafford Loans may be obtained directly from the federal government (Direct Loan program through your school). The federal government guarantees the loan funds. The variable interest rate can never exceed 8.25%. If you qualify for a subsidized Stafford Loan, the government will pay the interest on your loan while you are in school. If you have an unsubsidized Stafford Loan, you are responsible for paying all the interest that accrues. The school determines whether you qualify for a subsidized or unsubsidized loan based on financial status. An individual who receives a subsidized loan may also get an unsubsidized loan. You can find scholarships online, particularly those offered by groups and institutions other than colleges and universities. An 2

7 Federal PLUS Loans Parents can take out a PLUS Loan to help pay your education expenses if you are a dependent undergraduate student enrolled at least half time in an eligible program at an eligible school. For a Direct PLUS Loan, your parents must complete a Direct PLUS Loan application and promissory note, contained in a single form that you get from your school s financial aid office. Find out more information at studentaid.ed.gov. Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) These grants, which do not have to be repaid, range from $100 to $4,000 per year for students who remain eligible and are only available for undergraduates. The participating school administers the program and receives the application. Federal Work Study This program provides jobs for undergraduate and graduate students. The money earned is applied to education expenses. The participating school administers the program and receives the application. Perkins Loans These are low interest (5% APR) loans administered by the individual school. Undergraduates can borrow up to $4,000 annually and graduate students can borrow up to $6,000 annually. The Educators Smart Option Student Loan by Sallie Mae is an ideal solution to help bridge that gap between federal loans and the cost of your education expenses. The Smart Option Student Loan features and benefits: Competitive interest rates Borrow up to 100% of school certified education costs (minimum $1,000) Multiple in-school repayment options available Borrower benefits available like interest rate reductions Applying with a creditworthy cosigner may help you qualify and/or receive a lower rate Fast Online Application and 24/7 online account management Find out more and apply at Other Sources of Financial Aid Beyond the basic sources of financial aid described in this article, sources of financial aid range from free scholarship lotteries, to aid from your specific school, to national service, to meeting specific criteria (such as female, older, minority). Check out the FinAid! website, for more information. Prepared by Remar Sutton & Associates and licensed to Educators Credit Union. Copyright All rights reserved. Private Loans In addition to government-supported loans, you may take out education loans from financial institutions, including Educators. These loans may provide more flexibility (repayment, loan amounts) than federal loans. A smart consumer will compare options offered by several lenders in order to select the terms that are best for the individual. Educators Credit Union Education and Smart Option Student Loans Our Education Loan can be used to help finance higher education, post graduate studies, private or parochial elementary tuition, or high school tuition. For higher education, any student seeking a degree at an accredited school can apply and choose from one of two repayment options: regular installment payments or a 12- month balloon loan (with deferred payments). Federal Stafford subsidized loans are available to all students who meet federal financial need criteria, and the government will pay the interest on your loan while you are in school. Unsubsidized loans are available to all students regardless of financial need or income, and you are responsible for paying all the interest that accrues. The annual borrowing maximum for an Education Loan is $30,000 (up to cost of education less financial aid) with an aggregate maximum of $120,000 per student. The checks must be made payable to the school. There are no fees for origination, disbursement or repayment. The rate on the Education Loan is fixed at 8.9% APR (Annual Percentage Rate). 3

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9 Avoiding Financial Aid Scams One of the dangers of an online search for scholarships and financial aid is that you will inevitably run across scam artists among the reputable sites and services. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cautions students to watch for the following red-flag statements in promotions. The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back. Nobody can guarantee that you ll receive a scholarship. You can t get this information anywhere else. False. Groups that award scholarships make their information available to all. May I have your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship? Never, ever give out your credit card or bank account number. This request is a ploy to steal money from your account at best, and at worst to steal your identity. We ll do all the work. Nonsense. As the person applying for the scholarship, you and your family at the very least must properly complete the applications. The scholarship will cost some money. No real scholarship requires the recipient to pay any fees. You ve been selected by a national foundation to receive a scholarship, or You re a finalist in a contest you never entered. Check out such offers thoroughly to make sure the foundation or program is legitimate. Most aren t. If you attend a seminar on financial aid or scholarships, follow these steps: Take your time. Avoid high-pressure sales pitches that require you to buy now or risk losing out on the opportunity. Investigate the organization you re considering paying for help. Talk to a guidance counselor or financial aid advisor first. You may be able to get the same help for free. Be wary of success stories of extraordinary success. The seminar operation may have paid to get glowing stories. Instead, ask for a list of local families who ve used the services in the last year. Be cautious about purchasing from seminar representatives who are reluctant to answer questions or who give evasive answers to your questions. Ask how much money is charged for the service, the services that will be performed and the company s refund policy. The FTC says many legitimate companies can get students lists of scholarships in exchange for an advance fee. Other legitimate services charge an advance fee to compare a student s profile with a database of scholarship opportunities and provide a list of awards for which a student may qualify. The difference: Legitimate companies never guarantee or promise scholarships or grants. Reducing the Cost of Education Lower-cost Schools If you ll be working toward a bachelor s degree, you might consider starting at a two-year community college and then transferring to a four-year school. Community colleges are usually less expensive, and because attending a community college allows you to live at home, you can also save money on room and board. If you decide to start at a community college, make sure your courses will transfer to your four-year college and that they will count toward your bachelor s degree. Tax Breaks Certain borrowers can take a tax deduction for the interest actually paid on student loans. This benefit applies to all loans used to pay for postsecondary expenses. The maximum deduction is $2,500 a year. American Opportunity or Lifetime Learning Tax Credits You or your parents might qualify for one or both tax credits: The American Opportunity Credit, worth up to $2,500 per student, is available for the first 4 years of postsecondary education. The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit The amount that may be claimed as a credit is equal to 20 percent of the taxpayer s first $10,000 of qualified tuition/related expenses for all the students in the family. This applies to undergraduate, graduate and professional degree schools and even for less than half-time study. For more information on these tax credits and other tax benefits for postsecondary students, go to IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Higher Education, which explains these credits and other tax benefits, is available online, or call (800)

10 For Students: College Preparation Tips Pre-High School Start saving! Do your best in school. If you are having difficulty, don t give up get help from a teacher, tutor or mentor. Investigate which high schools or special programs will most benefit your future interests. Become involved in school- or community-based extracurricular activities that enable you to explore your interests, meet new people and learn new things. High School Every Year Continue to save for college. Take challenging classes in core academic subjects: most colleges require four years of English, at least three years of social studies (history, civics, geography, economics, etc.), three years of mathematics, three years of science, and many require two years of a foreign language. Round out your course load with classes in computer science and the arts. To increase your chances of receiving an Academic Competitiveness Grant in college, follow a rigorous high school program. For more information, visit federalstudentaid.ed.gov/funding. Stay involved in school- or community-based extracurricular activities that interest you or enable you to explore career interests. Consider working or volunteering. Remember: it s quality (not quantity) that counts. Save copies of your report cards, awards, honors and best work for your academic portfolio. Athletes, artists, scholars and others should start collecting items for their portfolios (such as game tapes, newspaper clippings, stats, awards, artwork, photographs, school papers, etc.). 10th Grade Meet with your school counselor or mentor to discuss colleges and their requirements. Talk to adults about what they like and dislike in their jobs and about what kind of education is needed for each kind of job. Consider taking a practice Preliminary SAT (PSAT) or the PLAN exam, also known as the pre-act.* Plan to use your summer wisely: work, volunteer or take a summer course (away or at a local college). 11th Grade All Year Continue to challenge yourself academically and be involved in additional extracurricular activities. Remember to add any new achievements to your portfolio. Talk to people you know who went to college to learn about what to expect. Research colleges that interest you. Visit them and talk to students. Make lists to help you compare different colleges. Begin exploring your financial aid options and get an early start on the financial aid process with the FAFSA4caster, at www. fafsa4caster.ed.gov. By using this, you and your family can receive an early estimate of eligibility for federal student aid, increase your knowledge of the financial aid process, and investigate other sources of aid, such as grants and scholarships. Check your school s scholarship postings, colleges financial aid websites and your library for directories of special scholarships. Fall Take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT).* Even if you took it for practice last year, you must take the test in 11th grade to qualify for scholarships and programs associated with the National Merit Program. Write to your U.S. senator or representative if you would like to attend a U.S. military academy. See your school counselor if you are interested in participating in an ROTC program. Spring Register for and take exams for college admission.* Many colleges accept the SAT I or SAT II: Subject Test, while others accept the ACT. Check with colleges you are interested in to see what tests they require. Make sure you file with the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Clearinghouse if you want to play for a Division I or II team. When registering for and taking the SAT or ACT, enter 9999 as one of the college choices to have test scores sent to the Clearinghouse. Summer Before 12th Grade Narrow down the list of colleges you are interested in attending, and visit the schools that interest you. Contact colleges for information and applications for admission. Ask about financial aid, admission requirements and deadlines. 6

11 Decide whether you are going to apply under a particular college s early decision or early action program. Be sure to learn about the program deadlines and requirements. Begin preparing for the application process: draft application essays; collect writing samples; assemble portfolios. If you are an athlete and plan to play in college, contact the schools you are applying to and ask about intercollegiate/ intramural sports programs and athletic scholarships. 12th Grade All Year Keep taking classes that challenge you, and work hard all year; second-semester grades can affect scholarship eligibility. Update your portfolio. Stay involved and seek leadership roles in your activities. Fall Meet with your school counselor: are you on track to graduate and fulfill college admission requirements? If you haven t done so already, register for and take exams such as the SAT I, SAT II: Subject Test or ACT for college admission.* Well before your application deadlines, ask your counselor and teachers to submit required documents (e.g., transcript, letters of recommendation) to the colleges to which you re applying. Apply to the colleges you have chosen. Prepare your application carefully. Follow the instructions, and pay close attention to deadlines! Prepare to apply for federal student aid. Be sure to get a PIN (personal identification number) at so that you can complete your application and access your information online. One of your parents must also get a PIN. Winter Encourage your parent(s) to complete income tax forms early. If your parent(s) have not completed the tax forms, you can provide estimated information on your federal student aid application, but remember to make any necessary changes later. As soon after January 1 as possible, complete and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), along with any other financial aid applications your school(s) of choice may require. You can complete the FAFSA online at or on paper, but completing the application online is faster and easier. You should submit your FAFSA by the earliest financial aid deadline of the schools to which you are applying, usually by early February. See page 2 for more information. If the schools you are applying to require it, complete the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile. Many private colleges and universities use this information to help them award nonfederal student aid funds. Complete scholarship applications. Apply for as many as you can you may be eligible for more than you think. (See page 2 for more details.) Parents should check their eligibility for the American Opportunity Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit or other tax benefits. (See page 5.) Spring Review your college acceptances, compare financial aid packages and make your final decision. When you decide which school you want to attend, notify that school of your commitment and submit any required financial deposit. Many schools require this notification and deposit by May 1. Remember to also let the other schools know that you will not be attending there. *Remember: Register for all tests in advance and be sure to give yourself time to prepare appropriately! If you have difficulty paying a registration fee, see your school counselor. Young adults with a bachelor s degree earned more than twice as much as those without a high school diploma or its equivalent in 2009 (i.e., 114 percent more), 50 percent more than young adult high school completers, and 25 percent more than young adults with an associate s degree. In 2009, the median of the earnings of young adults with a master s degree or higher was $60,000, some 33 percent more than the median for young adults with a bachelor s degree. From the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). The Condition of Education 2011 (NCES ), Indicator 17. 7

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13 For Parents: Prepare Your Child for College In this high-tech, globalized world, education beyond high school is more and more important. The more education your children have, the more career options they have. Pursuing a higher education doesn t have to mean going to a four-year college or university. Other options include two-year community or junior colleges, business schools, and vocational technical schools. Also included are courses of study that result in a license or certification. Throughout children s elementary and secondary school years, parents can help lay the foundation for successful advanced education. How Soon Should Children Start Preparing for College? Although doing well in elementary school prepares a student to excel in high school and college, specific academic preparation for higher education begins in middle school. For example, to be able to take chemistry or physics in high school (courses that are often required in a college prep curriculum), a student may need to take Algebra I in the 8th grade. Whatever their current career goals and dreams even if they have none, your children should take all of the core high school courses in English, math, science and history or geography. This broad educational base gives them basic skills for whatever path they take after high school. For students who plan to pursue a college bachelor s degree, educational advisors recommend that a student s high school electives (non-core courses) include 2 or 3 years of a foreign language and classes in music, art, dance, or theater. Again, even if your child doesn t know what they want to do after high school graduation or just knows they want to go to college somewhere, this broad background provides flexibility and opens up almost any option. How Can I Help My Middle Schooler Begin to Think About the Importance of Higher Education? Many young teens don t want to think about high school much less college, do they? We recommend you check out My Future, My Way: First Steps Toward College-A Workbook for Middle and Junior High School Students. You can download this from PORTALSWebApp/students/english/introducing.jsp Grades are one of the major criteria that colleges and universities consider in granting admission. College applications usually require that the applicant s complete high school transcript be sent. The transcript contains the grades for the courses taken in all years of high school. As a consequence, every year of high school is important, not just the last two. Colleges will also look at grade point average, which is the average of all grades received during high school. Although different colleges have different requirements for grades and grade point averages, admission to most colleges doesn t require a straight A average. A good record of As and Bs can win admission to a college that s a good match for a student s needs and talents. What About Standardized Test Scores? Although many colleges and universities say they are putting less emphasis now on college aptitude standardized test scores, most still require them and most still have minimum requirements for acceptable test scores. The SAT or ACT should be taken at least twice but usually no more than three times. Keep in mind that test scores are only one part of the admissions package. Most schools use them in conjunction with the prospective student s grades and courses taken. Good preparation for the test is to develop confidence with the test, usually through practice tests. The availability of practice tests range from books under $20 to full fledge cram courses that cost $500 or more. How Important are Extra-curricular Activities? Preparing for college isn t only about school work. Athletics, community service and other extracurricular activities can help children learn discipline, responsibility, teamwork and other skills. Encouraging children to read a newspaper every day helps broaden their horizons. You don t have to subscribe to one; read it online. Additional reading (fiction and non-fiction) and study outside of course requirements can help expand vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. Extracurricular and community volunteer activities even help some teens find their future careers. Online Resource for Parents Check out this guide: Federal Student Aid: Parent Section: studentaid.ed.gov/ PORTALSWebApp/students/english/parents.jsp. This resource prepared by the U.S. Department of Education includes calculators and information about financial literacy. Prepared by Remar Sutton & Associates and licensed to Educators Credit Union. Copyright All rights reserved. How Important are High School Grades in College Admission? 9

14 Finding A College That Fits Your Needs There are more than 9,000 institutions of higher learning in the United States and many more around the world. They come in all types and sizes, from two-year community colleges to large state universities, from small private liberal arts colleges to elite universities, from technical institutes to professional colleges. How do you find the one that s right for you? Choosing a school just because a parent or other relative went there isn t enough, nor is going to a school because that s where everyone else is going. As a first priority, you should choose a school that meets your needs, talents and interests. The Attitude College Search Inventory Answering this inventory s questions can help you determine your personal interests and whether or not each school under consideration has the key programs and qualities to meet your needs. Use it also to help identify potentially appropriate schools (the ones that match your criteria) from among the many that may send you information. 1. What do you want to study? Are you more interested in developing technical or vocational skills? You don t have to know what you want to major in yet. 2. Does the school offer courses in your areas of interest? 3. What type of location is important: small town, large city, close to home, within the state or out of state? 4. Do you want to go to a small school, middle-sized school, large school or a huge school? 5. Do you want to go to a church-related school? 6. Do you prefer a state or private school? 7. Do you want to live on campus, off campus or commute? Does the school require students to live on campus? 8. Do you want to go to a co-ed or single sex school? 9. What s the total cost of a year s enrollment-tuition, room, board and expenses? What kind of financial aid is available? What types of scholarships does the school offer academic, athletic or some other? Have you talked to the admission officer or financial aid office to see what types of financial aid you may qualify for? 12. Are you interested in an internship? Does the school offer internships? Some schools may require all students to complete an internship in order to graduate. 13. What other qualities are important in a college? What other questions need answers? Finding Schools That Meet Your Criteria Once you have the answers to these and any other questions, it s easy to use free online search tools to find schools that match your criteria. Here are two good resources: College Navigator from the National Center for Education Statistics, nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/, provides information on over 9,000 colleges and universities. Search for schools based on any combination of geographic region, state, city, distance from a zip code, type of school, programs offered or number of students. College Source Online, offers thousands of College Catalogs and a search. Peterson s website is also a great resource: Next Steps After identifying two or three potential schools, you ll want to contact the admissions office. Almost all institutions have a toll-free number or a way to make contact via . Talk to an admissions counselor, sharing your questions and interests and, if you still like what you hear, arrange for a campus visit. Admissions specialists emphasize the importance of a campus visit to make a sound decision. During the visit you can talk to students and faculty, explore the facilities, find out more about admission criteria and financial aid, and get a better feel for the school. These steps can help you select the schools to which you wish to apply. See more about planning these visits on page 15. Prepared by Remar Sutton & Associates and licensed to Educators Credit Union. Copyright All rights reserved. 10. Is participation in extracurricular activities important? If so, which ones? Does the school offer these? 11. Are you interested in a co-op program that alternates work with school? 10

15 Using The Internet To Research Options For College General Tips Because anybody can post anything on the Internet, you need to be sure that you select information that s reliable and useful. Don t believe everything you read. Just because it s in print does not make it true or factual. Always check the source. Check the credentials of a site. Who? and Why? are the most important questions to ask. If you don t find that information, or find out that the source has inadequate authority, then don t use the site. Watch out for sites that provide some basic information as a teaser to sell you something. Find out what the site does with your information before you provide it. This is usually included in their privacy policy. Provide the minimum of identifying information. Some sites may require that you register to access information, but don t give out personal information or credit card information. Good information is available without that. Where to Start These sites are just a selection of what is available. Student Aid on the Web (www.studentaid.ed.gov) The U.S. Department of Education s federal student aid information website provides links to information on planning your education, paying for your education, career development, community service, etc. Life After High School, kidshealth.org/teen/school_jobs/jobs/ after_hs.html, is an article from TeensHealth. It provides tips covering options such as going to college or technical school, heading straight into the work force, or taking a year off to travel or volunteer. Beyond High School, provides overviews in the areas of finding a job, joining the military, volunteer work, vo-tech, internships and apprenticeships. Prepared by Remar Sutton & Associates and licensed to Educators Credit Union. Copyright All rights reserved. How old is the information? Some sites may be from a reputable source, but if the site has not been updated in several years, its information may be out-of-date. There is plenty of good, reliable information available for free. Search Tips Searching for information on the Internet can be frustrating. Following these tips should help your search go more smoothly. Start with your state department of education, state university system or state community college system websites. Many of these sites offer articles and links on college and career planning. Use directories as well as search engines. Directory entries are selected by people. Search engine entries are compiled by computers. Yahoo! has a good directory. Google has both a good search engine and directory. Use more than one search engine and directory. The Internet is so large that each search engine covers a very small portion of it, and there is very little overlap between engines. Try to use precise keywords instead of common words to form your search. The more descriptive the keywords, the better the search results. For example, if you want to study music, specifically voice, include voice in your keywords as well as music. Check out the search tips for each search engine and directory you use. What works with one may not work with another. 11

16 FAQs About College and Financial Aid College What high school courses are required to enter college? You have to check with the schools you plan to apply to for their requirements. As a guideline, here are the minimum required high school courses that you ll need to enter a UW System campus, according to 4 years of English, including composition and literature. 3 years of mathematics, including algebra, geometry and higher mathematics, such as trigonometry and pre-calculus. 3 years of natural science, including one or more classes of laboratory science, such as biology, chemistry or physics. We strongly recommend courses with a solid laboratory component, and some campuses even require them. 3 years of social science, including history. 4 years of electives from the above areas, foreign language, fine arts, computer science, or other areas. We strongly advise taking two years of a single foreign language, and some UW System universities require them. How do I write my college application essay? Think about who you are as an individual. What are your goals in life? Who or what has shaped these goals? The essay should show why you think you are a good match for the school. Follow these tips: Start off with a strong opening paragraph. Make your point and then develop it fully. Use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. Mistakes make it look like you didn t take the essay very seriously. Have someone review it for you if you aren t sure. Check all facts mentioned to be sure they are correct. If there is a recommended length, stick to it. What do I do about Health Insurance? You might be covered still under your parents insurance policy if you remain a full-time student. You or your parents will need to check with their insurance company to be sure. If you are not covered, many colleges offer plans for students. Check with your counselor to find out this information. Do I need Renters Insurance? If you are renting an off-campus apartment or house while away at school, you should consider purchasing renters insurance to protect your personal property in the event that it is damaged, destroyed or stolen. Even if you are a dependent under your parent s insurance, your personal property, in many cases, is not covered if you live off campus. However, if you are under 26 years old, enrolled in classes and living in on-campus housing, you may be covered under your parents homeowners or renters insurance policy. Have your parents check their policy or contact their insurance agent to see if renters insurance is right for you. Financial Aid How can I tell if my family is eligible for Financial Aid? The only way to tell if you are eligible for financial aid is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Sometimes, families never complete the FAFSA only to find out later they would have qualified. Furthermore, there are some types of loan programs for which the student will qualify regardless of need. Do I have to reapply for Financial Aid every year? Yes. Students are required to complete a FAFSA or the Renewal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (renewal FAFSA) every year. Students who applied for financial aid during the previous school year will have a renewal FAFSA mailed to them automatically by the Department of Education or their institution. How long do I have to wait before I expect to receive my Student Aid Report (SAR)? It should be less than four weeks. If you sent in your FAFSA over four weeks ago and do not received a SAR, call (800) 4-FED-AID, to check on the status. My parents did not claim me on their tax returns this year and I am 18. Can I file my FAFSA as an independent student? Probably not. To determine if you are independent or dependent, review the FAFSA. If you can answer yes to any question in Section D, you are considered independent for financial aid purposes. If you cannot answer yes to any of those questions, you are considered dependent for financial purposes. After that, if you still feel that you are an independent student, contact the campus financial aid office to discuss your circumstances. 12

17 Choosing Your Major So, What Are You Going to Do With Your Life? Some students start college knowing exactly what they d like to major in. Others don t know what to major in, or have a career goal but no knowledge of what majors will get them there. Most find themselves switching majors during college. Here are some tips, no matter where you fall in this range. What is a College Major? You re required to major in a specific academic subject (or professional field) to demonstrate sustained, high-level work in one field. Depending on the college, you might be able to major in two fields, have a major and a minor, or even create your own major. When Should I Declare a Major? At most colleges, you aren t required to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year. If you re in a two-year degree program, you ll probably need to select a major at the start. How Do I Choose? First- and second-year students usually take more general courses while they try and decide on a major. After this initial shopping period, coursework becomes more focused and specific. Make sure that you have genuine interest, though. You don t want to choose a major by process of elimination that could take a while. most students, picking a college major is not the same as picking a career. It will be up to you to pursue what you like. Source: Choosing Your College Major, Copyright 2007, The College Board, Reproduced with permission. Other Tips: Explore Your Interests Make a list of your skills and interests. Think hard about what you enjoy and what you are good at. Find out more about the kinds of the jobs that interest you, along with their educational requirements, salary, working conditions, future outlook, and anything else that can help you decide. Make a second list of possible jobs that you would like to have and compare it with your skills and interests. The job that matches your skills and interests the closest may be the career for you. Develop a career plan. Think about what you want to do and find out more about the kind of training, education and skills you will need to achieve your career goal. Do you want to go to school for two years, four years or on to grad school? Some careers require a certain amount of postsecondary education. Go to your career guidance center (at your middle school, high school or college) or local library for additional information and help on career planning. Take courses in areas that appeal to you, then try and focus on a subject that will interest and motivate you. You ll do better, and your motivation will continue through college and into a job. What if I Want to Go to Grad School? If you think law school, medical school or grad school is in your future, some schools offer preprofessional advising programs (such as premed or prelaw). These programs are not the same as majors you ll still need to choose a major in another subject. As long as you fulfill a grad school s course requirements, it really doesn t matter what you major in. Does My Major Dictate My Career? Sometimes. If you specialize in something like nursing, accounting, or engineering, you re learning a specific trade and will likely continue with that. Most majors, however, prepare you for a range of careers that you can be trained to handle once you graduate. For Remember, you re not alone. Choosing a major is usually done with the help of academic and peer advisors. Since this decision could determine what career you will go into, it shouldn t be rushed into. Take your time exploring your options. Don t let pressure from other people affect your decision. You have to do what is right for you. 13

18 Researching Occupations Do some research. Talk to your parents, friends, teachers, guidance counselors and individuals in occupations that interest you. Search the Internet for career websites and job descriptions. Consider these items: Job Outlook How competitive will the job market be in the future? What are your chances for getting a job in the fields you re interested in? Get the facts at the U.S. Department of Labor website, which publishes 10-year projections for U.S. workers in its Occupational Outlook Handbook: Starting Salary and Job Growth Is how much you make right away important to you? Or are you willing to make less in the beginning, but with the potential to make more down the road? Learn about job growth possibilities by checking out the Department of Labor s Bureau of Labor Statistics. It lists: The 30 fastest growing occupations The 30 occupations with the largest job growth The 10 industries with the fastest wage/salary growth Remember, these are only projections. Keep them in mind, but money should not be the only thing to consider. It s important to like your job. Education and Training Requirements In your research, you may discover that some jobs require specific job skills. You may gain these skills in your high school classes. But if the skill is very specialized specific computer programs, for example you may find classes at community centers or through private companies. There s no better way to gain experience and knowledge in your interests than on-the-job training. Looking to go into medicine? Volunteer at a local hospital. Want to be a software programmer? Find a summer job at a software company. Whatever you choose, you ll be able to interact with professionals in your field and learn what they do on a daily basis. Do the research on the many different occupations out there. Find out how many years of education and experience you ll need, what the best locations are for certain jobs, your projected income, etc. Armed with this information, you ll be on the right track to find a career that fits you. Career Information These sites provide information on specific occupations. Career Zone, is a career exploration and planning system designed for middle and high school students. Even though it is designed for New York state students the information it provides on 900 occupations is applicable no matter what state you live in. It also has career videos and career portfolios. Occupational Outlook Handbook, is produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. It describes what workers do on the job, working conditions, the education and training needed, earnings and expected job prospects for a wide range of occupations. Today s Military, provides details on more than 4,100 enlisted and officer job paths. The Today s Military site also describes training, advancement, and educational opportunities with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. 14

19 Planning Your College Visits Visiting the colleges that you are considering is a very important factor in making your decision. If you plan to live on campus, this will be your home for the next four or more years. To make sure you get to see everything you need to, sign-up in advance for a campus tour, or call the college ahead of time and schedule your visit. Some colleges also offer virtual tours online. This shows you the basic layout, buildings and size of the campus. Check out the colleges individual sites to see if these are available. Prepare for the Visit Before you visit a college campus, you should do a little research on the college. Look through brochures and view the college s website to find out basic information. This will give you more time on the tour to find out information that is not found in the printed material. You should also schedule a campus tour at least two weeks before you make the trip. What Should You Bring Along? There are several items you should bring with you in order to make the campus visit a success. Be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes since you will actually be taking a tour of the campus. You will also want to bring a journal so you can write down any notes that will help you remember the college. Since you may be seeing a lot of campuses, this journal will come in handy if you forget any details about certain colleges. Pictures will also help you remember particular details about colleges so be sure to pack a camera. This will allow you to look back at pictures that can t be found on the college s website or in the brochures. Use the following checklist while you are visiting each campus to help you make your decision. Things You Should Request q Take a campus tour. q Have an interview with an admission officer. (Make sure that you re ready to answer the questions asked!) q Participate in information sessions at the admission office. Additional Things to Do q Ask a student why he/she chose this college. q Ask a student what he/she loves and hates about the college, and if he/she likes the classes and professors. q Wander around the campus by yourself, paying close attention to the details. q See if you can imagine yourself at this college do you feel at home here? q Read the student newspaper. q Try to find other student publications department newsletters, alternative newspapers, literary reviews. q Eat in the cafeteria, and ask about the food choices. q Check out the library. q Read the bulletin boards in the student union. q Browse in the college bookstore. q Read the bulletin boards in the academic department(s) you re interested in. q Try to listen to students to hear what they re talking or complaining about. q Check out the student computer center. q Walk/drive around the community surrounding the campus. q Try to find out information about job opportunities both on campus and off. q Ask a student what he/she does on weekends. q Listen to the college s radio station. q Try to see a residence hall that you didn t see on the tour, or even request to stay overnight in one of the halls. q Find out if the school is a suitcase school, meaning that a lot of students go home on the weekends. q Sit in on a class that interests you. q Talk to a professor in your chosen major(s) or in a few fields if you aren t sure what your major is yet. q Talk to a coach if you will be playing a sport. q Talk to a student or counselor in the career center. 15

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