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Top 10 Financial Questions Every Student Should Ask on Their College Visits

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financial-questions-students-should-askSummer is a great time to head to college campuses for a visit. Not only can you learn more about schools and get a feel for whether they’re a good fit for you, but campus visits are also an ideal opportunity to speak to admissions representatives and financial aid officers one-on-one about college costs and financial aid. When speaking to these college representatives, consider asking these ten questions to ensure you find the school that fits you best in every way, including financially.

1. What is the current cost of tuition and fees? Room and board?

Some colleges know what their listed charges (sticker prices) will be years in advance. Most don’t, but obtaining the current sticker price will at minimum provide you with an initial starting point for determining the affordability of the institution. If you intend to live in university housing for more than one year, be sure to ask how room and board plans typically fluctuate from year to year. Are all room prices the same? How about meal plan prices?


2. Is there a more economical way to obtain books? Do you rent books? Can I obtain my books from places other than the school’s bookstore?

Depending on your course of study, books can be a significant expense. It is important to find the lowest price for your textbooks whenever possible. You might be able to gain some valuable tips on how to save money on textbooks—especially from student tour guides.


3. Do you offer academic scholarships? If so, what is the average amount of merit-based aid awarded to incoming freshmen?

Some colleges provide academic scholarships, some do not. It is important to determine the college’s philosophy. You might even consider digging a bit deeper to learn more about the criteria used to determine how academic scholarships are awarded. For example, do they use ACT or SAT scores, GPA, or class rank? Knowing this information can give you a better sense of how likely it is that you’ll be able to lower the cost of college with academic scholarships.


4. Are there any scholarships or grants offered through academic departments, campus organizations, or alumni that would fit my background and experiences?

In addition to the up-front academic scholarship, some colleges offer other options for merit money. The visit is a great time to learn about all of these potential options.


5. How many incoming freshmen receive need-based financial aid?

Some schools offer more need-based financial aid than others, and it is critical to understand how much aid is available when you’re in search of your most affordable college options. You might want to ask if need-based financial aid is a significant component of the aid offered to freshmen or if it is mostly merit scholarship money.


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6. What is the typical amount a student can earn through a campus job?

Many college students can earn their spending money (rather than relying on their parents for it) and, in some cases, pay for books with a campus job. In case you aren’t eligible for a federal work-study job, you might want to ask what other jobs you can obtain on campus.


7. How accurate is your net price calculator? On average, how much does the NPC estimate vary from the actual, official financial aid award letter offer?

Some colleges have very exact net price calculators and others do not. It is important for you to know the reliability of the NPC before using it to determine whether it is affordable to you. Ask if there are financial aid options available that aren’t accounted for in the NPC.


8. What financial aid forms are required (i.e., FAFSA only, FAFSA and CSS Profile, FAFSA and a school supplement)?

Every family must file a FASFA in order to qualify for federal aid, but a few schools require a supplemental document. If you need to learn more about deadlines for financial aid applications, you should definitely ask this as well. You might also ask when you can expect to receive your financial aid award letter.


9. Do you allow students to appeal their award letters? How frequently do you change financial aid packages based on appeals?

The FAFSA is a financial snapshot, but not all aspects of a family’s financial picture—such as loss of income or unexpected medical expenses—can be captured by this snapshot. That is why many colleges allow for appeals.


10. What is the average amount that incoming freshmen borrow in loans?

Look into how much these schools allot to Perkins loan money and how low your EFC (estimated family contribution) must be to become eligible. The Perkins loan is a very attractive student loan option for which few students are eligible. You might also consider asking about parent loans and college-sponsored student loans as well.


Campus visits are just one step on the road to your acceptance letter.

Get help for every step of the way with adMISSION POSSIBLE. Check it out in the College Countdown Bookstore today!


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Frank Palmasani is a Chicago area high school guidance counselor and former college director of admissions, and creator of Financial Fit. In 1985, Palmasani began delivering seminars on the college financial aid and planning process, and estimates that he has reached more than 200,000 people through his talks. He is a member of NACAC, IACAC, and the College Board. Palmasani has been featured in the Boston Herald, the Chicago Tribune, Yahoo! Finance, WGN-TV, WTTW-TV, CBS’s Monsters and Money in the Morning, and is the author of the forthcoming book Right College, Right Price (Sourcebooks, January 2013).

Palmasani is the founder of Financial Fit, which you can find in the College Countdown bookstore.