PREPARING FOR COLLEGE
As soon as you start to think about applying to college, you should go to the following websites for helpful information. Sign up for College Board as you will be using this site to sign up for tests and to search for colleges.
SAT OR ACT TESTING
Testing requirements may vary depending on where students apply. Some schools ask for the SAT (Reasoning Test) or the ACT (best to take it with Writing). Some students take the SAT and the ACT to see which one shows a higher score. When applying to competitive 4 year schools, they may also ask you to take the SAT Subject Tests. (View a Comparison Chart of Both Exams)
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Register for Your Test
NOTE: The TOEFL test is for non-native English speakers/students who have less than 5 years in the U.S. Before registering for this exam, you should check to see if you are required to take this by the school(s) you are applying to.
Requesting an SAT/ACT Fee Waiver
Students who are on free/reduced lunch may request an SAT/ACT Fee Waiver from their guidance counselors in order to take the test at no charge!! (You’re getting a free voucher). These students can receive up to 2 waivers for separate testing dates for each exam and 2 waivers for SAT Subject Tests for separate testing dates also. However, these waivers are on a FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE basis — the earlier you ask for one, the better your chances are of getting one!
The total number of applications you will need to complete depends on how many schools are on your list. For those colleges that accept it, you can use one form called the Common Application, including any Supplements if applicable. (Supplements are additional required information and/or extra essay questions.) If there is a college on your list that does not accept the Common Application, then you will need to submit a separate application to that particular college, which you can usually find on that college’s website.
*Each college application will usually have a fee (most of them are not free!) The fees range in price from $10-80. Once again, students who are on free/reduced lunch and who used an SAT/ACT Fee Waiver in the past may receive up to 4-8 college application fee waivers from their guidance counselors in order to avoid the application fee! You can get 4 College Application Fee Waivers for having used an SAT Fee Waiver in the past and an additional 4 if you used an ACT Fee Waiver to be able to test.
FREE Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
In order to receive money from the government in the form of a grant (FREE money that does not need to be paid back), all students must submit a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Every college will have a deadline for submission of these forms, so make sure you know what it is. For first time college students, most schools ask for it anywhere between February 1st-15th. This whole process is first come, first serve! Therefore, you want to make sure that you complete this form as soon as possible! January 1st of every year the form is available to be filled out for the next school year. You can estimate the numbers (or use last year’s tax information) and submit the form, and then once you/your parents do the taxes for the current year you can re-submit it with accurate figures.
Another financial form that must be submitted (only if required by the school(s) you are applying to) is the CSS Profile. Again this application is only necessary for private universities/colleges that ask for it.
College Financial Aid Forms
Lastly, some colleges may even want you to fill out their own financial aid form, on top of the FAFSA. Make sure that you know if the school(s) you are applying to will need you to fill out their own separate forms. You can figure this out by calling the school or checking out their financial aid information on their website.
Colleges now are required by the Federal government to include a financial calculator on its websites to help students and their parents figure out the affordability of its school. However:
- The calculators are not consistent across colleges – they vary on what they include in “other expenses” and many do not include federal loan options
- They are difficult to find on many websites
- The information required to put in (such as tax return info) varies widely and for many students trying this on their own, may find the language confusing.
But if you are interested to see what kind of financial aid package you may receive from an institution, feel free to play around with the financial calculator feature for whichever school(s) you will be applying to. However, do NOT cross an institution from your list just based on the price. Colleges are ALL super expensive and most of us would not be able to afford the average $50,000 a year for a 4 year private education. This does NOT mean however that is what you will end up paying. There are TONS of FREE money out there! The school may be able to give you their own grants, you may also be able to receive grants from the government and state, and you can certainly apply for as many outside scholarships as you want to!
Additional Financial Information
The best way to search for scholarships is to stay in touch with your guidance counselors. They have information available about many scholarship resources. Many guidance counselors distribute scholarship information to their seniors via a newsletter, email or some other way. So stay on top of these communications. Also, check with your local church, rotary club, Chamber of Commerce or your parent(s) employers to see if they know of any scholarship opportunities. The main sites used by students are:
- For Hispanic/Latino students: www.HSF.net
- Micro Scholarships: www.raise.me
- Scholarships for Minority Students: www.OnlineSchools.org
For many students, loans will be necessary to pay for college. All students should seek financial advice before taking loans and to the extent possible stick with Federal Loan Programs. Federal Loan programs look at financial need and credit history to determine if you are eligible for loans and for how many loans. Banks offer other possible sources of funds (particularly home equity loans) but these should be absolutely last resort. For most Federal loans, the student will be the person on record and responsible for repayment. For one loan option, the Parent Plus loan, the parent is responsible for repayment.
The most popular loans are the Stafford Loans. There are the subsidized Stafford Loans where interest does not start accruing until you have been out of college for 6 months. Payments do not start until 6 months after you graduate. For unsubsidized loans, interest starts to accrue immediately. If you do not pay the interest during your college years, you will pay interest on your interest when you graduate and this can add up!