Juniors: Let Them Show You the Money

Juniors, part of researching colleges is understanding the cost of a college education. It's not too soon to start investigating what your family may be asked to pay for college. To do that, start with the net price calculators (also called financial aid calculators) that every college and university are required to have on their website. (Calculators can also be found through the College Board at collegeboard.org and on the Federal Student Aid website at fafsa4caster.ed.gov.)

This online tool will give you a preliminary understanding of the amount you may be expected to pay out of pocket, as well as aid you may be eligible to receive from the federal government and the colleges themselves. Over the coming weeks, sit down with your parents and take a look at the net price calculators on the websites of some of the colleges in which you're interested.

In 2012-13, $238.5 billion in financial aid was distributed to undergraduate and graduate students in the form of grants, Federal Work-Study, federal loans, and federal tax credits and deductions, according to the College Board's Trends in Student Aid. There is money out there to help you finance a college education. But you have to apply for it. 


Financial Aid Checklist: Part I

Paying for college is a concern for most families. But the single biggest mistake families make in the college application process is failing to apply for financial aid. Even if you think you won't qualify, apply. You may be pleasantly surprised. Today, we're pleased to bring you Part I of a checklist of tasks you should be tackling right now to pay for college, courtesy of College Advisor Alice Kleeman. Use this checklist to make sure you are eligible for ALL the aid you may qualify for.

Dear College Counselor... The Year's Best Advice from our Counselors of the Month

October is the cruelest month for high school college counselors, besieged on all sides with seniors intent on applications and juniors beginning their college search and testing -- as well as issues with the Common App this year. So we give counselors a pass at this time of year. Instead of our Counselor of the Month feature, we bring you a round-up of best advice from the counselors who have graced our website with their guidance and wisdom in the past year. Read on to learn their best advice for students and parents, recommendations for financial aid, guidance on the college search and mistakes to avoid.  One of our personal favorite sound bites? Niles West High School's Dan Gin who advises students, "Have fun… Everything will work out in the end." Next year at this time, you'll all see how true this is. In the meantime, take advantage of this advice from the experts on the college counseling side of the desk.

The College Search

Laura Stewart, Ensworth School, Nashville, Tennessee

How do you encourage your students to broaden their college search and look beyond the four or five schools that they know best?

College Reality Check: Some Experts Weigh In On The Latest Tool for Families

There's no shortage of information when it comes to researching colleges -- guidebooks, email, college fairs, blogs, YouTube. In fact, there are so many new sites and tools -- College Score Card, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and their Shopping Sheet (this is a sample) -- that it can be hard to know what’s useful and what’s not. One of the newest tools on the table is College Reality Check, brought to you by a partnership between the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Gates Foundation. With 3600 colleges in its database, the tool aims to allow users to see how these institutions fare with regard to net price, graduation rates, debt rates and more.

We're big believers in information -- that is, good information. So we asked a group of college admission deans and high school college counselors to share their initial thoughts about the value of College Reality Check and how families can best employ the data this new tool provides. Read on to take advantage of their bird's eye view of this newest source of information:

Juniors: It's never too early to start learning about financial aid

When it comes to financial aid, it’s never too early to start learning about what is a very complex and important topic. All colleges are required by law to have a financial aid calculator (sometimes referred to as a net price calculator) available on their website.  Financial aid calculators can provide an early understanding of what you will be asked to pay at individual colleges and what your aid award might look like.

So as you research colleges now and through the summer, check out the financial aid calculator for each school on your list as you’re surfing the colleges’ websites. Use the calculator to help you figure out what the colleges offer, as well as to start thinking about what you will need to do to make your choices work financially. If possible, try out the calculators with your parents.

Your results— the cost to you and the aid you may receive— may differ fairly significantly from calculator to calculator and from college to college. Just to see how things compare, try out the calculators at a few less expensive colleges and some more expensive ones. It can often be at least as affordable to attend a more expensive college that offers a strong financial aid program. Find out now, so you can select the colleges that work best for you while factoring in price, without ruling out options that might initially seem unaffordable.