College money matters: the financial aid frenzy

Credit%3A+Aysen+Tan%2FThe+Foothill+Dragon+Press

Caitlin Trude

Credit: Aysen Tan/The Foothill Dragon Press
Credit: Aysen Tan/The Foothill Dragon Press

Once again, I’ve been prompted through observation and some of my own experiences to compile another senior how-to: post-college acceptance edition. Below, I have taken the liberty to jot down the material that future seniors should take to heart before jumping headfirst into the post-high school arena.

You’ve been accepted. What now? Well, it most likely means that you’ll still be bombarded by a merciless influx of emails, from both the schools you applied to, and the ones who insist that it’s not too late to send in an application. So while you’re sorting through all the emails from UCSB, BYU, CSUCI, Harvard (okay, so perhaps that last one is a stretch), categorize the ones from your ideal schools into one organized folder, and check it regularly.

With that said, hopefully you’ve powwowed at least once with the parental units prior to sending off your applications in November. As a reiteration, there’s no point in applying to a school you can’t realistically pay for – unless you’re a) super smart or b) have an amazing life story, either of which could lead you to being worth thousands of scholarship dollars.

Prepare yourself for at least a second powwow with the parents once you’ve raked in your acceptances. This is when you should discuss current financial circumstances and possibilities for your future. This might mean going straight to a four-year and accumulating loans along the way, or perhaps storing up the Benjamins while at a two-year, and transferring thereafter.

An excellent idea for the summer before senior year is to have your parents educate themselves and you on money matters related to college tuition and other expenses. Recommended summer reading? How-to books that go along the titles of Paying for College Without Going Broke, 2012 Edition.

As always, make filling out your FAFSA by the first of January your first New Year’s resolution. Quick and painless.

Keeping that in mind, hound your parents – frequently, if necessary – to file their taxes early. Hound yourself too, if you maintain a paying job. Some colleges require more financial paperwork than others, and will hold you accountable to send it all to them in a timely manner. These could include tax returns, student dependent forms, W-2 forms, and the list goes on. Don’t be like me – er, I mean my friend – and let these important details slip your mind. While perhaps not all the paperwork is due May 1, tuition and housing deposits are for most if not all schools. Since financial packaging is a major factor in choosing your future institution, better to sort it all out sooner rather than later. Don’t find yourself pulling last minute paperwork together so close to the deadline.

Believe it or not, the financial aid office accountants aren’t out for blood. More than likely, their income is probably not much better than your family’s, and hopefully have chosen this particular field to work in because they were drawn to helping out families in getting their kids to college. Have a question? Relay it to your school’s financial aid office and gain some peace of mind.

Lastly, a potential “fundraising” task that goes on year-round is scholarships. Other than looking into your dream school’s scholarships for sports, music, theater, cultural diversity, and academic merit, some popular sites that cater to students seeking out chances at winning some dough are Fastweb, Scholarships.com, and more.

I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve thought the same thing myself – there are no scholarships for “normal” people. Whatever “normal” means. In between the scholarship opportunities for people who make/wear duct tape dresses to prom, or who are unusually tall, or can successfully duck-call, you’ll find a few “normal” ones for the average kid who does well in school, performs some volunteer work here and there, and can write a decent essay about his vision for the future.

Let’s be real – May is the furthest thing from a picnic. And so are the weeks preceding it, for the most part. With AP testing, college D-Day (Decision Day), and possible summer job applications to fill out, these times are far more frenzied than a freshman version of yourself could have imagined.

But so long as you take heed from your “senior citizens,” your manic May (and April) should be relatively less so.

What do you think?