With all the hype and excitement of applying to college and getting ready for moving out, many students push aside the daunting thoughts of student loans and financial aid. Once freshmen arrive on campus, they are shocked to find the student population frantic about grants, loans, FAFSA, and scholarships. But the time to become acquainted with the complicated processes of loan applications and grant qualifications is before you step foot on campus—or even before you start applying.
College is expensive. It’s that simple. Paying for college is not simple. Tuition alone can be upwards of $45,000 and then tack on room and board, books, fees, living expenses, supplies, dorm necessities. The list goes on and on and on!
Even after receiving scholarships and federal aid, students still need loans to cover the costs of college (http://www.finaid.org/loans/). The approval process for a loan is a difficult one. You will need to decide exactly what type of loan you need, how much funding you will need from a loan, and who will cosign the loan with you.
Finances and tuition are an important consideration in the college selection process. You may get accepted to every school you apply to and you may even receive merit-based scholarships from certain places, but there will be schools that will be more affordable than others.
At the end of my college selection process, I had my choices narrowed down to two schools (out of the 11 I applied to). And these two colleges could not be any more different. Emerson College, a private liberal arts school located in the heart of Boston. Macaulay Honors College, a public honors college of the CUNY system encompassing campuses in the five boroughs of New York. Even with a half-tuition scholarship to the private institution, the cost was coming up close to $30,000 (a year)! But, I was convinced that this college was perfect. I wanted to leave my home state of New York and live in Boston forever, but there was reality to face. My mom gave me the ultimatum—go to whatever school you want, but you’re signing the loan. There were two options. One involved graduating over $100,000 in debt and the other didn’t. There were great aspects to every school. The Macaulay Honors College is tuition-free, provides a stipend to study abroad, partially funds dormitory expenses, and supplies each student with a free Mac laptop. Sounds like a dream, right?
Decision time came and to be honest, I was in a somewhat delusional state. I was sure that everyone took out loans and that was the only way to get through college. My parents tried everything to get me to enroll at the tuition-less school—there were bribes of new clothes, a new phone, and even a promised trip to visit my distant family. But this scheme wasn’t working out for them. They called in back-up, my older brother. He was a rising junior at Macaulay. At only 20 years old, he had made it through three years of college without losing a cent. In fact, he made money—from his college and from his jobs.
So my parents’ master-plan: send the two of us to a local diner and have my brother talk up this college. After about an hour and a pot of coffee, the fuzzy haze of “college finances” began to clear. He explained how to spend (and save) money in college. Then, he told something that ultimately formed my college decision and has remained engrained in my memory. “Just imagine, in 4 years, graduating college and not owing anything to anyone—not a bank, not mom and dad. Imagine what you can do.” Decision made. I enrolled at the Macaulay Honors College and I couldn’t be happier with the people I’ve met and the money I’ve saved. Now, when grad school decisions begin in 3 years, it might be a different story.