While you are busy working on getting things done in “Get Going” you may run into some obstacles along the way. Because this process can be complicated you should seek help if you need it. Some resources are free and some are low cost. We will direct you to some resources so you can accomplish your tasks. Please note that we do not accept compensation from any of the recommended services. We are merely trying to guide you in the right direction. If you decide to pay for a service do your homework carefully. As in the other steps we break the help into help for students and help for parents.
With respect to your schoolwork the biggest help you can get will be from your teachers, your parents, and your school counselors. If you find yourself struggling in a class seek out the teacher of the class immediately. They may be able to recommend some tutoring options or offer you some personal attention after school. Waiting to admit you have a problem is the biggest mistake. Everyone runs into a few difficult subjects along the way. You should not be embarrassed to seek help.
When you are preparing for the SAT or ACT test there are some online resources that you can use for free. For the SAT test your best bet is The College Board web site or MajorTest.com. For the ACT test we suggest you start with sample tests at the ACT web site. These are good places to get started to measure your overall skills. There are other services that cost money which you may need if your test scores, as indicated by these sites, are not where you want them to be. Princeton Review and Kaplan are some resources for more intensive fee-based test preparation.
To help you pick a field of study we recommend you start with a career assessment test. These are tests that determine your psychological profile and compares your profile with people currently working in different fields. We have not been able to find a free assessment test for students that is really worth much. There is a very low-cost alternative which we like offered by QuintCareers. It matches your personality type with students who are in college right now and individuals currently in certain careers. No assessment is absolutely perfect. We suggest you use the results as a guideline. For less than $25 it may be a good investment.
Once you have narrowed down your choice of major we recommend searching for colleges using The College Board web site or a new service by Princeton Review called Counselor-O-Matic (currently in Beta testing), where you answer a questionnaire and the service tries to match your needs and skill set with universities. You will have to make some decisions about what types of schools you may want to attend to narrow down your choices. We encourage you to look at all public and private options. Many students rule out looking at private schools because they think they will cost too much. Many private schools have great financial aid. You need to worry about your personality fitting with a school. Your parents can work on getting bottom line financial aid estimates for each school.
The Department of Education provides you with a web site to help calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The web site FAFSA4Caster will provide an estimate of your family contribution based on the information you enter into the sections provided. While the forecast is relatively accurate for families filing the 1040a or 1040ez tax forms, families filing the 1040 form may be surprised at how limited this tool will be in forecasting your final EFC. The family contribution will also only be accurate for schools which follow the “Federal Method” of calculating your family contribution. A large number of schools follow what is called the “Institutional Method” of calculating the family contribution. Which means that each school may follow a different methodology.
You can find out what each school will cost per year by visiting the individual financial aid web site at each school. You want to make sure that the estimates include not only tuition, room, and board, but also include books, fees, transportation to and from your house, and one full year of living expenses. Many colleges provide very low estimates of some of these costs on their web sites. If you want an accurate estimate you will have to do a bit of homework.
As for “need met,” the “mix of aid,” and “merit money” you may also be able to glean some hints about the schools ability to provide a financial aid package by searching each individual financial aid web site as well. The representations made by the individual schools are always subject to a great deal of interpretation.
If you want comprehensive assistance we can design a financial aid planning package for you based on your income, assets, and the schools your student is interested in attending. Our package includes an estimate of the EFC based on each schools methodology. We also know, statistically speaking, how much need each school will meet and what the mix of aid is likely to look like for your student. We can also provide you with an assessment for each school indicating whether your student will likely be accepted (based on the GPA, class rank, and SAT or ACT score) and in what percentile your student will be in the entering class (top 25% to bottom 25%) which will indicate whether your student may receive some of the merit money that the schools give out each year. Each assessment will also give you the all important “bottom line” figure, or what you will really have to pay for your student to attend each school.
Our clients are often surprised that some very expensive schools turn out to be their best option for financial aid. If you would like us to help you with this process please fill out the questionnaire here. We can provide you with a plan to help you receive the most financial aid available for you and your student.