North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice

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Prepare for college financially

11/18/2016

By Roy Cooper

Fall is an exciting time for students making plans for the future, and many high schools across the state are taking advantage of North Carolina College Application Week through November 22. If you or a loved one plan to apply to schools this year or in coming years, remember to take additional steps to prepare financially for college.

Before you apply to a college, find out what it would actually cost to attend. Expenses can vary significantly between schools that are public and private, in-state and out-of-state. Tools like the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard can help you check out schools by tuition, graduation rate, and average salary after graduation. Remember to factor in the price of housing, meals, transportation, and other expenses.

If you’re applying to college this fall, complete and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible to find out what federal aid is available to you. Once you receive acceptance letters from colleges, compare your options by total cost, including any scholarships or financial aid offered by the schools and the federal government. Then determine how much you would owe to each school on your own and how you would pay for it.

Most students take out student loans to cover the college costs. If you’re one of them, learn which types of loans you’re eligible for, the interest rates, and how much you need to borrow. Federal loans (with names like Stafford, PLUS, Perkins, and Direct Loans) are the most common, and each carry different repayment conditions and interest rates. Make sure you understand the terms and how much time you would have to repay what you owe. Private loans are also available from banks and credit unions, but are often more expensive. No matter which type of loan you choose, never borrow more than you need.

To get financially fit for college:

  • Do your homework. Find out the total cost of each school you apply to, including tuition, room and board, dining, books, and fees. Contact the college’s admissions office directly for details. Remember tuition increases each year at many schools, so plan for how you’ll pay if costs go up.
  • Apply for scholarships and financial aid. If you plan to start college in 2017, your FAFSA is now available. Submit it to find out what types of federal financial aid you can receive, and pursue scholarships and aid through colleges you’re applying to.
  • Look at all your options. Consider financial aid offers and think about which school is most likely to help you reach your professional and academic goals for the right price. Remember that North Carolina’s Community Colleges  offer many excellent professional programs and transfer options at a low cost.
  • Know before you owe. If you’re taking out student loans, find out how much your loans will cost over time and avoid borrowing more than you need. Visit studentaid.ed.gov and use their repayment estimator to get a sense of what your monthly payments will be once you graduate. 
  • Set a budget and stick to it. Think about how you’ll manage your money, during college and after you graduate. Make a chart with details like monthly costs, student loan debt, and savings goals for future expenses like study abroad programs.
  • Keep an eye on your credit. Before you head to college, get into the habit of monitoring your credit reports to spot mistakes or misreported debts. You’re entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus, available at annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. 

For more information on college costs or student aid, contact the school directly or the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4FED-AID. My Consumer Protection Division is also available to help, toll-free within North Carolina at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or online at ncdoj.gov.

Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff want to help North Carolina consumers make smart choices. We are here to be of service when you need us, but through education efforts like these columns we hope to help consumers avoid problems from the start.

Note to editors and reporters: This is one in a series of columns that the Attorney General distributes to educate consumers. If you have questions, please contact us at news@ncdoj.gov.