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Making your decision
Choosing a college is a decision that's probably going to involve a lot of factors, not the least of which is the cost. In addition to the money, you may also be considering distance from home, the type of program you really want, or the type of school environment that may be best for you.
While you're prioritizing your wish list, use our College Comparison Chart to review the factors that are most important to you in a school.
Compare Your Options
Start by comparing the total amount of money that you’ll need to cover for each school (use the bottom line from Step 2 in Crunch The Numbers). Use our online financial aid offer comparison tool to help you to compare the numbers.
- Is there 1 school that offers the best price? Does this match up to your wish list?
- How much is the difference between your favorite school and the school that offers the best price?
- Does the school offer the financial aid over 4 years?
The bottom line: The more you need to pay out of pocket, the more you're probably going to have take out in loans. Review our loan guide, My Education Loans, so that you understand your responsibilities when taking out a loan. Download the guide or request a printed copy.
If you have loan questions, give us a call.
800-226-1029, Monday–Friday, 8:00 am–4:30 pm
Some Things to Consider
Keep in mind that your financial aid will probably change from year to year—perhaps resulting in more free money or more loans. Would either of these possibilities make you want to change your mind? If so, follow up with the school financial aid office.
- Most financial aid—each loan amount in particular—is for 1 year only. Students must fill out a FAFSA every year, because federal aid changes every year. For example, first-year students are eligible for $5,500 in federal student loans, while sophomores, juniors, and seniors are eligible for increasing loan amounts each year.
- If you’re offered a scholarship, find out whether it’s for 1 year only or automatically renewable after the first year.
- Changes in your family’s financial situation can also affect cost of attendance. If your family income is reduced next year (or any other year you’re in school), you might receive more aid. Likewise, if the family income increases, you may see a decrease in the amount you receive in grants.
- Build in a 3% tuition hike each of the years that you plan to attend.
There's no magic way of predicting these changes, but it's important to remember that the cost of college may not be the same from one year to the next.
Still Can't Decide? Ask for Input.
- Discuss your options with people you trust. Talk about your choices with your support team (parents, teachers, family) to see if they have any advice.
- Talk to those who’ve gone before you. Contact the colleges’ admissions offices and ask if there are graduates in your area who can meet or talk with you over the phone to answer any remaining questions you may have about each college. You can also join the school’s social media page or visit a website like studentsreview.com to find out what students have to say about each school.
- Listen to your instincts. In the end, a good fit and the right choice will look different for each student. Listen to your gut and balance your feelings with the financial realities of your family.
- Remember: You can always change your mind and transfer to another school if you find that once you're there, it isn't the right fit.
Making It Official
Once you’ve made your decision, you’ll need to:
- Send your commitment to your college of choice. Be sure to send the following by the school’s deadline (around May 1 for most colleges):
- Your acceptance of their offer
- The required deposit
- A separate acceptance letter for financial aid (if required)
- Any additional forms or required items (be sure to fill out requested paperwork completely)
- Notify the colleges you won’t be attending. It isn't required, but it will allow the school to offer your spot to another student who may be on the waiting list.
- Begin researching loan options. Tuition bills are typically available in July. Your school will handle the financial aid they're offering and will provide instructions for borrowing federal Direct loans. If you need additional funding after having accepted the maximum in federal student loans, then it may be time to consider private loans. But don't sign anything until you learn about education loan basics.
Congratulations! In the past year, you've navigated your way through a very difficult process, and you're now looking forward to a new adventure. There are just a few things to remember on the home stretch:
- Keep up your grades. Your college will see your final high school transcripts, so it’s important to keep doing well through graduation. This is especially important if you have been granted a scholarship with specific grade requirements.
- You’ve got mail. Due to federal privacy rules, college info will come to you, not to your parents. Sign in to your college e-mail account and get in the habit of reading all e-mails.
- Attend orientation. Most colleges offer day- or even week-long programs. Sign up early to get the date or program you want.
- Sign up for work–study if it was included in your financial aid offer (the best jobs go first).