Financing and Value
Another important aspect of choosing a school is the cost. How much is tuition? Room and board? If the school is in another state, will out of state fees apply (out of state fees are generally higher than in-state fees)? These are important questions that students sometimes overlook or only consider briefly. An education is an investment in you and is one of the most important investment decisions you are likely to make in your lifetime. So, it is terribly important that you make good, careful choices about where you will attend school.
That said, most people will want to attend the most prestigious school they can get into. A more expensive school is better, right? Not always. Prospective students should always consider the value of an education provided at a particular school. Sometimes a school with a pedigree, an Ivy League school for example, may not provide the best value. This is not to say that expensive schools are always a bad value. Many expensive schools have earned their reputation and are prominent institutions for a reason. Being able to say you are a graduate of such a school may help you gain your first job by giving you an edge over equally qualified candidates who went to lesser-respected institutions. If this is the case for the school you are considering, then there may be justification for spending the extra money. Status for the sake of status, however, is of little value-especially if it has an adverse affect on your debt situation. Further, there are numerous schools (such as many state-sponsored schools) that lack an impressive pedigree but that offer a very valuable education.
You will want to attend a school that has a good ranking and reputation within the field you are interested in pursuing. There are various ways of determining a school's ranking. The professional societies mentioned above are often good places to being your investigation. You will also do well to get advice from a mentor or respected professional working in the field you're interested in. There are also third-party organizations, including news organizations like such as US News and World Report and various newspapers that publish an annual ranking of educational programs, including colleges and universities. A school that is ranked high for a particular program is generally going to be a better value overall. A degree or certificate from such an institution will be worth more as it will likely make it easier for you to secure better employment. However, you should also consider the cost of attending the institution. Don't assume that it is necessary or even wise to attend the "very best" school in order to secure your future. Well regarded schools that aren't at the very top of the heap are often the best values.
Most students have to take out loans to pay for their education. Loans, of course, have to be paid back. So, when you are considering the field you will choose and what school you will attend, be mindful of how the career and the school you choose will affect your ability to repay your loans. That is, are you choosing to enter a field that will pay you well enough to live in the manner of your choosing and that will enable you to repay your loans without great difficulty? Also, is the school you have selected worth the money? Will a degree or certificate from this institution enable you to compete with graduates from other schools? These are tough questions, but they can be answered by doing a little research. The school or program you are considering should have information about what kind of jobs their graduates are getting as well as starting pay rates. Your work will not stop there. You will certainly want to verify any information you get from the schools you are considering with a disinterested third party interviewee (a mentor or a professional in the field who isn't trying to sell you on anything).
You can get information about financing your education from the schools. Most universities will have a dedicated financial aid department. The financial aid department should be able to give you information on the average cost for attending the school and should also have information on financing programs that are available. A traditional 4-year institution will participate in the Federal Student Loan Program. This program offers subsidized and unsubsidized loans to students and parents. Subsidized loans are loans where the government pays the interest while the student is in school. Unsubsidized loans continue to accrue interest normally, Government loans, either subsidized or unsubsidized, are generally the best loans available for students because the interest rates are very low and payments are deferred while the student is attending school. Loan payments begin 6 months after the student graduates. This should be enough time for a student to secure full-time employment.
You can apply for apply for these loans by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form can be completed online at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ or you can obtain a hard-copy from most financial aid offices. Although the federal deadline to submit the FAFSA is in June, each university sets its own deadlines. Students typically need to complete this form by January of the year they are planning to begin school. Due dates can be found on the school's website or at their financial aid office. The results of your FAFSA will be sent to you from the Department of Education in the form of the Student Aid Report (SAR) and an electronic copy will also be sent to the schools you indicated on the FAFSA. The SAR will include the information you reported on the FAFSA. Be sure to verify that all this information is correct. Your chosen school will use the SAR to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is the amount of money the government has decided that you will need to contribute toward your education. This amount is affected by the size of your parent's income unless you are 24 years of age or older.