Do you know who your high school counselor is?
If your answer is no, you aren’t alone. According to a five-year study by YouthTruth, just 60% of seniors and 32% of juniors received counseling on how to apply for college. Only 44% of seniors and 23% of juniors spoke to their counselor about how to pay for school.
But counselors have a wealth of knowledge to share, and their support can help you through the college application process. So, instead of going it alone, reach out to your school counselor about college admissions and financial aid.
To help you get started, we’ve listed the five most important questions you should ask your school counselor about college.
1. How do I make a college list?
You have 3,700 colleges to choose from across the U.S., according to the College Board, so narrowing down your list to eight or 10 can be a challenge. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your school counselor for tips on building a college list.
For one thing, your counselor can help you figure out what you want. Would you prefer a small, close-knit school or a sprawling urban campus? Are you looking to stay close to home, or are you ready to fly across the country?
In addition to helping you set goals, your counselor can help you choose a few safety schools, target schools, and reach schools. Together, you can estimate your chances of getting in based on factors such as your grades and test scores.
Finally, you can talk with your counselor about college costs and financial aid. If cost is a factor, your counselor can direct you away from schools with sky-high price tags or help you find colleges with robust financial aid programs.
By seeking guidance from your counselor, you can compile a list of colleges that match your goals and budget.
2. How do I pay for college?
After you discuss your academic goals, your counselor can help you with the financial aspect of college. They should explain how to pay for college, whether your approach includes using savings, student loans, scholarships, or a mix of all three.
Students with financial need also might qualify for need-based grants and scholarships. According to U.S. News, the average need-based award in 2016-2017 was $15,243.
Before you can get financial aid, though, you must fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so speak with your school counselor about how to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible.
And stay on top of FAFSA deadlines since they can vary by school and state.
3. How do student loans work?
According to U.S. News, about 67% of high schoolers in the 2016 class borrowed money to pay for college. That same year, the average college student graduated with $37,172 in student loan debt.
This kind of debt can be burdensome, especially right after you graduate from college. So, before you take on too many student loans, speak with your counselor about how student loans work.
Ask your counselor about the difference between federal and private student loans, for example. Discuss how student loan interest works. And make sure you understand the different repayment plans.
Finally, use one of our student loan calculators to estimate your future monthly payments. By learning about student loans, you can make an informed choice about borrowing.
4. Where can I find scholarships?
One way to reduce the financial pressure of college is to apply far and wide for scholarships. Ask your counselor about where to find scholarship opportunities, whether they’re on the national or local level.
Your counselor can point you toward scholarship search tools. Plus, they might know about scholarship opportunities in your city or town. They also can help you find the awards you have the greatest chance of winning.
By going after scholarships, you can reduce the cost of tuition at your dream school.
5. Can you help me explore majors and careers?
School counselors aren’t there just to help you with the nuts and bolts of applying for college and submitting the FAFSA. They also can help you reflect on big-picture issues, including your academic and professional goals.
Plus, they can connect you with resources for exploring college majors and careers. Although your plans might change over time, setting goals at the outset will help you get the most out of college.
At the very least, you’ll become more aware of your strengths and passions and gain a clearer sense of why you’re going to college and what you’re working toward.
Ask for support during the college application process
The college application process can span several years, and you have to keep track of lots of moving parts. Add your high school classes and activities, and it’s easy to get stressed out.
But you don’t have to go it alone. Seek out your school counselor for guidance on applying for college and getting financial aid.
Ask questions along the way and gather all the information you need. You’ll get to know your counselor, which will be useful if your college requires a counselor recommendation letter.
In the end, your counselor is there to support you academically and emotionally. Work together to make the best decisions for your future.
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