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We want all of our members to have the confidence that they’re ready to take the next step in their life, no matter where they are on life’s journey. The transition from high school to college is no exception! Use these resources to help you make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead.

High School’s Over, Now What?

Making the transition from high school to college can be exciting and frightening at the same time! There are many choices you will have to make along the way. Get started by having a discussion on what you want to do with your life.

Some students know what they want to do after graduation and what path they need to take to accomplish their goal, while others aren’t so sure. The following steps can help you determine your path:

  • Explore your interests.
  • Explore your options for post-secondary education institutions.
  • Explore your options outside of the traditional education institutions.

Before deciding on school and where to go, you should first try to identify what it is you are interested in. What can you see yourself doing after college? Use our education planning toolkit (you can download it below) to get started, or research majors at careers at College Board.

If school is your next step, what options best fit your goal and financial situation? There are options available that provide a no-debt or low-debt approach to continuing your education. These options may not be right for everyone, but if you are interested, make sure you fully research and understand these paths to education and a career.

If school isn’t your next step but is still in your plan, is a career in the military for you? Visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to see if the GI Bill can provide financial assistance in obtaining a degree. You might also want to talk to a military recruiter to see what types of educational benefits you can receive while serving.

Maybe you aren’t ready for school or need hands-on experience to help figure out what career is best for you. You could consider a gap year (taking a year off between high school and college). This is a decision shouldn’t be taken lightly, but when done right, it can have a great impact on how you approach your post-secondary education.

A gap year doesn’t necessarily mean a year of self-exploration traversing across the world. In fact, some colleges are now encouraging students to take a gap year before continuing their education. However, there are some steps which experts say are crucial to ensuring a successful experience.

  • Apply to college – and then defer enrollment. This way the student knows they have something waiting for them.
  • Create a structured plan – are you going to work in a field you are interested in, job-shadow, or work part of the year to fund travel?
  • Students need to help fund this gap year – they need to take accountability and responsibility to help provide for this gap year.

For more information, visit the American Gap Association.

The rising cost of a college education and the long-term financial consequences of taking on student loan debt demand that parents and students develop a financial plan for education.

  • Are your parents able to help pay for your education?
  • If YES, how much can they contribute?
  • How much are you responsible for paying?
  • How will you fund your portion? (Scholarships/grants, job, loans, etc.)

Too often, students and parents only focus on the tuition and room and board costs of college. However, there are many additional costs associated with going to college that impact a student’s finances:

  • Books and supplies – textbooks, notebooks, and computer or technology fees.
  • Personal expenses – laundry, cellphone, eating out, entertainment, clothing.
  • Transportation – will you have a car (gas and parking), or pay for other modes of transportation?

When looking at the costs of college and discussing a financial plan with your parents, it’s important to think in terms of net price. Net price is a college’s sticker price for tuition and fees minus the grants and scholarships and education tax benefits you receive. The net price you pay for a particular college is specific to you because it’s based on your personal circumstances and the college’s financial aid policies. (bigfuture.collegeboard.org)

In addition to the costs and financial assistance of your school options, there are other criteria that are important when weighing your options. Here are the basics: what kind of college will you attend, where is it located, what is the campus like, and what types of academic programs are offered?

Other considerations that can have an impact:

  • What is the annual average cost?
  • What is the graduation rate?
  • What is the average salary after attending?
  • What is the ROI on your college?

You need to look at your education as an investment. Like any investment, you want to know the return – what are you going to make after graduation or how long will it take for you to pay off your debt? Looking at your education in this manner will help you evaluate your options and choose the path that leads to less debt and a quicker return on your investment. Visit the PayScale College ROI Report for more information.

A standard rule of thumb is that your student loan debt should be equal or less than your expected starting salary out of college in order to fit within an acceptable percentage of your budget. But taking on as little debt as possible is always desirable.

Download our free Education Planning Toolkit to help you through each step.

Researching your options will help you develop a financial plan to cover your college expenses. Here are several opportunities you should consider. Remember that one important aspect of preplanning is to estimate how much you will owe upon graduation and determine if this will be an affordable option.

Federal Student Aid

Most students are going to need financial assistance in addition to their and/or their parent’s financial contributions to their college education. Even if you don’t think you will qualify for need-based aid, other things like federal student loans or college-based need may require a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be completed. The FAFSA determines whether students are eligible for financial aid such as federal loans, grants or work-study. In addition, many colleges require a FAFSA to be on record to determine their own financial assistance packages. You should submit your FAFSA as soon as it is available. This will help increase your chances of getting assistance. Learn more at the Federal Student Aid website.

Scholarships

Most students don’t appreciate the value of scholarships when it comes to paying for college. There are numerous types of scholarships available, and this is FREE MONEY that does NOT need to be repaid. There are a lot of free resources available to search for scholarships – make sure you take advantage of them and put in the additional time needed for that free money for college.

Grants

Like scholarships, grants do not need to be repaid – again, FREE MONEY.

Work-Study

You may qualify for federal work-study, which provides part-time jobs for students with financial need. This allows students to earn money to pay toward their college education expenses.

Student Loans

There are federal student loans and private student loans. There are key differences between these types of loans, including repayment, interest rates, financial need, credit check and consolidation options. Learn more about Dupaco’s education loans.

State Aid

Regardless of whether you are or aren’t eligible for federal aid, you may be eligible for state aid. Contact your state grant agency for more information. Visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website for more information.

College Aid

Many colleges will offer financial assistance of their own. You will want to visit the school’s website or contact the financial aid office for more details.

Now that you have done your research, it is time to compare your opportunities. A standard approach of Pros versus Cons is a good way to compare your options. But taking it a step further and using a SWOT Analysis approach may give you better insight. A SWOT Analysis is a technique that is useful for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your options, as well as the opportunities and threats (or barriers) to your decision.

Strengths

  • What are the advantages of one option over the other?
  • What is unique or more beneficial about this option versus other options
  • Does this option have a good graduation or retention rate?

Opportunities

  • Does this option provide better career opportunities after graduation?
  • Does this option allow you to take on less debt than other options?
  • Does this option have a strong focus on your desired major/career?

Weaknesses

  • Does this option require you to take on more debt than other options?
  • Does this option have poor graduation or retention rates?
  • Are the class sizes too small or too big for you?

Threats

  • Will money be a barrier in attending this option?
  • Is the location of this option a barrier?
  • Is the campus size or transportation option a barrier?

Your decision is made and you are on the path to your future! Whether you chose to attend a four-year college, two-year college or an alternative option, developing strong money management skills are necessary to ensure financial wellness.

A budget is an important tool when creating your spending plan. It helps you determine how much of what you make you keep and where your money is going.

  • Identify how much income you have each month.
  • List all of your necessary expenses.
  • Use the money left over each month wisely and put a little away in savings.
  • Depending on your type of school loan, consider paying the interest while in school to help reduce what you will owe after graduation.

Handle your money and credit responsibly, as these can have an impact on both your immediate situation and your future. Learn more about budgeting and saving and credit.

If you will be taking out student loans, make sure you keep track of how much you borrow each year. It can be easy to look at each year individually, but you don’t want to be in over your head after you graduate.

Download these money tips to help you lower the cost of tuition.

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