The summer before you send your child off to college is a busy time. Many important tasks demand your time and attention in the short time left before the Big Day. Now is the time to wrap up financial aid and understand the bills that will soon be coming your way.
You already know the top priorities you'll need to address but there are many other tasks that can slip through the cracks amid the flurry of activity.
This college planning checklist can help you cover your financial bases and tie up any loose ends. While not an exhaustive list, the tips you'll find here can help you think of the many little things that can be easily overlooked, from tracking down last-minute college scholarships to choosing college tuition payment plans.
- Sort out any financial aid hiccups. Be on the lookout for any financial aid paperwork and make sure it’s all correct. State education assistance agencies—such as VSAC in Vermont and FAME in Maine—often can help with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and financial aid issues, says John Champoli, vice president for enrollment management at Husson University in Bangor, Maine. Financial aid counselors are trained to help students navigate an often cumbersome federally mandated process and are extremely knowledgeable, but if they can’t answer a question, he says, you can always reach out to the director of financial aid at your school.
- Search for last-minute college scholarships. Make sure you’re not leaving money on the table! Check FAFSA® deadlines and sites such as the College Board’s BigFuture scholarship search tool to find aid, grants and scholarship options that you can still apply for. And don’t overlook employer-sponsored scholarships available from your or your student’s employer or from local organizations, foundations and charities in your community and state.
- Re-contact the financial aid office. Did your child just receive a scholarship? If so, be sure to notify the college financial aid office so they can update your financial aid package and tell you how the new money will affect your tuition bill and any financial aid.
- Get a special circumstances adjustment if you financial situation has recently changed. If your current income is less than you reported on the FAFSA form, you had unusually high expenses or a change in household size (e.g., a child left home), ask the financial aid office for a special circumstances form. Filling out this form could change the amount of your financial aid and can open up university or state grants you weren’t eligible for before, says Reyna Gobel, financial literacy expert for Edmit, an education resource and tool for planning college and student loan help.
- Scour (then pay) the first bill. The tuition bill shows how much you owe after scholarships, other aid and loans have been subtracted and all the fees your student will be charged—room and board, meal plans, parking permits, activity fees, etc.—are added. Read it carefully to make sure details are correct, then check payment plans offered by the college to see which works best for your family.
- Consider using your member benefits to help cover financial gaps. If your student’s scholarships, federal aid and student loans aren’t enough to cover college costs or pay for essentials such as lab fees and meal plans, consider the NEA Student Loan Program. You can borrow up to 100% of school-certified costs such as tuition and books.
Stay on track this summer with these additional college checklists
For smart shopping tips, see Last-Minute College Checklist: Buying Your Dorm Room Essentials to save on expenses for your soon-to-be student and make the best use of the money you to spend.
And check out Last-Minute College Checklist: Insuring Your Car, Apartment and Possessions for tips on how to make sure your student and their belongings are protected while they're away from home.