Paying for College
A college education is a financial investment in a student’s future. Our approach to college counseling is personalized and student-centered. Our goal is to help high school students discover colleges that will be the best fit for them to thrive academically, professionally, and socially. This also includes helping students consider affordability in their college exploration and finding the best financial fit for them and their family.
Scholarships that cover the entire cost of your college education (sometimes referred to as a “full-ride scholarship”) are very few and extremely competitive. This goes both for academic as well as athletic scholarships. Therefore, a prudent approach for families to take is to budget how much to invest in a college education and to explore the variety of ways (not just scholarships) to save and pay for college. While your college counselors are not experts in college financial aid (those experts are the financial aid officers at the respective colleges), your Raleigh Charter college counselor can be a first-stop in helping students to navigate the process and to identify opportunities to pay for college.
Here is some general guidance, separated into five topics, for all families with college-bound students to assist in making a plan to pay for college. Students and families are welcome to seek out their assigned college counselor or each college’s financial aid office for more specific information or personalized assistance beyond the basics.
Complete the FAFSA. We recommend that every family with a college-bound student, regardless of income or financial status, submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is a necessary step to determine your eligibility for federal and state financial aid for your first year of college. The form is free and there is no charge to submit. In subsequent years and as your family’s finances change, students will yearly update the FAFSA and get reconsidered for more or less financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education also provides a Federal Student Aid Estimator for students and families to forecast how much federal student aid that the student may be eligible to receive. This is designed to be a planning tool and is not the same as completing the actual FAFSA form.
Calculate the cost of college. While students and families will not know the exact cost of college until students have applied, been accepted, and have received a financial aid award letter with the most recent cost of attendance, there are tools and approaches available for students and families to reasonably estimate the cost of attendance for their colleges of interest. All colleges and universities are required by law to provide easily accessible net price calculators for students and families to estimate the cost of attendance and how much institutional aid that a particular college might award a student. That includes the colleges that you are interested in applying to. These calculators are good tools to help your family estimate future costs and determine affordability, especially if a student is planning to submit a binding application such as Early Decision. Students are advised to record the estimated cost for each college on their list in an organized, easy-to-follow way, such as in a chart or on a spreadsheet.
Explore the various sources of financial aid to offset educational costs. Money used to pay for college can come from a variety of sources. When searching for financial aid, students and families should search in these places: government aid from the federal and the state; institutional aid from colleges and universities; private aid from various individuals, charitable organizations, and corporate entities. Regardless of the funding source, financial aid is generally categorized into either gift aid or self-help. Gift aid is money given freely that does not need to be repaid by the student. Common examples of gift aid are grants and scholarships. However, self-help is money that a student must either earn or borrow. Common examples of self-help are loans and work study.
Ask colleges and universities about paid work opportunities that can offset educational costs. Oftentimes, colleges and universities offer career services and professional development to help students take advantage of part-time, paid employment, such as internships, cooperative education (also known as co-op programs), undergraduate research, and on-campus jobs. In addition to extra income, many college students benefit from part-time, paid employment because the work can be aligned with academic or career interests. Other benefits include developing transferable skills for the workplace as well as growing your network for professional references after graduation. Be sure to ask admission representatives, college faculty, and student tour guides about these types of opportunities during your college search.
Complete the Residency Determination Service (RDS). There are 16 public universities within the state’s University of North Carolina system for higher education. When families consider the cost of a college education, many seniors want to include at least one UNC system school on their college list for in-state tuition purposes. Completing the Residency Determination Service (RDS) is one very important step in this process to qualify for in-state tuition at public North Carolina universities. Moreover, students who can demonstrate residency may also qualify for state aid programs at all public and private North Carolina colleges and universities. This step is only for students in the fall of their senior year. Do not attempt this step any earlier.