If you’re a high school junior or heading into your senior year, college is likely at the top of your mind – and probably your parents’ mind too. A campus visit, virtually or in-person, is a key way to narrow down your college choice. The same is true for students who are considering transferring to a new school to complete their degree.
“Choosing a college is exciting but can be overwhelming, especially while you’re trying to keep your financial goals top of mind,” Brian Creagh, Senior Vice President of Credit Cards and Education Lending at Navy Federal Credit Union. “Luckily, there are many resources available to help students and parents navigate the college decision process.”
So, where do you begin?
1. Research schools
It’s important to give yourself time to explore different colleges. Make a wish list of schools – from the size of the school and location to area of study and post-graduation career opportunities. It’s also a good idea to attend college fairs, so you can talk with college representatives and current students.
From your list of schools, check out their options for touring the campus – either in-person or online. There may be limited capacity for in-person tours, so schedule early. By attending campus tours, you’ll get a feel for the campus environment, and ultimately, if a particular college is a good fit for you.
2. Budget for campus visits
Expenses for traveling to and from college tours can add up quickly. Whether nearby or out-of-state, know the maximum amount that you or your parents are able to spend on these visits. This includes the cost of gas, airfare, food, accommodations and other activities. Consider even setting up a separate bank account for money to use toward college visits. That way, you’ll be prepared to stick to your budget.
3. Get your questions about classes and campus life answered
Most in-person college visits are led by student tour guides – giving you a great opportunity to hear their perspective about academic programs, admissions and student life. Additionally, make use of a college’s offer to talk with current professors and students. If you’re unable to attend in-person, this is a way to still experience the school and people.
Other questions to cover can include housing options, sports and extracurricular activities that interest you personally or are unique to a school.
4. Find out what financial aid options are available
The College Board reported that tuition and fees reached over $10,560 for in-state students at four-year public colleges and more than $37,650 for students at four-year private colleges in the 2020-21 academic year.
Look into financial aid options, such as scholarships, grants and work-study programs. When federal student loans, grants or scholarships don’t cover your total costs, private student loans are a great way to bridge the gap in funding. Many lenders offer private student loans up to the school-certified cost of attendance, including tuition fees, books, computers, meals and housing.
“A good repayment strategy while you’re in school can also help reduce your overall loan balance before you graduate,” said Creagh. “This allows you to chip away at your student debt faster and build your credit history.”
Navy Federal Credit Union is federally insured by NCUA.