Whether you’re a new high school graduate or well past your high school days, everyone gets a little nervous about taking the proper steps to enroll in college. Navigating the higher education landscape to earn an academic degree can be daunting on your own. So, I’ve compiled a list of six steps that are absolutely necessary to take before you enroll in college.
1. Fill out the FAFSA
It may be redundant to hear but filling out the FAFSA is a must for anyone wanting to go to college. This is because your school will look at the numbers from the FAFSA to determine how much money you’ll have to help you from various sources. The EFC is a number that represents the Expected Family Contribution. Lower numbers may qualify for free college money (grants) that don’t have to be paid back. Further, filing your FAFSA gives you access to government loans.
2. Do a Budget
Even if you expect everything to be paid for by loans, grants, or scholarships, you’ll want a budget you can live by. To avoid spending too much on pizza or other non-essentials, write up a realistic financial plan. It includes any money you’ll owe to the school. If you can, make sure you include at least something for entertainment (or pizza!) so that you can relax when you get a chance. Having a budget will also help you avoid taking more in student loans than you need and falling into the common trap of living off your loans.
3. Figure Out Your Living Situation
New high school graduates may choose to stay at home, live in a dorm, or room with friends. Refer to your budget and determine which option is best for you. When considering your living situation, determine how conducive it will be to studying and helping you achieve your goals. You’ll need to make sure you include an amount in your budget for living expenses if you’ll have any.
4. Check for Scholarships
Most colleges have a list of scholarships available to entering freshmen (and even for the years after that!). You can apply for as many as you qualify for, so while you have the time before you get ear deep in higher education, get the list and send in an application! You never know when you might be the best candidate, so don’t avoid scholarships because you’re nervous you’ll be rejected.
5. Collect Your Documents
You’ll need your social security card, birth certificate, prior year’s tax documents (and those of your parents if you’re considered a dependent student), high school transcripts, application for enrollment, test scores, transcripts from previous colleges, and other documents as requested by the school. Don’t rely on your parents to have all of this. You’ll need to ensure you have copies or the originals yourself, so start getting your papers organized.
6. Create a Backup Plan
There are numerous things that can hinder your progress toward an academic degree. Finances not coming in, housing situations falling apart, and documents that aren’t readily available. Don’t give up! You can always start the following semester which gives you six more months to get your affairs in order. Or, if you determine an out-of-state or private school is too expensive, complete your gen eds at a community college and then transfer for your specialty. Whatever you do, create a backup plan so you can push through any disheartening news and keep going.
The move toward an academic degree is exciting and intimidating, but once you start, there are many support systems in place to help you finish. Never be afraid to speak with an enrollment advisor. They are valuable individuals devoted to helping you get into classes and will often work side-by-side with you to accomplish your goal of enrolling for a higher education.