Choosing a college or university, whether for an undergraduate, graduate, or professional degree, is an important decision. College will influence your thinking about careers, increase your lifelong earning power, and form the basis for lifelong learning, friendships, and resources.
After surfing here, browse through the ThinkMass Brochure, your guide to visiting colleges and universities in Massachusetts. Then, check out www.massmentor.edu, an interactive site where you can just browse or set up a free account. Thereís lots of information about all the colleges in Massachusetts, including admissions requirements and financial aid opportunities, along with tools for college planning and careers.
Selecting a College
Thereís a college for everyone, and the college you select should be the one that is the best fit for you. When you start looking at colleges, you will probably find that there isnít just one school that fits your needs. There may be many, so itís a good idea to research lots of colleges before deciding where to apply.
Think about your career goals and your personal priorities and interests when looking at schools. Make an appointment to meet with your guidance counselor at school. Talk with family and friends about their experiences. Make a wish list about what you want from a college. Go to college fairs. Ask your guidance counselor at school to let you know when colleges visit your high school. And check your mail, because you will probably be getting lots of brochures when youíre ready to apply!
It will also help to schedule a campus visit while still in high school, perhaps over a school break. Use these visits to talk to current students, eat in the cafeteria, check out the class sizes and the dorms, and meet with an admissions or financial aid counselor.
All of these things will go a long way toward helping you decide where to apply. At the end of your search, the college you choose may be very different or very similar to what your friends selected. If youíve done your research, youíve made the right selection for you.
Why Choose an Independent College in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts is a popular destination for students who want to go to college. Choosing an independent college or university in Massachusetts provides access not only to a superior education, but to tremendous range in the type of college (liberal arts or specialized, such as music, art, or business); rich diversity of students; residential campus life, not to mention an alumni/ae network with lifelong benefits after you graduate. Check out the programs and degrees offered at the independent institutions in Massachusetts.
Where education is expensive, Massachusetts' private colleges and universities offer scholarships and grants from their own institutional resources, access to federal and secondary grant and loan programs, work-study opportunities, a variety of tuition payment plans, and other ways to help students pay for college.
Paying for college is like buying a house. You usually donít do it all at once! Instead, you use a combination of savings, earnings, scholarships, grants, and loans - whatever you need to do to meet the costs.
If it is still early in your high school years, it is important to follow a plan of action for paying for college. Because even with all those sources listed above, it takes planning to put it all together.
Most students require some form of financial aid to help with the costs of college.
There are different types of financial aid: government sponsored (state and federal); institutional, or what the college you will attend offers; and commercial, such as banks, or lenders. So your financial aid will be a mix of loans, grants, and scholarships. If you can and it is still early, so try to save money for college, where every dollar you save is one less than you have to borrow. And when you do borrow to get a loan, try to get the best possible loans with low-interest, long term repayment especially available for education.
Eligibility for federal and state government financial aid is determined by calculating the difference between what your family can pay for college and what your college expenses will be. This is based on a standard federal calculation called an Estimated Family Contribution.
Institutional financial aid is also available and determined by a family's financial need. The financial aid director at the college has the discretion to apply more generous guidelines in determining your familyís financial need. Be sure to use the financial aid director as a resource once you begin the financial aid process.
To find out how much financial aid you are eligible for, you must first file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. This is the form that will help the government calculate your financial need. You can get a copy of the application from your high school guidance counselor, the local library, or online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
It is important to fill out the form accurately, and it is just as important to submit it on time: January 1 or as soon as you can in the year in which you will enroll. If you do nothing else to prepare for paying for college, complete the financial aid application on time, because most financial aid is distributed on a first come, first serve basis.
Other suggestions for completing the FAFSA include reading the form first, so you understand what information you need, and file it online at www.fafsa.org.
Be A Smart Shopper!
Be wary of organizations that charge a fee to submit your application or to check on its status or to find you money for school. Some are legitimate, and some are scams. Generally speaking, you can get all the assistance you need at no cost from your school or the U.S. Department of Education.
Filing a PROFILE
Some independent colleges also require students to file the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILEģ, an easy, secure way to apply for scholarships and grants. Many member colleges, universities, graduate and professional schools, and private scholarship programs use the information collected on PROFILE to help them award non-federal student aid funds.
You can register for the PROFILE by calling 1-800-778-6888 or directly via the College Board's web site at www.collegeboard.com.
Be sure to contact the financial aid offices at the colleges to which you are applying for any additional information they might require. Be sure to check the deadline dates for these forms as they may differ from both the FAFSA and the PROFILE forms.
Your Expected Family Contribution
After filing the FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) which contains your family's Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is the amount the government has determined (based on the information in the FAFSA) that your family can contribute to your college costs.
It is very important for you and your family to review this amount carefully so that you understand what it is you are expected to contribute. If you see any discrepancies or mistakes, correct them now.
Changes to Family Finances
If your family's financial situation has changed due to a job loss, death or other factor since filing the FAFSA, it is important to contact the financial aid office and discuss your new circumstances. The financial aid office can often work with your family and may be able to make adjustments due to your altered circumstances.
Stay Focused but Have Fun!
It is important to have fun your senior year, but remember to stay focused until you graduate. Most financial aid packages, as well as college acceptances, are contingent on continued academic success. A financial aid package can be rescinded as easily as it was awarded, leaving you with no way to finance your education.
How Much Aid Will I Get?
Many factors go into determining how much aid you will receive each year. These factors, taken from the FAFSA and any other forms you fill out, may include the number of family members you have, how many family members are also in college, your summer earnings, your familyís earnings, and your familyís debt.
Using this information, the financial aid office will determine how much of the educational costs you and your family can cover, and then try to give you enough aid to make up the difference between those costs and your family's expected contribution.
Financial Aid Package
The financial aid package describes the type and amount of aid you will receive to help pay your college costs. It is usually a combination of federal and/or private loans, grants, work study jobs, and scholarships. Grants and scholarships are gift aid and do not have to be paid back. Loans must be paid back, but not until after you graduate or leave school. Work study jobs provide you with a paycheck for hours worked.
When reviewing your financial aid package, make sure you ask and understand what the schoolís ongoing financial aid commitment will be to you not only your first year, but subsequent years, so you can plan your college years accordingly.
Hereís a look at the different types of federal financial aid you might receive:
Federal Pell Grant
The Federal Pell Grant is for undergraduate students with the most financial need, based on the calculation mentioned earlier. This grant is a maximum of $4,050 per year and does not have to be paid back.
Campus-Based Financial Aid
(FACT: In 2004-05, MA Students received $184 million in Pell Grants; $30 million in SEOGs; $45 million in federal work-study.)
Campus-based financial aid includes the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Federal Perkins Loan, and Federal Work-Study programs. This aid is administered directly by the financial aid office at each school and funds are limited, so it is important to be aware of all submission deadlines.
The SEOG program is a source of aid that does not have to be paid back. Priority is given to Pell Grant recipients (see Pell Grant). Annual grant amounts range from $100 to $4,000 per year.
Federal Perkins Loan
The Federal Perkins Loan is for students with maximum financial need. There is no origination or guarantee fee on the loan, and the government pays the interest while the student is enrolled in school and during the 9-month grace period. There is a 5 percent interest rate cap on the loan.
Current limits on the Perkins Loan are:
$4,000 for Undergraduate Students per year, with a $20,000 cumulative limit.
$6,000 for Graduate Students per year, with a $40,000 cumulative limit.
Federal work-study provides students with the opportunity to receive a portion of their financial aid through a paid job either on- or off-campus. Students receive at least the prevailing minimum wage, and work in either a community service setting or in a position on campus. They are not allowed to exceed the maximum amount of funds allocated in their financial aid package.
Federal Student Loans
FACT: During 2004-05 Massachusetts residents attending colleges and universities in Massachusetts received $1.3 billion in various federal loan programs, primarily through subsidized Stafford loans.
The U.S. Department of Education administers the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) and the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (FDSLP or Direct Loan) Program. Both the FFEL and Direct Loan programs provide Stafford Loans (for undergraduate and graduate students) and PLUS Loans, for the parents of undergraduates.
Eligibility rules and loan amounts are identical for both programs, but the repayment plans differ somewhat. The main difference, however, is that you receive FFEL loans from private lenders (such as banks, credit unions, or other lenders) and Direct Loans through your school.
Federal Stafford Loans
Stafford Loans (subsidized and unsubsidized) are low interest loans provided to full time students. Students qualifying for a subsidized Stafford Loan, in which the government pays the interest while the student is enrolled in school, must demonstrate financial need.
Students borrowing Unsubsidized Stafford Loans are charged interest on the loan during both the in-school and grace periods, although payments for both unsubsidized and subsidized Staffford Loans do not begin until after you leave school. Current interest rates on both these loans are 4.70 percent during the in-school and grace periods and 5.30 percent during repayment.
Current loan limits per year are:
$2,625 First year
$3,500 Second year
$5,500 Third, fourth years
Students can receive an additional amount of Unsubsidized Stafford Loan per year if their parents are denied a PLUS (see below) Loan:
$2,000 First, second years
$5,000 Third, fourth years
Federal PLUS Loans are the responsibility of the parents as they are the signers of the note.
With the PLUS, parents may borrow funds not covered by the financial aid package up to the cost of education. Current interest rates are 6.10 percent, and the loan is capped at 9 percent. The repayment period for a PLUS Loan is up to 10 years.
Many parents also consider a tax deductible home equity loan or line of credit, instead of a PLUS loan. Each borrower must consider their own financial situation when deciding which option is best.
Many families choose to borrow to help pay for college. Commercial loans are usually borrowed to cover costs not met by other sources.
Choosing a Lender
When choosing to borrow, there are many lenders to choose from: community lenders, larger banks, or national lending organizations. You may even want to think ahead to repayment. Many small banks sell their loans on the secondary loan market, and it can be important to know who will handle your loan down the road. Check with your financial aid office for their recommendations.
Institutional Financial Aid
The independent colleges and universities in Massachusetts have generous student aid programs totaling more than $350 million in private scholarships and grants. They also have separate forms and deadlines, so be smart and ask the financial aid office about these too!
State Financial Aid
FACT: Total Massachusetts appropriations for student aid funding is more than $100 million.
FY 2005 Facts About Financial Aid to Massachusetts Students
MA Legislature appropriated approximately $100 million in aid.
Federal grant programs are approximately $243 million.
Federal student loan volume is estimated at $1.2 billion.
Total state and federal aid approaches $1.4 billion.
FACT: Students attending Massachusetts colleges received over $2.1 billion from these programs in 2004-05.
MASSGrant is a grant assistance program funded by the Massachusetts Legislature. This program provides need-based financial assistance to undergraduate students who reside in Massachusetts and who are enrolled in any accredited public or private college, university, or school of nursing in the Commonwealth. Current grants range from $300 to $2,300 per year, depending on the school in which the student is enrolled. The average MassGrant award is $1,308.
Gilbert Matching Grants
(FACT: $18.6 million in Gilbert Grants were awarded to MA students in FY2005.)
The Massachusetts Gilbert Matching Student Grant Program (GMSGP) provides funds to students who attend the independent colleges and universities in Massachusetts. Current grant limits are $200 to $2,500 per year.
Massachusetts Cash Grant Program
The Massachusetts Cash Grant Program is designed to assist needy students in paying mandatory fees and non-state-supported tuition. It is a complementary program to the Need-Based Tuition Waiver Program. (See below.) These grants cover both tuition and fees.
Paraprofessional Teacher Preparation Grant
The Paraprofessional Teacher Grant Program provides financial assistance to Massachusetts residents who are currently employed as paraprofessionals in Massachusetts public schools, but wish to become certified as full time teachers. Financial need is not a requirement but recipients must file the FAFSA annually. The grant award under this program varies as follows:
Maximum Award Amounts
$625 per credit, maximum of $7,500 per academic year
$450 per credit, maximum of $6,000 per academic year
$250 per credit, maximum of $4,000 per academic year
The award values are subject to change, based on the annual tuition and fee charges. Awards may not exceed the recipient's cost of attendance for any academic term of study. Visit the Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance website: www.osfa.mass.edu or call (617) 727-9420 for information about this program.
The Massachusetts No Interest Loan (NIL) program was created to provide eligible, Massachusetts residents with a zero-interest loan. The NIL loan offers a 10 year repayment period. The minimum borrowing amount is $1,000 with a $4,000 annual maximum. There is a lifetime $20,000 cumulative limit.
Visit the Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance at www.osfa.mass.edu or call them (617) 727-9420 for information about this program.
(FACT: $5.8 million in No Interest Loans (NIL) were provided to 2,700 students in 2004-05.)
Massachusetts Tuition Waiver Program
The Massachusetts Tuition Waiver Program helps to offset increases in tuition and maintain access to the Commonwealth's public colleges and universities for financially needy students. The Tuition Waiver cannot exceed the studentís actual financial need.
Other Sources for Financing Higher Education
The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA)
In partnership with Massachusetts colleges and universities, MEFA offers low-cost financing options including: Federal Stafford and PLUS Loans, The MEFA Loan, The MEFA Loan for Graduate Students, The U. Fund College Investing Plan, and The U. Plan Prepaid Tuition Program. For more information, call (800) 449-MEFA (6332) or visit www.mefa.org.
Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC)
ROTC scholarships are based on merit, not financial need. You can apply for 4-year scholarships while in high school, or 2- to 3-year scholarships once you've started college. Scholarship amounts vary, but can go up to $17,000 a year. Check with your guidance counselor to find out which colleges and universities offer ROTC or visit www.armyrotc.com, www.afrotc.com, or www.nrotc.navy.com for more information.
Tuition Financing Plans
There are several programs available to help you spread out the cost of paying your tuition. Check with your college financial aid office for details.
To begin planning the financing of your college education, you and your family can:
Create a budget for each college that interests you. Include expenses such as tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board or rent if you plan to live off campus, transportation, personal expenses, and any other costs related to attending college.
Estimate your family's ability to contribute to these expenses from all of your resources including available savings, future job earnings, family gifts, and employer tuition programs.
Ask the colleges to which you apply, if as a service to families, they provide early estimates of financial aid packages.
Practice filling out the FAFSA or at least have all the paperwork ready that you will need (except for taxes that may not been done yet).
Evaluate and decide which private loan programs would be best for your family, should you need to borrow additional funds.
Apply Early for Financial Aid
If you do nothing else to prepare to pay for college, get your financial aid forms in early! File your FAFSA, PROFILE and other financial aid forms as soon as possible after January 1 of the year in which you plan to attend college.
The money available for student aid is limited, so it is to your advantage to apply EARLY.
What You Need to Do:
Obtain a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from your guidance counselor or college financial aid officer or complete it online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. It can be filed electronically, so take advantage of this option. All federal and state financial aid is determined by this form.
No FAFSA, no aid. No excuses!
The FAFSA does require your parentsí tax forms from the previous year so make sure you have copies of those available. But, you do not need to wait for their taxes to be filed to submit the FAFSA. Check with your guidance counselor for more information.
Complete the PROFILE online at www.collegeboard.com if any of the colleges you are applying to require you to do so.
Other Sources for Learning About and Paying for College
www.massmentor.edu This web site is a one-stop shop for planning, exploring, and applying to Massachusetts colleges and universities. You can plan your high school courses to meet admission requirements, access a wealth of financial aid information and calculate the cost of going to college, explore majors and careers that will best match your skills and interests, and apply online to many of the colleges and universities in Massachusetts.
Federal Student Aid Information Center
For information about the federal student financial aid programs call toll-free nationwide: 1-(800) 4-FED-AID, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). Request "The Student Guide," which is free from the U.S. Department of Education. www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (MASFAA)
The MASFAA may be reached through voice mail at (877) 462-7322. For more immediate attention, call the financial aid offices at the colleges to which you are applying.
American Student Assistance (ASA)
Call ASA for information about the Federal Family Assistance Education Loan Program (FFELP) for students and parents, including Subsidized Stafford, Unsubsidized Stafford, and PLUS Loans. The toll-free number for ASA is (800) 999-9080. Visit ASA's website at www.amsa.com for more information.
MEFA is a nonprofit state authority dedicated to helping families finance higher education through innovative loan and college savings programs. In partnership with Massachusetts colleges and universities, MEFA offers low-cost financing options, including: Federal Stafford and PLUS Loans, the Undergraduate MEFA Loan, the Graduate MEFA Loan, and the Student Alternative Loan. MEFA's college savings programs include the U. Fund College Investing Plan and the U. Plan Prepaid Tuition Program. For more information call (800) 449-MEFA (6332) or visit MEFA's website at www.mefa.org.
MEFA Counselor is a web resource designed specifically for Massachusetts parents of high school students to access credible information about applying for financial aid and paying for college. www.mefacounselor.org
The Education Resources Institute (TERI) offers a variety of low-cost alternative loan programs for undergraduate and graduate education that allow students and parents to borrow up to the total cost of education. TERI's telephone application service, FoneFunds, provides quick and easy loan pre-approval and processing. For more information and application forms, visit www.teri.org or call (800) 255-TERI.
TERI: College Access
This walk-in center, a division of TERI, is located in the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. Visit or call the center at (617) 536-0200 or call toll-free at (800) 442-1171 (in MA only) for information and advice about higher education and financial aid. www.tericollegeaccess.org.
Educational Opportunity Centers (EOCs)
Call or write any of the regional EOC centers for information and counseling on higher education and financial aid:
850 Pleasant Street
New Bedford, MA 02740
(508) 996-3147 www.cowc.org
c/o The Learning Connection
10 Lyman Street, Pittsfield, MA 01201
Educational Opportunity Council
152 Center Street
Chicopee, MA 01013
(413) 612-0206 www.valleyopp.com
Suite 500, 484 Main Street
Worcester, MA 0l608
(508) 754-6829 www.cowc.org
Many local public libraries keep extensive collections of college catalogues, directories, and guides for reference.
Relevant materials are available for reference in many public libraries, school guidance offices, and bookstores, including Barron's educational series (e.g., The Complete College Financing Guide, by Marguerite Dennis, College Board publications e.g., The College Handbook, The College Board Scholarship Handbook), and Peterson's Annual Guide to Four-Year Colleges.
Good luck at this important crossroads in your life!