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When I applied to college, I mostly disregarded my finances because I didn’t want to think about them, and I certainly didn’t want my assumptions about financial aid and scholarship offers to stop me from applying to the schools I liked. However, by not considering how each school would work for me financially, I limited myself. By simply allowing yourself to think about cost, you can maximize your financial options when applying. Check out these tips!

1. Consider what would be affordable for you.

I don‘t advise only applying to schools with lower list prices, because those can be misleading. However, it is helpful to get some idea of what you can afford. I would recommend applying to at least one or two schools with a lower list price, but don’t let that stop you from applying to schools that seem more expensive because…

2. Realize that you don’t know for sure.

It’s difficult to predict what financial aid and scholarship offers you will get. I applied to one school that boasted many program-specific scholarships, and expected to receive more scholarship money than I did. I applied to an out-of-state public school simply because I liked it, not expecting to receive much or any aid. I ended up receiving more than I expected, and I could’ve possibly received more if I had considered it a serious financial option and applied for more of their scholarships. Don’t assume that you won’t receive aid from a school, because you don’t know for sure. Some schools offer automatic scholarships, in addition to scholarships you have to apply for. If it’s a school you’re considering, apply for the scholarships. You never know!

3. Apply early.

Oftentimes, there are more scholarship options and aid available for early applicants. Applying early can help bring cost down, but also consider other factors when choosing whether or not to apply early.

4. Talk to teachers and counselors.

I found out about a scholarship program from one of my high school teachers who had received the same scholarship. Had I not talked to her, I would’ve had no idea that the program existed. Also, I hesitated to talk to my school counselor, but she ended up being super helpful too, as I was able to openly discuss all of my concerns with her.

5. Look at “safety schools” differently.

A mistake I made was viewing any school with a higher acceptance rate as a “safety school.” To me, the term “safety school” has a negative connotation, like it was a last choice, only if I couldn’t afford or get into a “better” school. “Safety schools” are not bad schools because they accept more applicants. And choosing to attend a “safety school” does not mean you failed the college application process. A lot of times (not always), these schools are more affordable, offer interesting programs, and provide great opportunities to students. Instead of simply applying to a few random “safety schools”, thinking that you probably won’t go there, view those schools as viable (and awesome) options, and apply to ones that you could actually see yourself going to.

6. Research specific programs.

Many schools, including schools with higher acceptance rates, offer selective programs within smaller departments of the college or university. Between honors programs, major-specific programs, and more, many of these programs offer their own scholarship awards, which you don’t often learn about through the school’s regular application process. Research more to discover additional possibilities.

7. Maintain a balance.

It’s not that you shouldn’t apply to schools that might be expensive, but you should open up your options by applying to a variety of schools. You don’t necessarily have to apply to a lot of schools to do this. Here’s an example breakdown of where you could apply:

1. Private “reach school”: Apply for scholarships and financial aid.

2. Private school with honors program and/or scholarship competition: Apply for scholarship competition and additional programs.

3. Public school with a selective program within: Apply for a scholarship competition and additional scholarships.

4. Public school with a selective program within: Apply for a scholarship competition and additional scholarships.

5. Public school with a lot of potential scholarships (including automatic scholarships): Apply for major-specific scholarships.

This is just an example of the possibilities, and don’t let it limit you. Like I said above, I received more aid than I expected from an out-of-state public school, so don’t assume that in-state schools are your only affordable option.

8. Get started on outside scholarship applications.

Lastly, remember that all of your financial assistance doesn’t have to come from the school directly. Get started on applying for outside scholarships as soon as possible, and continue applying.

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the author

Paige Sheffield is a student at Central Michigan University. In addition to writing for The Prospect, she writes for her campus newspaper, You On Top Magazine, and more. She is also a TP Editorial Internship Co-coordinator. She loves poetry, coffee, statement jewelry, zumba, politics, and the Great Lakes. She is passionate about arts education and currently volunteers and interns with organizations that provide art-related programming to underserved populations. You can follow her on twitter @paige_sheff.

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