Planning on making a campus visit with your high school student this spring? Great idea. You want to be sure that you and your child are comfortable with the campus. While you generally want to let your child be in charge of the visit and have him or her ask most of the questions, you probably should take the lead when it comes to visiting the financial aid office. Don't get so enamored of the campus and the opportunity it represents that you forget to think about the reality of what it costs to attend this school.
As the parent you'll probably do most of the practical planning for the trip -- finding maps, hotels and restaurants along the way, and setting up appointments with various college representatives. Make sure you also spend some planning time thinking about the questions you want to ask the financial aid officer so you don't get caught off-guard. Here are five questions to get you started:
- How long do most students stay at this college? With this type of question, you are trying to learn about the quality of the college itself. It could be a red flag if many students leave after their freshman year or end up taking five years to graduate. Find out what percentage of the freshman class actually ends up graduating in four years. If your student decides to transfer somewhere else or doesn't graduate in a timely manner, you could end up with more financial obligations than you originally anticipated.
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Also be sure to ask what else you can do to maximize your child's financial likelihood of attending this college. The financial aid officer can explain what other students have done to cover their expenses without having to accumulate an unreasonable debt load.
Ask the same basic questions at each college you visit so you will be able to easily compare financial costs for each one. Then you also have to talk to your student about the emotional appeal of the college and the anticipated major, as well as set down realistic expectations of how much you can afford to spend.