This Insights article was contributed by Leah HIll, Vice President of the Staff Council at North Carolina Wesleyan College.
It’s a new season, and with each season comes preparations. At the beginning of winter, we pack up our summer clothes and start pulling out heavier coats, boots, and thicker clothing. At the beginning of spring, some people “spring clean” by purging their closets and rid excess clothing. Preparation braces us for planned and unplanned events.
Preparing to finance school should be a top priority for students and families. The main question that students ask is “how do I pay for school, and live comfortably?” Here are suggestions for maximizing your opportunity to attend an institution of higher learning, being persistent, and graduating with little to no debt.
- Connect with the financial aid office: Students never know the various resources available to them unless they reach out to a financial aid advisor. Financial aid goes beyond providing a letter with how much money you are to receive. There is a financial aid team, readily available to assist prospective and current students with meeting financial goals. The financial aid office has a commitment to distribute and administer financial aid, advise students, and provide resources to aid students in searching for grants, scholarships, and loans. The financial aid office will explain various strategies to prepare you for navigating through financing school.
- Commit to starting early: Once you have decided to go back to school, you should look for scholarships on the website of the schools you are applying to and on scholarship searches such as Fastweb. Do not let procrastination cause you to miss deadlines and cost you funds that will decrease debt. Complete your FREE application for federal and state aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible. The FAFSA application will allow the financial aid department to determine if you qualify for various types of aid such as the Federal Pell grant, state grants, and federal loans. Each type of aid has regulations as to how much can be given and maximum lifetime amounts allowed. If you have attended college previously, you will want to understand how much you have used and how much aid you have left to use. It is also important to file the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after October 1, because some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Communicate with companies: Never be afraid to reach out to companies to see if scholarships and grants are offered. Adult students should check with companies, if employed, to see if tuition remission programs are in place to cover tuition. Some companies have policies where you must commit professional work. Make sure you review the terms and conditions. Also, write letters to companies to see if they will invest in your future. Be bold and explain who you are, your future goals, characteristics, and how the finances will help you obtain your goals.
Planning for college expenses can be complex. It’s a good idea to meet with a financial aid advisor to discuss your options, start planning early, and explore resources available through scholarships and tuition reimbursement programs. These simple steps can help reduce student borrowing and alleviate a lot of stress down the road.
Leah was born and reared in Philadelphia, PA before making her way south to North Carolina. She graduated from North Carolina Wesleyan College in May, 2002, with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and received a Master’s of Science in Education - Leadership for Higher Education from Capella University in June, 2014. From the start of her career, Leah has always had a passion to serve students at institutions of higher learning. She began her career in higher education at Louisburg College in the Admissions Department and eventually developed a love for federal and state rules and regulations, prompting a transition to the Office of Financial Aid. Leah has been at North Carolina Wesleyan College for nine years. As with many small colleges, staff tend to “wear many hats.” Her duties and responsibilities extend beyond the financial aid department.
She also served as Vice President of the Staff Council at North Carolina Wesleyan College, and instructed in the WesWay program. WesWay is a class designed to support the transition of first-year students as they become active participants in NC Wesleyan’s academic community. Leah is a member of the Rocky Mount Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.