September 26, 2017
MINNEAPOLIS – With college planning season upon us and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opening on October 1, now is the time to start thinking about how to pay for college. Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) offers a variety of free resources to help parents and students navigate the potentially daunting process of planning and paying for college. For more than 20 years, ECMC has worked to lower student loan default rates, promote financial literacy and provide resources to help borrowers successfully repay their student loans.
"There are many things to consider during the college planning process—from the financial expenditure, to the academic offerings, to whether a particular school is a good fit for the student," said Paula Craw, vice president of student success and outreach at ECMC. "ECMC provides several resources that help guide families through the process to help ensure they make the best choice."
ECMC offers the following free resources for students applying to college and families supporting their goals:
- "Opportunities books offer a step-by-step workbook that features a variety of worksheets covering a myriad of topics, such as understanding the application process, choosing the right school and navigating the financial aid process. The books are available for free download.
- College Abacus/Ábaco and Pell Abacus/Ábaco are online tools that enable students and families to easily and seamlessly compare the entire cost of the college experience, not just tuition. Visit www.collegeabacus.org and www.pellabacus.org to learn more.
- The College Place access centers provide help with the college planning process. ECMC currently has six locations around the U.S. in California, Virginia, Connecticut and Oregon, with two additional centers coming soon.
ECMC also has tips for FAFSA filing season to help families as they begin the process:
F—Fine Print: Be aware that awards may "frontload" scholarships, offering generous freshman-year packages that don't necessarily carry over to sophomore year and beyond. You should be vigilant about reading the fine print in financial aid letters to determine the exact terms and duration of what's being offered.
A—Aid vs. Loans: The FAFSA will determine how much federal aid you qualify for and will be used by colleges that accept you to determine your award package. But be aware—some award letters lump together grants and loans to shrink your Cost of Attendance (COA). Loans must be repaid (with interest); grants, scholarships and fellowships do not have to be repaid.
F—Financial Considerations: Most students apply to at least five colleges, so identifying schools that are a good financial fit at the beginning will save you money on application fees—which can range from $40-$90—down the road. If you are Pell Grant-eligible, ask for an application fee waiver.
S—Start Early: Many students don't realize that most financial aid is first-come, first-served. So don't wait–file your FAFSA as close to the Oct. 1 start date as possible. If you need assistance filing, check with your local high school and colleges for FAFSA completion events in your area.
A—Assess Aid Options: Choosing a college is a big decision. By starting early, you'll have more time to fully understand your financial aid options before school and state admission deadlines. Use this time to your advantage by paying close attention to Pell Grants and other aid sources. Cost comparison tools like College Abacus and Pell Abacus (also available in Spanish) can help you identify colleges offering the best value for your unique financial situation.
For more information, visit www.ecmc.org/students.