Because your education is a major investment, it is advisable to find out as much information as you can before you make your decision about which school you’ll be attending. When you make appointments to visit those colleges or career schools you are most interested in, bring a list of financial-aid related questions to ask school representatives.
Information About the School
You should ask about the school’s accreditation, licensing, student loan default rate and campus security.
Find out about the school’s loan default rate – that is, the percentage of students who attended the school, took out federal student loans and later failed to repay these loans on time. This is important because you might not be able to get aid from some federal programs if a school has a high default rate.
Talk to high-school counselors, local employers and your state higher education agency (see the list of agencies and their phone numbers in “Funding Your Education”). You can also see if any complaints about the school have been filed with the local Better Business Bureau or the consumer protection division of the state attorney general’s office. (Go to www.bbb.org to locate Better Business Bureau offices.)
Find out about the school’s job placement rates – the percentage of students who are placed in jobs relevant to their course of study. This information must be available at or before the time you apply for admission to the school. You might also want to check with local employers to see whether they hired graduates from the school.
Financial Aid at the School Because getting all the financial aid to which you are entitled is so important, get the following information from the school:
what the location, hours and counseling procedures are for the school’s financial-aid office;
what financial assistance is available, including federal, state, local, private and institutional programs;
what the procedures and deadlines are for submitting applications for each available financial-aid program;
how the school selects financial-aid recipients;
how the school determines your financial need;
how the school determines each type and amount of assistance in your financial-aid package;
how and when you’ll receive your aid;
how the school determines whether you’re making satisfactory academic progress – and what happens if you’re not (whether you continue to receive federal financial aid depends, in part, on whether you make satisfactory academic progress); and
if you’re offered a Federal Work-Study job, what the job is, what hours you must work, what your job responsibilities will be, what the pay will be, and how and when you’ll be paid.
Refund Policy If you enroll but never begin classes, you should get most of your money back. If you begin attending classes but do not finish a course, a percentage of your money is usually refunded, prorated for how far into the semester you are.
Return-of-Aid Policy If you receive federal student aid from any program (except for Federal Work-Study) and you withdraw from school, some of that money might have to be returned by you or your school. Also, if you don’t finish your coursework, you’ll have to repay the loan funds you received, less any amount the school has returned to your lender.
Completion, Transfer-Out Rates If many students withdraw from a school, it might not be a good sign. A school is required to disclose to current and prospective students the percentage of its students who complete the school’s programs, as well as the percentage who transfer out of the school.
In addition to the above questions, you might also want to compare your expected debt for attending the school with the money you expect to earn once you complete the degree or program. If you borrow money to pay for all or a portion of your education, you’ll need to earn enough to repay your debt. Check the Web or visit the library to learn about the careers you’re interested in pursuing. The US Department of Labor publishes the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which gives job descriptions including starting salaries and annual income averages. You can find the Occupational Outlook Handbook online at www.bls.gov/oco.
The Labor Department also publishes the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, which includes a list of career choices and information on typical wages or salaries for many occupations. You can access this publication at www.oalj.dol.gov; click on DOT under Library Collections
By finding out as much information about a prospective college and by checking out your options, you’ll be better prepared for getting an education beyond high school.
Source: "Funding Your Education 2004-2005" available free by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). It is also available to download from www.studentaid.ed.gov.