Comparing Educational Choices

The following post comes from the Military Saves Blog.  Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

September 4, 2013

Sandy Boenig, AFC®, Military Saves Associate

There is a definite fall-like feel in the air.  Children are heading back to school.  Advertisements are focused on students.  The news program’s that the ads supports are full of conflicting information.  One day the topic is student loan rates rising, a few days later there is good news about student loan rates falling.  Other favorite topics are doom and gloom about higher education, debt burden, and post-school job prospects.  It’s all very confusing, and disheartening.  Despite media reports, you, or a family member may still be planning on furthering your education next fall.

Researching Your Options

  • Just like any other major purchase, you need to do your research and find the best value that meets your needs.  Always remember that you are investing in a product (education) that should return dividends (higher pay, better schedules, and interesting work).  There are many different things to consider when choosing a school.  Luckily, the following online resources can help:
  • The College Board website is very similar to a car comparison site.  You choose the features you want (big school/little school, full time/part time, public/private, city/suburb/rural, on campus/virtual, Major and or Minor, resident /commuter…..) and plug them in.  You can compare up to 3 schools at a time, side by side.  This helps to narrow down the schools you may want to apply to.
  • The Department of Educationinformation is like a vehicle safety report.  With their tool you can see what the statistics are for different schools.  You can see what the admission requirements are, and the graduation rates, as well as percentage of students that receive some sort of financial aid (need and merit).

Paying for College


Irrespective of what school you choose, you will also want to take a look at your family’s financial capabilities.  There are several options to pay for school.  Now that you know how much schools cost, explore your resources and decide how much you will be able to afford:

  • Savings-maybe you have been systematically saving and have funds earmarked.
  • Loans-FAFSA is a Federal Government form, used to determine loan and grant eligibility.  Many grant and scholarship grantors use this form too.  To complete you will need your previous year tax return and current bank statements.  Just like buying a car, just because you may qualify for a large loan doesn’t mean you should get one.  Make sure that you only borrow an amount you will comfortably be able to repay.
  • Grants-these funds are given to you, with no expectation of repayment.Veterans Benefits-make sure you know how much money you can expect to receive, and what your responsibilities are.
  • Scholarships- some are given based on financial need, others are granted for merit.   If you are a member of any group or organization check their web-site.  You’d be surprised at the number and types of scholarships available.

The Consumer Protection Bureau’s Know Before You Owe website has a tool to help students make comparisons tailored to their individual circumstances. If you have received financial aid offers, use this tool to understand how all those numbers impact your payments down the road.

Finally, compare your research.  You may find that you are prepared to continue your education, or you may find that you need a bit more time to save.  Remember that you want to get the best deal for the best school that meets your needs and that you are qualified to attend. 

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