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Navigating a College Website's Financial Information

Navigating a College Website's Financial Information

You are entitled to detailed information about the cost of your education and how much financial assistance you may receive to help pay for your training. Though it is beneficial to you, translating the detailed information on a school’s website, or comparing multiple schools, can be difficult.

Every website should have roughly the same type of information on it. Once you understand how you are charged for your classes, and what kind of help you can get, you may have an easier time making a decision.

Here is some of the important information to look for on a website’s financial information section before and after you start classes.

Before you apply

Understanding Your Tuition

Tuition is structured in a few different ways.

Some colleges, especially traditional 4-year colleges, charge by the credit hour, which is a unit of how many hours of instruction you receive in the class. A typical class is three or four credit hours. Say your college charges $200 per credit hour and you enroll in a three-credit class. This means you will have to pay $600 for that class.

Other colleges charge tuition based on the amount of credits you take. They charge you a flat rate based on your status as a full-time or part-time student. To be considered a full-time student, you must take 12 or more credit hours per term. Part-time status is anything under 12 credit hours per term. Some schools also have a category of less than part-time, which is taking less than 6 credit hours in a term.

Still, others will charge you a flat fee for the whole program. This program structure is much more rigid, and you pay a fixed rate each term. This model is especially popular with trade schools.

Costs, Fees, Policies, and Consumer Information

You are entitled to detailed information about policies, fee schedules, and requirements for your college or program.

Each website lists its fee schedules differently. These are usually listed in detail on a consumer information page or on the course catalogue. This is where you will find the most up-to-date information about the program. You can find this information in several places. Some schools will list it under “courses” or “programs” on the site, while others may put it in a tab called “admissions” or “academics”. It may also be listed under a special “consumer information” section on the website. If the website does not list the information readily, look up “course catalog” or “consumer information” in the search bar.

The course catalog or consumer information will usually be a PDF file that is full of everything you need to know about your program and the school itself, including extensive information about what kind of fees you may have to pay.

Traditional 4-year institutions usually list their fees and tuition costs under the Office of the Registrar or Office of the Controller. To find information about fees and tuition, search the keywords “tuition cost” on the school’s website.

Keep in mind that all the additional fees can add up to hundreds of dollars. Matriculation fees, technology fees, uniforms fees, and even an application fee can all apply.

Financial Aid Options and Programs

Many colleges work with the federal government’s loans and grants program, called Title VI Funding.

In order to qualify for any financial aid, you must fill out the FAFSA. This form is free to fill out to everyone who wants financial aid help. Follow our easy instructions on filling out the FAFSA.

If your school works with Title IV funding, they are required to provide a link to the FAFSA form for you to fill out. You can also follow this link to fill out the FAFSA.

There are several types of federal financial aid that you can receive: loans and grants. Student loans must be paid back after they are done with school. Grants, like Pell Grants and FSEOG, are needs-based sums that you don’t have to pay back.

An additional, albeit less popular, financial aid option is the Federal Work-Study Program. This program places you in a job ideally related to your field of study. This is another form of a grant and is needs-based.

Learn more in detail about popular financial aid programs here.

Keep in mind that each college offers different financial aid options. Check with your schools’ financial aid tab or financial aid advisor to see what programs are offered.

Scholarships

Scholarships are another option accepted by many colleges, though each college will have its own policies.

  • Merit based scholarships are for students who have performed well in academics, athletics, or another area.
  • Needs-based scholarships are for individuals and families who can prove they need additional funding by providing their financial history.
  • Career-based scholarships are awarded to students entering into a certain career field.
  • College-based scholarships are awarded from the college itself and are only for the students attending that college. There may be other criteria to fill to be eligible for the scholarship.

Some colleges will also offer their own scholarships. You may be automatically applied for these scholarships, but others you will have to manually apply for. We've put together a list of scholarships for trade school here.

Other Financial Aid Options

There are other types of financial aid that may be available to you, depending on your school:

  • Private loans - Private loans are loans offered through banks and other financial institutions. They are often more expensive and are considered riskier than government student loans. Learn more about private loans here.
  • Payment Plans and Options - Many schools are starting to offer payment plans. Instead of having to pay a lump sum at the beginning of the term, you can pay off your classes in installments. Not every school offers this option; check the financial aid page of your school’s website for information. Alternatively, contact your chosen school’s financial aid office.
  • GI Bill - The GI Bill is educational funding for veterans of the US military. Check with your school to see if GI funding is accepted at your school via their website or a financial aid advisor. Read about using the GI Bill for trade school here.

Net Price Calculator

Schools that work with federal government loan programs are required by law to provide a “Net Price Calculator”. This calculator must list the total estimated cost of attendance when including tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, other personal expenses, and the total grant aid that you may be eligible for.

Keep in mind that the figures in the calculator are estimates, and that tuition and fees can change at any time.

Find your college’s calculator here https://collegecost.ed.gov/net-price

After You Start Classes

Paying for your classes and refunds

Another very important aspect is actually paying for your classes. Colleges usually allow you to pay for school online or in person via cash, check, and credit card at a cashier’s office or a billing department. After you are accepted to the program, you are liable for these payments and responsible for paying on time. If you fail to pay on time, you may have to pay additional fees. If you fail to pay for your classes at all, you will be removed from your classes.

Finding payment due dates varies by school. Some colleges will only post the information on a webpage. You can look for this webpage by searching for the keywords “tuition due date” in the search bar on the site. Some will only tell you your tuition due date through your student portal. They may or may not send you reminders about when to pay. However, it is always your responsibility to pay your tuition.

On the other hand, you may be entitled to a refund at some point. For example, if you withdraw from a class during the add/drop period, or if your scholarship money is applied to your account after you pay for tuition, you may be eligible for a refund. The school may send a check to your current address or directly deposit it into your bank account, if you linked your account previously.

Financial Aid Advisor

When in doubt, it’s best to reach out to your college’s financial aid office for assistance. They can guide you through filling out the FAFSA, exploring what financial options are available, and helping you work out the best way for you to pay for schooling.