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How to Be Smart About Financial Aid

College is one of the single biggest investments you'll ever make in your life. It's also one of the first big investments you'll ever make, so you're likely to have a number of questions and concerns as you prepare to make the financial decisions that will make your education possible. We spoke to two members of Full Sail University's Financial Aid department – Chad Cartledge, Financial Aid Compliance Manager, and Amanda Riggleman, Online Financial Aid Student Relations Team Lead – to get some guidance on what students can do to responsibly prepare for their college investment.

Do you have any advice regarding budgeting/debt load for students who may be new to the Financial Aid process?

Amanda: I would start by advising students to only borrow what you need, not more. Students who are eligible to borrow loans for amounts higher than the minimum needed to cover tuition-related fees need to understand that what is borrowed must be repaid. A higher debt is harder to fulfill, so borrow wisely and avoid taking out unnecessary funds if possible.

Chad: I would add that, beyond the world of loans and scholarships and financial aid, some of the most important things you can do to protect your college investment is to be a good student! Complete your assignments, study for your quizzes and tests, and give it your all with your projects. Financial aid is based heavily on the number of credits you attempt and earn, and the cost to retake classes can add up very quickly.

If a student is concerned about taking on too much debt for school, what would you say to them?

Chad: Know that you are investing in your future. But just like with any investment, invest wisely for maximum return. In other words, take what is needed to cover all educational expenses, but be careful not to over-borrow. Also, try to begin paying off your loans while in school. Doing this could potentially eliminate thousands of dollars in interest over the course of the loan.

How can students best prepare themselves now so they are not saddled with unnecessary debt in the future?

Amanda: It’s never too soon to start looking for external scholarship opportunities. There could be several private or state scholarship opportunities available to you that can help reduce your tuition balance, so we recommend that students begin researching and applying for those opportunities as soon as they are able to do so.

It would also be in the student’s best interest to start saving funds as soon as they are able. Any balance that could be covered out of pocket will potentially eliminate the need to take out loans for either their tuition balance or living expense purposes, thus making their debt lower upon graduation.

What about institutional scholarships?

Chad: It will always be in the student’s best interest to be proactive with their financial aid. This includes applying for institutional scholarships. By applying early for institutional scholarships, students will be able to get a head start on figuring out what additional financial aid they may need in order to fully fund their upcoming educational expenses.

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