As graduating high school seniors grip the reigns of independence for the first time, they have many new things to consider. Beyond graduation parties and senior skip day, seniors headed on the college path must think about how they will pay for their futures.
Many students take out federal student loans, according to Bob Durham, director of scholarships and financial aid at College Now Greater Cleveland, a college counseling and financial advisory organization in Cleveland. He added that parents can facilitate the application process by working with their children to foster greater comprehension of certain aspects of the process.
“This is the first time that students are going to be making serious financial decisions,” Durham said. “Parents should work with them because a lot of students don’t understand what it is they’re signing. They might have to look at a parent plus loan or a private or alternative student loan. Most high school seniors don’t have credit histories, so parents can also be helpful with that too.”
Mary Lynn Perri, who directs financial aid and enrollment services at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, explained that help can come in forms outside of what parents can offer.
“There are online tools that students can use,” Perri said. “I would definitely send them to the college’s website, but one of the tools that the U.S. Department of Education has put out in the last couple of years is the College Scorecard.”
The website, collegescorecard.ed.gov, offers information on types of financial aid, Free Application for Federal Student Aid information and an aid calculator that can be customized based on school and major to compare options.
Durham said that another helpful tool is the mandatory entrance counseling required before borrowing federal student loans.
“It’s a long, informational online class with questions they have to answer, and it helps them understand what it means to be taking out the student loans,” he said. “When they graduate, they take exit counseling. It’s the same thing, but it reminds them again. Sometimes, I see parents do this for their students, but the students are the ones taking out the debt, so they are responsible for understanding what they’re doing.”
Rachel Schmidt, director of financial aid at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, said that the acquisition of financial literacy “should start in middle school when students may receive allowances, cash gifts, or receive money for chores.” By teaching kids at a young age about money management, those future college-bound students could have a stronger understanding of budgeting wisely and borrowing only what can be repaid.
With such meticulous planning and strategy, Schmidt views the college experience as an investment for which many pathways can be explored, including private loans that families can utilize beyond what a college provides. Schmidt said that organizations like the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Northeast Ohio in Beachwood offer student loan programs with manageable interest rates and repayment terms.
Perri suggested determining how to pay off student debt as early as possible, even at the start of the application process. She said that financial literacy programs, which are often woven into core college curriculums, can help students understand the repercussions of overspending loan money or taking out too much.
“What Ursuline tries to stress with students is borrowing wisely,” she said. “We explain that if you’re borrowing money to help you with other expenses and you’re spending it on going out to eat or Starbucks, then you’re really spending not just what you’re buying, that cup of coffee. You’re actually spending that plus the interest that you’re paying on it for the 10 years you’re repaying it after you graduate.”
If families are struggling with the application process, Durham said that students can reach out to their college’s financial aid offices. As for the accumulation of debt, Durham said to “reach out to lenders and see what they can do to help out.”
Jacob Cramer is the Yoda Newton Editorial Intern at the Cleveland Jewish News.