What to Know Before the Semester Begins

Many recent high school graduates are preparing for their first semester at college. Whether it be a four year institution, a community college or a trade school. Some students will live on campus, some with commute. No matter what type of school it is, or if you are living on campus or commuting, there are things every college freshman should know before that first day of class.

1) When is tuition due? This may seem like a no brainer, but this befalls many a college student each year. Is your tuition due before classes begin? If you do no pay on time, is there a late fee? Are you charged the late fee once, or is it applied ever week/month? If you do not pay by a certain date, will you be dropped from you classes? If you are dropped, will you still be charged for the class? Can I make payment arrangements? Make sure you know when the money is due, what alternatives you have (payment plans) and what the consequences are for not paying on time. If you are on Financial Aid, you still need to know this date. You need to have all your Financial Aid in order before this date to avoid incurring penalties. If the computer does not show you have aid coming, you are still in a negative pay status.

2) Is your Financial Aid in order? Do you have all of your forms in? If you have grants, do they need any verification forms? If you have loans, have you signed your promissory note and picked a lender? Did you apply for aid in time? Will your aid disperse late? If so, do you need to make payment arrangements to cover your tuition until your aid comes in? Even if you do everything you are supposed to do, do not just assume all is well. I filed my FASFA early for my freshman year of college. However, I was selected for verification. Once I finally figure out what that meant, I filled out the form and I gave copies of my taxes and my parents’ taxes to the Financial Aid department. I thought it was all taken care of. What I didn’t know is I was supposed to get another form where I picked my lender. After I picked my lender, then I would get my promissory note to sign. It wasn’t until after I sent my Promissory note back to the lender, that my load would show up on my account. I managed to get it all taken care if, but it was very stressful and very time consuming.

3) If you have scholarships, how do you use them? Some scholarships give you the money directly. That way you can use it for books and other non-tuition expenses. Others send the money to the school for you. What do you have to do to make sure the school receives the money? Do you have to contact the group or funding source and let them know what school to send it to? Figure this out before the semester begins!

4) What are my options concerning books? Most colleges have on site bookstores. These tend to be expensive, and they do not have great book buy back plans. Some bigger schools with have competing bookstore just off campus, or just in the surrounding area. These may have cheaper prices. Be aware that some instructors will only have their materials available through the school’s bookstore, so you may have to do business with them. If you know which books you need, you can always look on Amazon.com or Ebay for the book. Make sure that the great deal isn’t shot down by the price if shipping, and you may save money by going this route.

5) What policies does the school have in place? What is the refund policy when dropping a class? How long into the semester can you withdraw from a class with out having to get signatures? If a class you want is full, what is the override policy. How is registration done? Can you still fill out paperwork, or are you expected to do it all over the internet? How you change you permanent address? What is the policy for repeating a course? What is the academic probation policy? Know these things before you get on campus. All of these items should be listed in your student hand books, and they may be available through the school’s website. If not, contact the school, and have them send you this information. Hopefully you will not ever need to know any of this. However, if something does come up, it is better to know what to do. It is also a good idea to know what departments handle which issues. The Registrar’s Office may be able to withdraw from a class, but they are not there to help you find open classes, advise you or help you with a billing problem. It isn’t that they don’t care, but it is not a function of their office. Save yourself a headache and from getting bounced form office to office.

6) Know and understand FERPA. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 basically means your school can only release your information to you. That means the school cannot release your information to your parents, your significant other, total strangers and alike. This also means that non of these people can make changes to your records on your behalf. That means if you need to drop a class, you need to take care of it. Your mom can go in and drop it for you. Your mom can go in and have them fill out paperwork to keep you on their insurance. That is all your responsibility. Your parents will not be give access to your grades. They can not just call up and ask to see if you are attending class. Federal law prohibits your school from giving anything more than directory information out on their students. Some institutions are more flexible with what they call directory information, but across the board your educational records cannot be access or changed by anyone other than yourself. This means if mom and dad handle everything for you, those days are over. You can sign a waiver allowing people to discus your records, but that still does not give the school permission to give out transcripts, grades or any other documents. Plus it does not give them permission to change your records.

College is a huge step. While you are still being young and having fun, there are some grown up responsibilities that come along with it. Before you take that leap, make sure you are prepared for what you will find when you land!

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