4 Things You Can Do Now to Make College More Affordable

It’s no surprise that college can be expensive. The cost of tuition, books, fees, and living expenses and room and board, can add up. The good news is, college is much more affordable if you plan ahead. But even if you’re in your final years of high school, there are still plenty of things you can do now to make college more affordable.

  1. Start Saving. It’s never too early (or too late) to start saving for college. Even a small amount of savings is better than none at all! Skipping a few lattes and after-school snacks can add up over time. Consider opening a savings account that’s just for future college expenses. Talk to your parents/guardians about the different types of education savings accounts.
  1. Research and apply for scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs. Whether you’re a first-year high school student or you’re graduating this year, understanding your financial aid options and the FAFSA will help make college more affordable. You can save on everything from tuition costs and books to housing and food. Also, research in-state tuition discounts and transfer programs.
  1. Get a part-time job. A job can help pay for living expenses and help make college more affordable. Get creative with the type of work you choose. Consider looking for a job or paid internship in a field you’re interested in studying. You can earn extra money and get the real-world experience you can add to your college application or work resume.
  1. Take college classes online or at a community college. Most colleges require students to take general education classes during their first two years. But did you know you can save money by taking some of these classes online or at a community college while you’re still in high school? You can get quality education and college credit for a fraction of the cost of a four-year university.

Don’t let the college costs stop you from getting the education you deserve. Explore your financial aid options, consider taking a few college classes in high school, and start saving now! With a little planning and creativity, you can lower your college costs before you even get to college! 

A Crash Course in Admissions and Financial Aid

As you fill out financial aid forms and compare financial aid packages, you’ll probably see some unfamiliar terminology. While most terminology is universal across US colleges, some terms are unique to specific colleges. Don’t be afraid to ask your high school or admissions counselor about acronyms or processes. They want you to be as informed as possible throughout the process.

Financial Aid Terminology

Cost of Attendance (COA)

COA is more than just your tuition. It’s a combination of tuition and an estimate of the extras, including room and board, books, laptop, transportation, and other personal costs.

CSS Profile

CSS Profile is a form some schools require you to fill out to be considered for scholarships.

Entrance Loan Counseling (ELC)

ELC is an online training module that goes over the terms of the loan, origination fees, interest rates, repayment options, and more. ELC is mandatory when you take out both student and PLUS loans.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The EFC is the total out-of-pocket amount your family could reasonably contribute towards your college expenses. It is determined by your family size, the number of family members already enrolled in college (if any), and both taxable and non-taxable family income and assets. The EFC is calculated using the information you fill out on your FAFSA.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

You must fill out the FAFSA every year you attend college to be considered for need-based aid and if you want to take out federal student loans to fund your education. The FAFSA typically opens on October 1st for the following school year. If you are unmarried and under the age of 24, have your tax info and your parents’ tax info from two years ago handy. You can read more about the FAFSA here.

Gift Aid

Gift aid is the best kind of aid because you don’t have to pay it back. Gift aid is usually in the form of grants and scholarships. Ideally, you want all your aid to fall into the gift aid category.

Master Promissory Note (MPN)

This is your loan contract that states that you agree to pay back all of the money you have borrowed, including interest.


Need is the difference between the cost of attendance and how much your family can afford to pay based on your FAFSA application.

Need-Based Aid

Need-based aid is determined based on the needs of your family. Your grades, community involvement, and athletic prowess do not come into play. The amount of need-based aid is generated by subtracting your Expected Family Contribution from the Cost of Attendance.


When a university is need-blind, it does not consider your financial need/status when making admissions decisions. Need-blind schools never deny you because of your inability to pay full tuition. Fortunately, many schools are need-blind.


Need-aware is the opposite of need-blind. Need-aware colleges take your ability to pay tuition into consideration when they are making admissions decisions.

Origination Fee

An origination fee is paid to the bank to compensate them for administering a loan. The fees are usually 3% of the amount disbursed. A portion of the money is paid to the federal government to help offset its administrative costs.

Pell Grants

These are federally funded need-based grants awarded based on your FAFSA application. You do not pay these back.

Parent Loans for Undergraduate Study (PLUS Loans)

Parents can apply for a PLUS loan up to the Cost of Attendance minus any other aid. Qualification for this loan is based on a positive credit history. Parents must begin repayment on the PLUS loan once the loan is disbursed. However, they can request a deferment while the student is enrolled at least half-time in school. PLUS loans begin accruing interest as soon as they disburse.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a program where your remaining direct federal student loan debt can be forgiven after 120 payments under a qualifying repayment plan and while employed by a qualifying governmental agency or non-profit organization.

Renewable Scholarship

A renewable scholarship is awarded for more than one aid year. Renewable scholarships typically require a recipient to maintain specific academic standards. Some require students to reapply every year.

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

To continue to receive aid, you must meet specific benchmarks, such as credit completion or a certain GPA. Make sure you understand the specific requirements for your aid.

Student Aid Report (SAR)

You’ll receive this report via email after submitting the FAFSA. The SAR is your opportunity to review submitted information to ensure everything is accurate.

Subsidized Loans

Subsidized loans do not accrue interest while you are still enrolled at least half-time status and for the following grace period. Repayment begins six months after either graduation or dropping below half-time status.

Unsubsidized Loans

Unsubsidized student loans from the government begin accruing interest immediately upon disbursement. Repayment begins six months after either graduation or dropping below half-time status. If you can, consider making interest-only payments while in school so the interest doesn’t capitalize.


If your FAFSA was selected for verification, don’t panic. About one-third of applications get selected, some at random, and some because they found mismatching information on the application that requires further explanation. Each institution lets you know what paperwork is required to complete this process. Complete the paperwork immediately because your financial aid package can’t be finalized until it’s completed.


Work-study is a program that allows you to earn money by applying for on-campus jobs. You typically have to apply for these positions just like any other job. The salary helps offset a portion of your Cost of Attendance. Most work-study jobs are generally no more than 20 hours per week.

Academic Terminology

Bursar’s Office

The office where you pay your tuition bill.

Class Standing

Freshman (0-30 credit hours earned), Sophomore (31-59 credit hours earned), Junior (60-89 credits earned), Senior (90+ credit hours earned).


CLEP stands for College Level Exam Program. CLEP tests can be taken in many subjects to demonstrate college-level proficiency and award you college credit for a specific course. If you are interested in taking a CLEP test, check with your college regarding CLEP acceptance policies, scores needed, etc.

Credit Hours

Most college courses will be three credit hours. In a typical 16-week semester, you will spend three hours in the classroom per week learning academic material. Your work for that class doesn’t end after those three hours, so set aside additional time to complete your homework. You typically complete 120 credit hours to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Degree Audit

This is a report showing your progress toward your college degree completion. If you took any dual credit courses, AP courses, or CLEP tests, including the necessary documentation to your college to ensure these courses are reflected on your degree audit.


Electives are courses outside of your degree plan. Some degrees have room for electives, and you can take any college course to meet your total credit hour requirement. Other times, you can choose electives within a specific subject area.


FERPA stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA is designed to protect the privacy of your educational records and allows you the right to review your records. Once you turn 18 or attend a postsecondary institution, you’re the only person who sees the information unless you sign a release form authorizing others. This means your parents will not be given your academic transcript, disciplinary records, or GPA without your permission.

Transient Enrollment

This is enrollment at an institution other than your own college that you attend. For example, it’s considered transient enrollment if you go home for the summer and take a course at a college or university in your hometown.

5 Reasons to Choose the Affordable College

If you’re experiencing pressure to choose a college, you’re not alone! When you factor in cost, the choice gets even more confusing. If you’re caught between choosing your dream school with little to no financial aid or a more affordable school further down your list, here are five reasons to choose the more affordable college for your undergraduate degree.

You’ll experience peace of mind.

Transitioning to college can be stressful. Choosing a cheaper school will keep you from stressing about finances today and in the future. When you choose the affordable option, you can enjoy more of the college experience because you’re not working three jobs to make ends meet. You’ll sleep better at night knowing you will have less student loan debt.

You’ll have more spending money.

If you choose an affordable college and work part-time, you may find you have a little extra money at the end of the day. You can use the money for weekend activities or save it for graduate school, a study abroad program, or a dream vacation after graduation!  

You can start your dream career early.

If you’re worried about money, you may look for a job to simply pay for school debt and life. Your additional bills may mean you have to turn down internships or other opportunities that don’t pay as well. When you choose an affordable school, you can accept internships that will enhance your resume, provide you with experience, and give you an advantage in the job market.

You can choose your dream school for grad school.

If you’re determined to attend your dream school, consider going there for grad school. You may be able to get a graduate assistantship or fellowship to offset the cost of tuition. 

The name isn’t everything.

It’s easy to get swept up in a school’s name or reputation. You may equate big-name schools to academic prestige or athletic prowess, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to the best fit for you. Your second or third options may be better fits and come with cheaper price tags.

A college degree matters more than where you get it. Success doesn’t always equate to attending a university with a big reputation and a hefty price tag. Whatever school you choose, your education is what you make of it.

Financial Aid Packages 101

For many students, the financial aid package is a huge factor in determining which college they’ll attend. Financial aid packages differ by school, but the types of awards are similar. If you understand the awards, you can decide what financial aid package works best for you.

Here are three important terms to remember:

  • Cost of Attendance (COA)
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
  • Need

The Cost of Attendance typically includes your estimated tuition and fees (generally based on full-time enrollment). It also estimates room and board, transportation, books, and other costs. Pay attention to the COA for each college because some include more factors than others. 

Your Expected Family Contribution is the number your FAFSA application generates after you input your information. This dollar amount is what the government believes you/your family can contribute toward your college education per academic year. Since you renew your FAFSA each year, your EFC can change throughout college.

The difference between your COA and your EFC is known as need. Financial aid offices do their best to cover your needs by providing various forms of financial aid. 

Grants and Scholarships

Grants and scholarships are free money you don’t have to pay back. They come from colleges, the government, the state, and outside sources. Let colleges know if you earn any outside scholarships because they can impact your financial aid package. Some grants, such as the TEACH grant, convert to student loans if you do not fulfill the associated service obligation post-graduation. Make sure to read the fine print!

Direct Stafford Loans

Eligible students can receive Direct Stafford Loans to help fund their education. Backed by the federal government, these loans typically have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than most private loans. Students are capped on the amount they can take per year. For example, a first-time college freshman classified as a dependent can only utilize $5,500 per academic year. The amount increases each year, up to $7,500 per academic year. There are two kinds of Direct Stafford Loans: subsidized and unsubsidized.

Subsidized loans DO NOT accrue interest while you are in school (enrolled at least half-time) or during the loan’s grace period. The grace period is for six months after you leave school or drop below half-time status. A portion of your direct loans may be in the form of subsidized loans if you have a high financial need. 

Unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest as soon as they disburse (are applied to your bill or direct deposited to your bank account). All interest accrued while in school is added to your principal balance. It’s a good idea to make interest-only payments while still in school so the amount does not continue to grow. 

For Direct Stafford Loans, you must complete a master promissory note (loan contract) and entrance loan counseling (covers terms of loan, repayment, etc.)


The acronym PLUS means Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students. You may see a PLUS loan estimate on your financial aid package. This means your parents can apply for the PLUS loan to cover your remaining cost of attendance. The PLUS loan is solely in the parent’s name, and approval is based on a satisfactory credit check. If your parents are denied the PLUS loan, they may request an endorser, or you can receive additional Direct Stafford unsubsidized loans. Repayment for PLUS loans typically begins upon disbursement unless your parent applies and is granted deferment.


The Federal Work-Study Program provides part-time jobs for students with financial needs. These jobs are typically on-campus. If you are interested in work-study opportunities, indicate this on your FAFSA application. Your work-study opportunity has a specific amount of money you can earn, and your hours will be capped once this amount is reached. The school will pay you directly, or the payment can be applied to your student account for tuition and fees.

Understanding the different types of awards will help you evaluate your options. Talk with your school’s financial aid office so they can explain your package and answer any questions. You can pick and choose what aid to accept and even reduce amounts. For loans, it is wise to take only what you absolutely need and be sure to ask about payment deadlines and payment plan options. Do your research before you agree to any amount of money. Understanding financial aid packages will pay off!

Cutting Costs in the College Search and Application Process

If you’re unsure how you’ll pay for the costs associated with the college search and application process, you’re not alone! Thankfully, there are ways to help offset these costs. We’ve highlighted some areas where you’ll see fees and some resources that will help offset the costs. Some of these resources can be utilized by all students regardless of family income level, and others are only for families demonstrating a certain level of financial need. 

Test Prep

If you want to earn a high SAT and/or ACT score, you’ll need to prep for these tests. Unfortunately, many test prep programs come with a hefty price tag. If you’re taking the SAT, a great free resource for all students is Khan Academy. For the ACT, we recommend ACT’s free resources!


Essays are another huge component of your college application. The good news is you probably have free resources available already! If you’re looking for people to review your essays, your English teacher or an older friend who was admitted to their dream school are both great resources. Remember to be respectful of their time and give them a draft of your essay well before the due date.

Test Fee Waivers

The ACT and SAT both cost money. However, you may qualify for fee waivers based on your family’s income. Here is more information about ACT and SAT test waivers.

Application Fees

Application fees can get expensive, especially if you’re applying to many schools. These fees typically range from $25-$90 per application. Colleges want to ensure the application fee doesn’t stop you from applying, so there are several ways to have your application fee potentially waived.

  1. If you qualify for the SAT fee waiver, you also qualify for four application fee waivers (at participating colleges).
  2. If you qualify for the ACT fee waiver, your counselor can fill out the application fee waiver request form on your behalf and submit it to the colleges you are applying to. It is at the discretion of each college to approve the fee waiver.
  3. If you are applying through the Common App, here is more information on waiving application fees.
  4. Some college admissions counselors have a limited number of fee waivers they can give out at their discretion. There is no harm in politely asking for a fee waiver, although you must be able to explain why you need the waiver. Even though your request may not be granted, there’s no harm in asking.

Campus Visit Vouchers/Fly-In Programs

An in-person campus visit will help you decide which school best fits you. Some schools offer campus visit vouchers and fly-in programs to help reduce these costs. These programs are typically reserved for admitted students and usually only cover a portion of the costs associated with your campus visit.

Even if a college doesn’t offer these programs, there are ways to visit at a low cost. See if there is an admitted student event that offers free on-campus lodging. You won’t have to pay for a place to stay, and you get to experience dorm living. Talk to your friends and see if they want to visit the same campuses. You can split the costs and take a fun road trip!

Don’t forget to fill out the FAFSA (each year you are in college) and apply for scholarships. There are lots of ways to save money on college applications and visits. Don’t let the costs associated with college be a deterrent to pursuing your college dreams!

How to Get Hands-On Experience in High School

The best way to determine if a career path is right for you is to experience it yourself. For example, you may have your heart set on becoming an attorney, but until you sit in the courtroom, you won’t know what it’s like to have this career. Expectations often differ from reality. When you test different work environments, you can decide what you enjoy and what’s not for you. 

Not sure where to begin looking for hands-on experience? Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Apply for an internship.

Many companies offer internships to high school students. Internships give you hands-on experience in specific careers and help you narrow down career choices before you graduate.

Sign up for volunteer opportunities.

You don’t have to be fully committed to just one community service project to gain hands-on experience. You can volunteer at organizations throughout your community (and abroad) to help you decide the type of work you enjoy. Look for one-time projects so you can get a wide variety of experiences.

Be selective about part-time/summer jobs.

Choose part-time and summer jobs that will help you develop life skills that you can add to your resume. Think about working as a camp counselor, day care center employee, nonprofit administrative assistant, or server in a nursing home. 

Take hands-on extracurricular classes.

Science classes typically have labs, while yearbook classes may have opportunities to mentor younger students. A business elective may involve collaboration with local companies. By taking these classes, you’ll learn more about specific careers and if you might like to pursue them in the future. 

Internships, jobs, volunteering, and extracurricular classes are all ways to learn about different career paths. They also make you a great candidate for future employers and colleges. No matter your passions, hands-on experiences will ignite your future dreams.

5 Reasons You Should Download the Encourage App

So many things to do and SO little time. Trying to balance planning for the future and living in the present? We found a way to optimize an interactive, low-stress tool to make sure you’re covered for life after high school. We’re more than your average college planning app.  

Keep reading to learn more about why you should be sprinting to your app store after reading. 

We celebrate each step of your journey with milestones

The journey takes a lot of planning and a lot of steps, and this can seem really overwhelming. We’re ready to bake a cake and celebrate each step you achieve when planning for college; do you like chocolate or vanilla?

Match with colleges directly

You’ll create a profile and list preferences about cost, lifestyle, majors, and more to customize your college matches. Find the school that makes sense for you while you’re chasing your dreams. You’ll have the option to save schools that pique your interest and get to know them more.

Match with scholarships

No joke, college is expensive. Answer simple questions about your preferences, priorities about affordability, and other interests, and we’ll match you to your best-fit scholarship opportunities.

It’s basically a to-do list laid out for you! The guesswork is over.

Half of the battle is simply wondering what you need to do to make it work. Thankfully, we’ve designed your to do list for you depending on preferences and goals. Sounds like a win to us.

We’ve got the experience to make a difference

Long story short, we’ve got over 100 combined years of research experience to build a unique app experience that high school students love to use when planning for college. For the past 50 years, we have been evolving the way we do things by listening to the student experience and implementing changes as needed. In a nutshell, you can trust us to guide you in the right direction when painting a picture of your future!

Intrigued? We can’t blame you. Download the app below and take flight! We’ll be on standby with your cake.

What is the CSS Profile?

As you are exploring your financial aid options, you may come across the CSS Profile. CSS stands for College Scholarship Service which is administered by College Board (The same organization who administers AP exams, PSAT, and SAT). Hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide require it as a supplement to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Be sure to check if colleges you are interested require you to submit the CSS Profile! Read on to learn more about CSS Profile:  

Why do I fill out the CSS Profile? 

The CSS Profile allows you to be considered for need-based financial aid from certain schools. It is more in-depth than the FAFSA, so colleges can see your true financial need on a deeper level.  

When do I fill out the CSS Profile? 

The CSS Profile typically opens on October 1 for the upcoming school year. You will want to submit your CSS Profile no later than two weeks before the earliest college or scholarship application deadline. 

What do I need to fill out the CSS Profile? 

Since the CSS Profile and FAFSA application are similar, they will require a lot of the same documents. It’s wise to go ahead and get the following items together:  

  • Your College Board login, if you took the SAT, PSAT, or AP exams, you should already have this. 
  • Federal tax returns (your guardians’ and yours if you file taxes) 
  • Your SSN and guardians’ (if applicable) 
  • Record of any untaxed income 
  • Bank statements 
  • Mortgage information 
  • Investment records 
  • Your debit or credit card. 

The initial cost of the application is $25. To send reports to additional schools, it is $16. If you qualify for a free SAT waiver, your application fee will be waived, and you will have the ability to send your CSS Profile to up to 8 schools for free.  

If you ever run into any questions while filling out your CSS Profile, take advantage of the email support, live chat, and phone support that College Board offers!