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Most families manage to see the dining hall during a campus tour, but never think to meet with a financial aid counselor. This does you a big disservice! The salad bar won’t provide much nutrition if you can’t find the cash to attend the school. Including the financial aid office in your college visit will help you get a complete picture of the school—socially, academically, and financially.

When should you make your college visits?

Start early by planning for initial campus visits during your junior year—and check out as many schools as you can. This way, you’ll have time to gain a solid understanding of your financial outlook at each one. Before you commit to four years of tuition bills, it makes sense to know what you’re in for!

What an aid counselor can tell you during a campus visit

Most aid counselors are pretty sharp with numbers. (It comes with the line of work!) They’re especially knowledgeable about financial aid packages, which are different for each student. After evaluating your situation, a counselor should be able to estimate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) right off the top of their head. With this information, you can:

  • Prepare for the news you’ll receive in your award letter.
  • Identify the amount of scholarship money you’ll need to fill the gap.
  • Fine-tune your college list into financial “reach” and “safety” schools.

Not a bad payoff for a short detour after the campus tour!

Use your college visits to visit your major

If you already know your intended major, also meet with a member of that department. In addition to finding about the program, you can see about financial aid. Certain awards are given out by individual programs, so try to meet with an Associate Dean to discuss need- or merit-aid possibilities. While you’re at it, you can also find out if there are any part-time job opportunities available.

Use your college visit to chat yourself up

A secret bonus to speaking with an aid counselor is that it may put you in the running for additional funds. Be sure to make them aware of your grades, class rank, test scores, community service, etc. Bring up anything that might help.

Also keep in mind that schools keep track of which students visit the campus and how often. It never hurts to be on their radar. As you plan your visit, keep the following hints in mind.

  • DO write down the names of all college personnel that you met with.
  • DO write thank you letters!
  • DO try to meet with the same folks on a second visit, during senior year.

While meeting with an aid counselor before or after a campus tour won’t guarantee additional aid, not meeting with them won’t help you at all. Make your college visits with an open mind and learn everything you can. The cornerstone of a smart financial aid strategy is to be informed.

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