By Shannon Elward, Indiana Commission for Higher Education

Heather Mount Hlps94trel4 Unsplash

You submitted your college applications. It’s time to relax and wait for the acceptance letters to roll in, right?

Think again! Submitting your application is just one piece of the puzzle. Don’t forget about financial aid, your grades and the decision of what college you’ll attend.

Read on for some important things you can do to prepare for the next step.

1. File your FAFSA. This is the number one thing you should do after applying to college. The FAFSA will open up state and federal financial aid, as well as financial aid from the colleges you’re interested in attending.

The truth is, most students qualify for some form of financial aid. And you won’t know how much a college really costs until you receive your financial aid award letter (see point 3), so don’t rule out colleges you think might be out of your price range until you see your award letter. File your FAFSA at FAFSA.gov, and be sure to list all the colleges you’re interested in or that you’re planning to apply to.

2. Search for – and apply for – scholarships. The FAFSA is a great way to get help paying for college, but it’s not your only option. Search out scholarships and apply for them. Websites like Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com have free scholarship databases.

Searching for Scholarships Student

Don’t forget to talk to your school counselor about local scholarships, too. Fewer students apply to those, so your chances of getting them is higher. And, don’t ignore low dollar amount scholarships. Every little bit adds up when you’re paying for college.

3. Understand your award letters. You’ll receive your award letter from a college after you’ve filed your FAFSA and have been offered admission. Understanding award letters can be tough because they look different from college to college. And terms like unsubsidized loans and subsidized loans can make you feel like you’re reading a different language.

Fortunately, there are resources to help. Talk to your school counselor. Reach out to INvestEd for free assistance understanding your award letters. And, browse this article from NerdWallet that covers the basics of an award letter. The bottom line: make sure you understand how much you’ll be expected to pay – whether that’s out of pocket money now or loan repayment later.

4. Keep working hard in and out of school. After you submit your applications, it can be tempting to let senioritis take over.  But, keep working hard and finish with the best grades you can. You’ll need to submit final transcripts to the college you’ll attend, so keeping those grades up is key.

If you have an opportunity to take a leadership role in a club or sport, or to get an internship or a part-time job, take advantage. Your experiences now can help you grow and make connections for the future.

#IApplied Student

5. Stay engaged & make your decision. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the college(s) you applied to, now is the time to do so. Some colleges even have special visit weekends for prospective or admitted students. The more you know, the easier your decision will be.

When it comes time to make your decision, consider things like cost and graduation rates, but don’t forget to think about things like how you felt on campus and if you think it’s the right fit for you.

Bonus: Are you a 21st Century Scholar? Make sure you complete all 12 of your high school Scholar Success Program activities before high school graduation. Log into your ScholarTrack account to make sure you’re on track to finish.

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