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How To Find The Best College For You

April 4, 2019

Picking the right college for you is quite a task. There are so many to choose from! Plus, with the birth of digital experiences, vlogs, and just plain slick marketing materials, it can be a challenge to determine what matters when making such a big decision. It’s important throughout the college search process to remember the main goal which is getting an education. It can be easy to become distracted by the brand new apartments on campus and the conveniences that the college offers. Yes, it’s important to be comfortable while attending school, but it’s not worth losing out on education. How do you find the right college for you? Here are some things that you should take into consideration. Not every aspect will matter to you, but it’s nice to think about big-picture options.

 

Major Malfunctions

The major that you’re interested in studying and how the college meets the major’s needs could be a huge deciding factor. For example, does the college have a good reputation, appropriate resources, and a notable department? Really take into consideration what the school’s reputation for the program.  Is your major available and are there classes that will challenge and engage you? Is the reputation of the college’s program going to further your career upon graduating?

 

Most people know their preferred major or industry before starting, but it’s common for college students to change majors. Does the school have a few appealing options for you? Get in touch with an advisor or the head of the department of your choice and see how you can find out more. You are attending college to further your education and get a career, so if that program isn’t available that could be deal-breaker.

 

Location, Location, Location

Have you always wanted to live on the east coast, dreaming of the mountains, or would you prefer to stay closer to home? Being close by to your family and paying lower in-state tuition could be great options for you. A school in the city could be a better option since you’ll have the ability to take in everything that urban life has to offer. From expansive green grounds to bustling urban towers, there are so many different types of locations you could pick. Don’t rule anything out too soon. You might be surprised how friendly a university in the city can be, or how lively you’ll find a more rural campus.

 

 

When selecting a school it’s important that you consider the distance from your home. Many people often times will want to be available to go home on some weekends or for big events. What the cost is to go home? Can you take public transportation, can you have a car on campus your first year, can a friend or parent pick you up, if needed? A primary consideration for location is the cost. In-state-schools provide a much lower cost to attend than an out-of-state school. If you know you’ll need to borrow student loans for college it may be best to stay with an in-state-school. Paying to attend an out-of-state school will mean more money you’ll have to borrow and eventually pay back. Your decision on school location should be influenced by your comfortability level with being away from home and the cost associated with the location.

 

Tally Total Cost

Cost is a huge factor in selecting a college.  Fees aren’t only limited to tuition but can be dependent on the school. One school may have lower tuition, but fees like room and board, off-campus housing, meal plans, or transportation. We touched on this previously but, if you opt for a school that’s farther from home, how much will you spend coming home to visit? If you really want to go far away from home you may need to factor in the cost of airfare to visit home. Plus, look into fees like a parking permit and departmental fees. It’s worth doing a little math to see what the total cost is before you get your heart set on one or another.

 

Finding Financial Aid

If you can qualify for financial aid and are being provided with financial aid from a college that should heavily impact your decision. Can you get more aid at one school vs. another? Are there more scholarship options available through one college over another? Does staying in-state offer enough benefits that you don’t want to leave? There’s nothing wrong with picking a school because it will offer you the most aid. Aid is especially important if you are borrowing money to attend college. Even if the school doesn’t check all of your other boxes for wants, the cost savings could help make it a front-runner. Make sure you check into scholarships and applications for aid before you make your decision.

 

What You Need to Know About Scholarships for College

 

Culture Shock

Schools usually have a discernible culture that students or faculty can feel and describe. For instance, a school with a robust exchange student program might be more inclusive and have a culture that appreciates diverse perspectives. Another school might be steeped in tradition and fit better for someone with traditional values. Schools with bigger arts programs or specialties in STEM could have a culture all their own. You really can’t get a good depiction of the culture from marketing materials. Understanding a school’s culture is the kind of thing you can ask while visiting or inquire about online in places like forums or Reddit.

 

Sweet Student Life

You will be spending a lot of time on campus. Even if you are non-traditional or live off campus. You should take advantage of entertainment, attending special activities, and participating in one or more organizations. Maybe you want a certain Greek life experience—check into it! Ask around and see what the reputation of campus life is like. Look at upcoming events and see what types of organizations you can join. It can be difficult the first year to make friends and get connected into a social group. Well-supported campus life can make this big task a breeze and set you up for some awesome lifelong friendships and memorable experiences.

 

All About Amenities

Relatively little things can make a big difference—especially if you’re between a few schools or have close contenders. Think about recreation and facilities on campus, what their sports, athletics programs or teams are like. Does the school have a special connection to a family member or your culture? Small things like cafes that better serve your dietary needs or campus dining options that stand above the rest can weigh into your decision. Your decision should not be based solely on these relatively small things, but if you’re on the fence of two universities it could be what gives you the push needed.

 

It’s important to understand how you’ll be financing college before you start looking at the school. If you plan on financing college by taking out student loans, they can impact your future. Once you understand your finances, you’ll be able to prioritize what is most important to you and start there. Remember too that schools usually have lots of opportunities for you to visit and learn more. There are entire departments of people whose job it is to acquaint you with the campus and community. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. Go in person and get a feel for the school if you can. Don’t forget to connect with potential faculty for your preferred major. You’ll probably learn a lot about what life would be like as a student, which will help make your decision much easier.

 

Happy school hunting!

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college student refinancing student loans
2020-05-26
Can You Refinance Student Loans While in School?

If you have student loans you probably have wondered what’s the best way to handle them. Should you wait to pay them after graduation or start paying them while in school? Or maybe you have heard about student loan refinancing and are wondering if it is right for you. Read on to find out one way you can manage your student loans that will benefit you right now.  

What is Student Loan Refinancing?

When you refinance student loans you take out a new loan to pay off one or multiple federal or private student loans. You will have a new loan term and presumably a lower interest rate. You can refinance to a new loan with the same amount of years left as your old loan or stretch out the term to allow a longer time for repayment. If you increase the amount of time to repay this will lower your monthly payment but likely will cause you to pay more interest over the loan term.   

Can You Refinance Student Loans While in School?  

The short answer is yes, but it may be difficult to find a lender that you can refinance with if you are still in college. Many lenders require a Bachelor’s degree as an eligibility requirement for refinancing. The other
requirements to refinance* with ELFI include: 
  • You must have a credit score of at least 680 and a minimum yearly income of $35,000. 
  • Must have a minimum credit history of 36 months.
  • Must be a U.S. citizen, the age of majority. 
  If you cannot currently meet these requirements, you can have a cosigner that fits these requirements.     If you have federal student loans some may argue you should wait to refinance them until you graduate because they offer more flexibility with deferment and forbearance. However, some private lenders also offer deferment and forbearance options. Some other things to consider are:
  • If you think you will get a job in the public sector that would qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you may not want to refinance because you would lose the benefit of having your federal student loans forgiven under the program. 
  • If you think you will want to take advantage of an income-driven repayment plan when you graduate, you may not want to refinance because this is only offered for federal student loans. Tip: Be aware that when you take advantage of income-driven repayment plans, your monthly payment is lower, but you will end up paying more for the loan in interest costs.   
  There are many benefits to refinancing while in school to put you on a better financial path when you graduate. The average college graduate has $31,172 in student loans. However, you can work to reduce that amount by refinancing. Student loan refinancing can be beneficial for many reasons: 
  • Consolidate - Refinancing allows you to consolidate multiple federal and private student loans into one new loan. You can refinance some or all of your loans. Consolidation makes it easier to manage one loan as opposed to multiple loans. With only one loan you will be less likely to miss a due date, and avoid any associated late fees. 
  • Lowers Interest Rate - When you refinance you can potentially qualify for a lower interest rate. A lower interest rate saves you in interest costs over the life of the loan. 
    • If you have unsubsidized federal student loans (the ones where interest accrues while you are in school) your loans could be growing by an average of 4.53%. But if you refinance you may qualify for a lower rate, as low as 3.86%, and less interest would be accruing. 
  • Lower Monthly Payment - If you score a lower interest rate when you refinance you will be paying a lower monthly payment. To find out how much you could potentially save, use our Student Loan Refinance Calculator.*  
  • New Lender - Do you always have trouble with customer service when you want to ask a question about your loan? When you refinance, you can get a new lender if you choose. It’s great to find a lender with high customer reviews. At ELFI we pride ourselves on providing award-winning customer service. 
  • Fixed Interest Rate - if you have a loan with a variable interest rate it may be more advantageous to refinance and lock in a fixed interest rate. With a variable interest rate your payment can increase when interest rates increase, which could put a financial strain on your budget. 
  Important tip: if you refinance while in school and after graduation your credit score and income increase, you can always try refinancing your loan again to possibly get an even lower rate.*   

Conclusion

Researching how to handle your student loans while still in school is a great initiative to set yourself up for a strong financial future after graduation. Student loans may seem like a heavy burden, but utilizing resources available to you will make the monthly payments easier on your budget.  
  *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.   Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
Former UT athletes obtain graduate degrees through the SouthEast Bank RAC Program.
2020-05-08
ELFI Parent Company Helps Former Student-Athletes Obtain Degrees

Empowering others to reach their full academic potential is an integral part of Education Loan Finance's mission, and this extends to its parent company, SouthEast Bank.   This was shown in a recent UTSports.com article highlighting how several former standout University of Tennessee athletes are set to complete their undergraduate degrees after putting their education on hold to pursue professional sports careers – these athletes, including former NFL wide receiver Peerless Price, were able to obtain their degrees with the help of the SouthEast Bank Renewing Academic Commitment (RAC) program, which helps former University of Tennessee student-athletes return to the university to complete their undergraduate studies.    As a company, we are proud to empower these individuals in achieving their academic goals and we congratulate them for their achievements both on the playing field and in the classroom.   Read the SouthEast Bank blog for more details on how this program has helped former University of Tennessee student-athletes achieve their academic goals.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
photo representing financial aid options for middle income families
2020-02-10
Financial Aid Options for Middle-Income Families

It’s no secret that college comes with a hefty price tag. Every year, students and their families have to figure out how they’re going to pay thousands of dollars in school bills. While high-income families may have the resources to pay tuition, footing the entire bill just isn’t realistic for some families, especially if they have more than one child attending college. This is why many students rely on financial aid to fund their education.

 

It’s generally known that students from lower-income families can qualify for special scholarships and grants that help fill the gap to fund their education, but for families around the middle-income tier, financial aid options may be harder to come by and make them feel that their options are limited. Rest assured that there are options for middle-class families to receive the financial assistance they need – it just may take a bit more effort.

 

FAFSA

When it comes to looking for financial aid for college, the FAFSA is a great place to start. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid has no income cutoff for eligibility, so your child could still receive some need-based aid from the FAFSA, especially if he or she plans on enrolling at a higher-cost school. The FAFSA opens October 1 every year, and you can apply as early as the year prior to your child’s first day of college. The earlier you apply, the more likely your child is to receive financial aid. 

 

Scholarships

Researching and applying for scholarships has continually proven itself worthy of the effort. Many scholarships are merit-based instead of need-based, so your child may be eligible for many different scholarships depending on the qualifications. Start by looking for local scholarships – many locally-owned businesses and organizations offer scholarships for graduating high school students. If your child visits the school guidance office, they may have some applications on file. You or your spouse could also ask your employer if they offer any type of scholarships or financial aid for employees’ children. After exhausting local options, your child may want to research national opportunities. A quick web search could reveal countless free scholarships – Niche, Fastweb, and eCampusTours are a good place to start. Finally, many colleges offer merit-based scholarships and endowment scholarships. Make sure your child looks for institutional scholarships at the school he or she plans to attend. You may discover that if your child joins a club or raises a standardized test score by a couple of points, he or she could receive thousands more dollars of financial aid.

 

Tuition Discounts

If a family member, such as a parent or grandparent attended the same college or university you're enrolled in, you may receive a tuition discount. There may be additional requirements to qualifying for this discount, such as, your family member being active in the school's alumni association or maintaining a certain GPA.

 

Tax Rewards

Middle-income families are perfectly positioned to receive tax credits for college expenditures. For example, the Lifetime Learning credit has income requirements that exclude those who earn over and under certain amounts. Programs like this, as well as tuition savings plans, offer a few different ways for middle-income families to receive tax benefits.

 

Federal Loans

If you’ve taken advantage of all your financial aid options and find you still have more to pay, it may be time to consider loans. Non-need based federal loans such as the Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan for students and the Federal PLUS Loan for parents can bridge whatever gap you find in your aid and your expenses. Federal education loans generally have low interest rates or may be tax-deductible, so they’re a smart alternative to using a credit card, for example.

 

Private Loans

You may find that you still need financial assistance after exhausting all the options above. If that’s the case, private student loans may be for you. We always recommend you take advantage of grants, scholarships, and federal aid before taking out a private student loan. To learn more about ELFI’s private student loan options,* click here.

 

The cost of college can present a challenge for families at all income levels, but middle-income families often struggle the most to find good financial aid options because their finances fall between affording college and needing assistance. If your family is in this situation, don’t let it get you down. The options in this article are a good place to start searching for financial assistance. Don’t lose sight of the end goal – getting the degree you want and establishing a successful career. If you’re already looking for financial aid options, you’re well on your way.

 
  *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.  

Note: Links to other websites are provided as a convenience only. A link does not imply SouthEast Bank’s sponsorship or approval of any other site. SouthEast Bank does not control the content of these sites.