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SAT vs ACT: Which test should you take?

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Sep 16, 2014 11:06:00 AM

The SAT and ACT are standardized tests that allow colleges to compare you to other students. In some cases, schools are dropping these tests as a requirement for admissions but most schools require one or the other. Some schools even use your test scores to evaluate whether or not you are eligible for a merit-based scholarship. The ACT tends to be more popular with public schools and schools in the Midwest and South. The SAT is the more common requirement at private schools and colleges on the east and west coasts. The most important factor in determining which test you should take is which test the schools you are applying to require. Some students may end up having to take both tests. 107077-resized-600

If you find that your schools allow you to submit test scores from either test - as is the case for some - how do you determine which one is right for you? Some students find that one test helps show their strengths or weaknesses more than the other test. 

Here is a breakdown of how each test is structured:


  • This test primarily covers reading, knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, math skills, and ability to communicate through writing. 
  • The test is split into three sections: Critical reading, Math and Writing. You will have 70 minutes to complete the Critical Reading section which will include reading passages and sentence completions, 70 minutes to complete the Math section which will ask you questions on arithmetic, geometry, algebra, statistics and probability, and 60 minutes to complete your essay and answer some questions on grammar usage in the Writing section. 
  • For each section, you can score between 200-800. You total score is a sum of your scores from all sections and will be between 600 and 2400. If you take the SAT more than once, you can choose which set of scores to send to the colleges you are applying to. 
  • Typically taking the SAT more than 3 times isn't advised since it is unlikely to improve your score.
  • You can view test dates and register for the test at sat.collegeboard.org


  • The ACT has 5 major sections: English, Math, Reading, Science and Writing. The Writing section is optional but all other sections are required. 
  • The English section includes questions about punctuation, grammar, and has 75 questions. You have 45 minutes to complete this section. 
  • The Math section asks questions about pre-algebra, algebra, geometry and trigonometry. There are 60 questions and you have 60 minutes to complete the section. 
  • The Reading section includes readings based on four topics: social studies, natural science, prose fiction, and humanities. There are 40 questions and you have 35 minutes to complete the section. 
  • The Science section measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem solving skills required in the natural sciences. You will have 35 minutes to complete 40 questions. 
  • The optional Writing section is a 30 minutes essay that measures your writing skills. 
  • Scores in each section range from 1-36 and your total ACT score is your average score on all sections. 
  • You can view test dates and register for this test at www.actstudent.org

Remember, whichever test you take, it is important to prepare! Start studying ASAP and set aside a small amount of time each week to prepare, rather than trying to get all your studying done in the few weeks preceding your test date. 

Books, online resources, and classes are all available to help you prepare. Some options are completely free! Check with your high school to see if they offer a class and search online for free SAT and ACT prep classes than can help you improve your score. 

Need some help deciding which schools to apply to? The College Planning Center of RI can provide you with guidance and information that can help you with your decision. Book a free appointment online

Rising seniors and college visits

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Sep 12, 2014 10:00:00 AM

If you are now a senior in high school looking to pursue a college education, you undoubtedly visited some college campuses over the summer. But how can you make the most out of your college visits and learn what you need to decide if the college is the right fit for you? Follow this guide:

1. Go on the tour. (But also take a tour of your own!)

As much as you may have a "feeling" about whether or not the college is a good fit for you as soon as you set foot (or drive) through the campus, take the tour! When I was searching for colleges I often refused to get out of the car and decided whether or not I could attend a college based on how the buildings looked. I took a few college tours, and not surprisingly, the ones I took were at schools I ultimately ended up applying to. The point is, it took some information and convincing for me to see that a college was a good fit for me, and often times, the tour gave me the extra comfort and knowledge I needed to think it was worth applying to. So go on the tour, and when it is finished, take some time to explore the campus on your own and stop a few students to ask about their experience at the college. But if the tour is a total yawn, recognize that it doesn't mean the school isn't a good fit so make sure to collect other information and spend some time on the campus on your own before crossing the college off of your list. iStock_000018387037Small

2. Get a copy of the course catalog.

Browse through it and see if you are interested in the class descriptions. You will likely find they are very different from what you are used to in high school. Do the courses get you excited? If there is one that sticks out, try to arrange to sit in on the class while it is in session. 

3. Read the school newspaper.

Learn about student culture, news, and happenings by grabbing a copy of the campus newspaper. Does it interest you? Do you think you would want to pursue the advertised activities? Are the issues discussed fascinating to you? 

4. Ask questions.

Bring a list of thoughtful questions to ask the tour guide, the admissions office, and students. Use your time to get answers you can't find on the college website or brochure such as:

  • What type of student is most and least happy here? 
  • What do you like most and least about this college? 
  • What kind of role does student government, intramurals, fraternities, etc. play on this campus? 
  • What are the most popular majors and why? 
  • What are the greatest challenges about attending this college? What do students most often
    complain about?

5. Take notes.

If you have visited a lot of campuses, you are unlikely to remember every little detail from each school. Take notes about specifics, how you felt on the campus, who you met, and what you thought of them. 

6. Spend the night if you can.

Many colleges have overnight visitation programs. Staying on campus for a full day and night can help you with your decision, give you the opportunity to meet more students, speak with staff and faculty, eat at the dining hall, see the dorm rooms and more. Contact the admissions office and ask if they have an overnight visitation program for college students. 

Selecting Colleges: 4 ways to help your child decide

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Sep 8, 2014 1:59:10 PM

Deciding on the perfect college to go to is no doubt an arduous task. As the new academic year begins, seniors across Rhode Island will be narrowing down their college options and refining their college lists into a set of 6-8 schools to apply to. How can you help your child make the right decision on where to apply? 

1. Help them explore careers and majors.

Have an honest conversation with your son or daughter and ask them questions about the career they want to pursue, what they know about that career, and help them find concrete information on what that career looks like for an entry-level and mid-career level professional. Use tools like bls.gov, salary.com and glassdoor.com. Encourage them to take personality and career assesments (such as those provided through WaytogoRI.org). Be sensitive to your student's goals and desires, but make sure they have the practical information they need to make an educated decision about what to study. If your student is unsure of what they want to study, looking into school that have a wide range of majors might be a wise choice.  

2. Take them on the college tour.iStock_000003714012Small

Some students set foot on a college campus and snap - just like that - they decide they love it or hate it. There is much more to a college than how it looks. A great way of learning about the culture and academcis of a college is to take the college tour and sit in on an information session. Be prepared for a fight. High school students can be stubborn. But the college tour is an essential step to judging whether the college will be a good fit, beyond whether or not the campus is "pretty."  

3. Rank what's important.

Explore factors to consider when conducting a college search. Have your student make a list of what is most and least important to them in a college. Next, ask them to match up the colleges they are considering to the list of factors to see what might be the best match for him or her. 

4. Be supportive.

Maybe you have always had it in your head that your child would go to your alma matter or some other school. But remember, just because you believe it is the right fit, doesn't mean he or she will. Be supportive of the fact that deciding on a college is a difficult choice and one of the first big ones your child will make as a young adult. In order for your child to want invest the time and energy and motivation it takes to complete college, he or she has to be happy with his or her choice. Otherwise, it could end up costing you. 


5th Annual College Fair September 17, 2014

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Sep 2, 2014 9:06:42 AM

Fair can help students choose schools wisely

The College Planning Center of Rhode Island has teamed up with the Pawtucket Red Sox for the 5th year in a row to host a college fair at McCoy Stadium on September 17, 2014 from 6pm - 8pm. At the fair, students will have the opportunity to speak with college representatives and learn about the academic culture of individual colleges. Over 100 colleges from all across the Northeast are expected to attend.


All high school students - even students that aren’t sure if college is right for them - are encouraged to attend. A lot is at stake for students these days as studies have shown college graduates earn higher salaries and experience lower unemployment rates than those without a college degree. Choosing a college wisely can mean the difference between graduating and dropping out, so students need to do their homework before sending out applications.

Students should be open-minded as they start their college search and learn as much as possible about all types of colleges so they are making informed decisions about where to apply. It’s important for students to identify schools that are good matches both academically and financially, so students should be sure to apply for all the free financial aid they can and carefully compare school financial aid policies so they do not graduate with too much debt.

Admission to the college fair is free and plenty of free parking is available. The event will take place indoors, rain or shine. The College Planning Center recommends students come prepared with a list of questions to ask the schools.

Students can register to attend the fair here

College Move In Day Fails: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Aug 25, 2014 12:21:45 PM

College move-in day comes with a lot of mixed emotions for students and parents. Don't stress out yourself - or your family- any more than necessary by falling victim to any of these common college move-in day pitfalls. 

1. Bringing too much stuff. iStock_000017046265Small

Freshman dorm rooms are famously small, even at colleges that offer "big" dorm rooms. To top it all off, you are going to be sharing that space with a roommate or two. Don't assume you can fit all of the luxuries you had at home into one tiny space you are sharing with others. Pack essentials (clothes you just can't live without, bedding basics, first aid kit, shower cady) into one bin - leave other "nice to have but can live without items" in a separate bin. That way if you run out of room in your dresser, under your bed, your closet, etc. etc. you will know what you can send back home with your folks without going into a stress-inducing frenzy. 

2. Forgetting water and snacks. 

Going back to school always fools us into thinking it is fall - but early September is still summer folks. And with summer, often comes hot and humid temperatures, especially if you will be heading south for college. Remember to come with a cooler of ice cold water and snacks to help you power through move in day. Bring enough to offer any current college students who assist you with unpacking your car and lugging your dorm room essentials into your new living space. 

3. Not coordinating with your roommate. 

Talk to your roommate before college move in day to get a sense of what they will be bringing and to determine which large-scale items you can share, such as an area rug, TV, or mini-fridge. Also, try to come up with a plan on when you will arrive at college. It might be easier to have only one person moving into that tiny space at a time. You will avoid bumping into each other and creating a bottle-neck at the door. 

4. Forgetting your IDs. 

If there is one thing you can't move in to college without, it is your IDs. You can't register for school or prove who you are without them. So, even if you forget your shampoo, favorite pillow, or trusted sneakers (which can all be sent to you by your wonderful parents) DON'T forget to bring your ID!

5. Making a bad impression on your roommates. 

Move-in day can be stressful - and yes, your parents may be frustrating you as you try to move on with this next stage in your life. But be kind and respectful. You don't want the first time you meet your roommate to be over a fight between you and your parents. Make a good impression, hold your tongue and count to ten when you mom suggests to put the lamp on the right side instead of the left side of the desk (you can move it wherever you want when she leaves!) and put your best foot forward when meeting the person you are going to be spending a LOT of time with this next year. 


Topics: college dorms

Empty nest: The month before your child leaves for college

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Aug 18, 2014 2:57:54 PM

You have been living with your child for 18 years and the time has come for her to leave home. Your child's departure to college can leave you with lots of mixed emotions – from pride to loss – but there are some things you can do to prepare yourself for the transition and help yourself let go.

While you will always remain your child’s parent, you are first going to have to recognize that your parenting will have to change now that your child won’t be living at home.

It may be tempting to want to spend every moment with your child these last few weeks before he leaves for college, but it is natural for him to want to spend most of his free time with friends. Give him the freedom to do this but also make sure to schedule a special time – such as a family dinner – where you can catch up and celebrate this next step.Empty_Nest_iStock_000016612172Small

Set aside time to dorm room shop

Shopping for a student dorm room can be a great bonding experience for you and your son or daughter. You will need to be there so that he or she can make practical choices. Also, you want to be sure your child has all the essentials (band-aids and tissues!). But remember to let your child make design choices that he or she will be happy living with – after all, the dorm room is a student's space and a chance to express him or herself.

Talk with other parents

You don’t need to deal with your child leaving home all on your own. Lots of other parents are in the same boat. Plan an event or two for the beginning of September where you can all get your minds off of the fact that there is one less person living in your house and bond over games and dinner.

Send care packages

Even if you live close, send care packages to your child. Who doesn’t love getting something special in the mail? Include favorite non-perishable foods, quarters for laundry, a special note – whatever you want that will help your child feel a little bit like home.

Encourage good financial management

With the freedom of college comes a lot of financial responsibility. Make sure your child understands how to view their bank account balance and balance a checkbook. Educate them about the dangers of debt and credit card use. Encourage them to create a weekly budget based on the total amount they have for the semester, and to stick to it regardless of peer pressure.

Be more flexible with your limits

It will be very hard to set limits for your child from afar, and most likely, those limits will fall upon deaf ears. To ease the transition, try being more flexible with your normal limits these last few weeks your student is at home.

Set a plan for visits and calls

It will be easier for you to deal with your child being away if you know when you will see them next or hear from them. Set up a time to have a regular call with your child – at least for the first few weeks –so you can check in with each other. Also, plan a time for your child to come home for the first time. Columbus day weekend is a great time for that, as long as they won’t be going to college too far away.

Hang in there!

Remember, this is an exciting time for your child, and you helped them grow into a wonderful adult. Be proud of your child’s accomplishments, make sure you tell them you love and miss them when you speak, and hang in there!

Packing for College: 10 things you can't live without

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Aug 7, 2014 10:30:00 AM

Packing for college is not an easy task. When you are living at school, you have to squish hundreds of items into one tiny dorm room that you share with a roommate. There are certainly some things you may want to bring to school that may be better left behind, but here are our top ten picks that you should definitely not leave behind. 

1. Your teddy bear.iStock_000002654108Small_TeddyBear

Yes, we know - you are in college, and you don't need your teddy bear any more (but rock on if you do!). But what we are getting at here is that it is essential that you bring something special that makes you feel like you are at home. Living at school is exciting, but many college students get home sick. Having that special something at school with you, whether it's a stuffed animal you grew up with, your favorite pillow, or just a picture of your family, will help you battle the away-from-home blues. 

2. Your IDs.

With all of the other things you need to remember to pack, don't forget these! Without them, you won't be able to register or find a campus job. So, while you are busy checking off shampoo and bedding on your packing list, don't forget to bring your license, a copy of your birth certificate, and your social security card. 

3. Stinky breath doesn't make a good first impression. 

How many times have you gone on vacation and arrived at your destination to realize you forgot your toothbrush? While this may be an easy thing to pick up at the local pharmacy if you forget it, it's a hassle you just don't want to have to deal with on your first day of college. 

4. Ahem, your underthings. 

While you are busy trying to figure out just the right thing to wear on your first day of school, don't forget the things that go under your clothes. It's a good idea to bring 2 weeks worth of undergarments. You'll find college life is busy and sometimes it's easy to procrastinate doing laundry. Having two weeks worth of undies will prevent days of having to walk around campus commando. 

5. Prescription medications. 

This is another small item that is easy to overlook but essential to have. If you take prescription medications, make sure you have enough for your first month of college - at least - and that you pack them the morning you leave for school instead of leaving them behind in the medicine cabinet.

6. Laundry bag

A basket works too but it does take up a lot more space. You don't want to be hauling loads of laundry down four flights of stairs in your arms. Think of all of the embarrassing things you could drop behind!

7. First aid kit

The first time your scrape your knee at school, you may want mom to kiss it better, but she won't be there to help. Make sure you have band-aids, ointment, painkillers, tissues, and cold medicine for those times when you hurt yourself or aren't feeling so great. 

8. Rain gear

Like it or not, wherever you go to college you are probably going to be dealing with at least a little rain. At college, you do a lot of walking. So when there is a downpour and you have to make it to your 9am class, you will be glad that you brought a rain coat and umbrella so you don't have to suffer through lecture in cold wet clothes. Make sure your umbrella is a sturdy one that will hold up to the windiest of days. 

9. Can opener

You are probably to be pulling some all-nighters at college. And when you need a second dinner at 3am, it's likely going to be coming from a can. Make sure you have a can opener with you so you aren't forced to suffer in hunger longingly starting at your can of yummy soup. 

10. Formal wear

While it is tempting to walk around in sweatpants and t-shirts all of the time, campuses often hold formal dances and other events so it is best to come prepared. Also keep in mind you will need something professional for any job interviews you attend. 

For a full list of what to bring to college, click here

Still need some help figuring out how you are going to make your tuition payment? Make a free appointment with the College Planning Center of RI and we can help you sort out your options. 


Topics: packing for college

How to Pay Your College Tuition Bill

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Aug 4, 2014 9:00:00 AM

Getting admitted to college is one thing. Finding ways to pay your college tuition bill is another. Very simply speaking, loans cost you in the long run, so it just makes good sense to exhaust all other sources of financial support before going the loan route. Start with scholarships and grants for college tuition. While they may come with restrictions, millions of dollars are available for any number of reasons.


The scholarship search available through the College Planning Center of Rhode Island is specially equipped to aid students from Rhode Island. You will find scholarship aid for students of animal science, from the Shriners of Rhode Island Trust, for students of certain ethnic origins, and in memory of deceased individuals.

Hundreds of other online search engines will identify millions of scholarship options. CollegeBoard.com is one of the oldest and places high expectations on the scholarships it lists. There are tens of thousands of scholarships out there, some offered by churches, fraternal organizations, professional membership organizations, and more. Download the College Planning Center's List of recommended scholarship sites. 


Grants for all or part of your college tuition are free money. There are made available by federal and state programs as well as other sources. They are usually attached to eligibility requirements and restrictions.

Financial Need 

Federally sponsored Pell Grants are the most common of support with students who demonstrate financial need. If you completed the FAFSA and qualified, a Pell grant would be included in your financial aid award letter.

Critical NeedsDesign_Interns_iStock_000029554856Large

The Federal TEACH program supports students who are pursuing studies in areas determined to be critical needs. Critical needs grants can be given on top of the Pell Grant and may need to be paid back as a loan if you don't meet their requirements after graduation. If you are planning to pursue a career in teaching, contact your college financial aid office about this grant opportunity and learn more here

Diabilities & Illnesses

Students who have suffered disabling illness or have special needs are eligible for grants from non-profit organizations service the specific disability, such as National Association of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Hereditary Disease Foundation, American Cancer Society, and more so check out these sources if you fall into one of these categories.


Students who have served in the military or the children of parents who served may be eligible for grants through the G.I. Bill or through veterans' organizations.


Religious groups often sponsor students in their congregations. Larger grants may be available through national church organizations like the National Baptist Convention or the Missouri Lutheran Synod.


Athletes compete for scholarships that may be attached to additional grants. But, this is also true for accomplished musicians, artists, videographers, performing artists, and other talents. Such grants are offered by state and local governments, women's organizations, journalism associations, music organizations, colleges, and the like.

Special Studies

Some students have a passion for what may be seen as special studies. And, there are grants to fund these studies in female issues, African studies, Native American archeology, or Pacific Island paleontology. These grants are usually funded by private parties or related organizations.

Industry Sponsored

Some businesses provide grants (and internships) to students to feed their talent pipeline. Business sectors like finance and investment, agriculture, fabrics, oil, and insurance all provide student grants.

How grants & scholarships work

Grants for college tuition pay your bills without adding to your financial burden. There is no debt to accumulate and no interest charged. It is a great accomplishment to graduate without debt, especially when you are facing new expenses in the real world.

When you are faced with mortgages, car payments, marriage and family, it is great to be debt free. When you look around and see fellow graduates owing payments on loans in the six figures, you'll be happy you aren't one of them.

How to find money

Now, finding available scholarships and grants is time-intensive. Finding free money is harder than finding and applying for loans. But that convenience comes at a significant cost. Parents are better advised to think early and consider:

  • a 529 Tuition Payment Plan that accumulates earnings tax-free as long as they are used to pay tuition
  • similar prepaid college tuition plans offered by some states
  • tuition payment plans available at some schools divide your college tuition into 12-month installments
  • advanced courses completed in high school reduce tuition costs when transferable.
  • plans to cover or reduce tuition offered by student or parent employers.

Entering college takes a lot of time and work. Parents and students are smart to start early and prepare a strategic plan. The College Planning Center of Rhode Island can help your with your college search and assist you with applying for financial aid. Check out their section on Financial Aid 101.

Topics: scholarships in RI, scholarships in rhode island

Where to Shop for Your College Dorm Room

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Jul 30, 2014 5:00:00 PM

Your time in college is a period of personal growth. It means life on your own, a time when you can invent yourself and express your personality. What better place to start than fixing up the college dorm room where you are likely to spend the next year.

Whatever college you are looking at, it probably has a list of what you can and cannot put in your dorm room. The college staff are not likely to check everything you bring unless it is way out of the norm - like a fish aquarium or a pet boa constrictor. But, a checklist is a good place to start when determining what you should pack for college. Once you have settled on what you need or want to bring to your dorm room, sit down with you family to create a budget for how much you can spend on the things you don't already have.


You know the image everyone has of college students going to class in their pajamas? Truth be told, you are going to spend most of your time in your dorm room in or on bed. It's natural to want to get cozy in your PJs when you settle in to study. Most rooms do not have room for lounge chairs, unless you are able to bunk your bed. Your bed will require sheets and pillowcases and a blanket. Many dorm rooms have beds in the extra-long twin size so be sure to check with your college before you make your purchase - regular twin sheets just won't fit! 


You will want to bring your own pillow if required and a mattress cover. A comforter may be a luxury, but a soft throw will help for lounging around.

If you have some cash to spend, check out PB Teen. The Sophie Floral Essential Bedding set is a great pick for the ladies. (Complete the looks with Clover Dot Sheets)!  

On a budget? IKEA has some great picks such as the BJORNLOKA Duvet Cover and Sham for $39.99 or check out your local HomeGoods or Target for some fashionable bedding for less.


Most dorm rooms come equipped with beds and simple desks. Most have a closet or wardrobe and not much more. Your local big brand stores have what the college does not provide. You might want a more comfortable desk chair than the school provides. You also may have room for easy-to-assemble storage bins and shelving units. Consider taking advantage of storage cases for under the bed and hanging storage bags with compartments to expand your closet space. Bed risers or good ol' cinder blocks can increase the amount of storage under your bed but check with you school if this is allowed. 


Students are expected to bring their own electronics to their college dorm room. That includes a TV, DVD player, computer, speakers, or anything else you don't think you can't live without. Depending on the room, you will need a desk lamp and/or bedside lamp, the kind of simple and low cost items you can find at IKEA or Target easily. You would be smart to bring noise cancelling headphones, chargers, and extension cords. And determine ahead of time the cabling you will need to access the campus internet, if any. For bigger items, like a TV, talk with your roommate and decide if you can share and save. 


Avoid feeling homesick by bringing a little personal style to your college dorm room. If decor is important to you, pick out unique and affordable area rugs (we love this affordable 3'x5' Morroccan Trellis rug from Overstock), bulletin boards, picture frames, curtains, and wall hangings. You can also find a wider selection of comforter sets, lamps, and chairs. You should consider how much you can transport easily and what your roommate's taste in decor. IKEA is a great place for find low cost versions of these items. 


Depending on whether or not your college dorm room has its own bathroom or your shower and bath facilities are shared, you will need some personal supplies.. You need your own towels (these textured towels from Target a a great pick!) and washcloths (minimum of two sets). A bathrobe, shower caddy, and flip flops (get them for less than 5 bucks at Old Navy) will take you to a shared shower facility. If you have your own bath, plan on a bath mat and shower curtain, cleaning products and a toilet brush. And, stock up on your personal toiletries: deodorant, shampoo, razors, and so on.


Most college dorm rooms do not have kitchens. But, an increasing number share some minimum cooking resources in a common area or suite arrangement. If allowed, you may want to split your needs with your roommate(s). You could share a compact refrigerator, microwave, and small coffee maker. If so, you may also need some plates, cups, and eating utensils. And, you should invest in cooking utensils and cleaning supplies. Work out the costs before hand, and budget your share. Check out Target or Walmart for some great deals. 


Dormitories usually have laundromats, but access is not always easy. You will need detergents and softeners. But, you also need a hamper, drying rack, and hangers. Between you and a roommate, you can budget an ironing board and electric iron. Wherever your store your ironing board, you may also have a first-aid kit, flashlight, tool kit, and a portable safe for valuables.

Start at home

There is much you need for your college experience that you already have at home. You have prescription medicines, favorite pillows, stuffed animals (we won't tell anyone if you bring them!), family pictures, hair dryers, and more. You may already have the sheets and towels, alarm clock and music player, lamps and cabling you need.

You and your parents can build a budget by shopping at IKEA, PB Teen, Bed Bath & Beyond, HomeGoods, dormco.com, and other stores online. But, you can build your understanding of what you really need and what your college is ready to offer with the help of the College Planning Center of Rhode Island.  

Topics: college dorm room

Figuring Out How Much to Borrow for College

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Jul 28, 2014 4:00:00 PM

The cost of college tuition has taken a drastic turn upwards in the past few decades, increasing the amount that most students will have to borrow for college. While there is nothing wrong with taking on some student loan debt as long as it is done responsibly, it is important to be aware of how much you will be making straight out of college, and how much per month you will be paying back on your student loans.

What are your career plans? 

If you do not know exactly what you want to major in or pursue as a career your first year of college, it might be best to err on the side of caution and not take out too much in the way of loans to begin with, especially if you have any reason to believe you may go into a field that typically pays lower wages. General education classes your first year is a great way to feel out what you like and what you don't like, hopefully leading you to make a decision about what you'd like to major in by your second year.


Once you have an idea of what you'd like to do after college, and what you want your major to be, you can start taking a look at some hard numbers to help determine how much you will need to borrow in order to pay your tuition and graduate. Professions that have higher starting salaries can allow you to borrow more money in order to get your degree as opposed to those with smaller starting salaries.

As a general rule, you probably don't want to borrow any more than 90-100% of what your expected starting salary will be once you graduate. By keeping your total amount of money that you will borrow for college under this number, you are keeping your monthly payments low enough that you should be able to afford them on your salary. The payments will be even easier to make the longer you are out of college since you will hopefully be getting promotions and raises which will make the percentage of each paycheck going towards student loan repayments smaller.

If you do have an idea what you'd like to do as soon as you start school, great! Knowing an approximate starting salary for your desired job will help you make a decision about student loans before you even step foot in the classroom (Calculate your earnings and max borrowing for all years here). When you know what your starting salary should be before starting, you can borrow for college keeping that number in the back of your head. 

In addition to tuition, you will also want to be able to have enough money for room and board, which can sometimes come close to the amount of tuition you pay directly to the school every year. On-campus living can be surprisingly expensive, with your dorm room being pretty comparable in price to an off-campus apartment, and your dining plan will probably not be cheap either. Moving off campus and preparing your own meals may save you a little bit of money, but you will then have increased living expenses in the form of utilities and transportation to campus.

While the majority of students should be able to get under the 90-100% borrowing suggestion, you can help yourself out by getting even a part time job or paid internship during you first year or two of college. This will reduce the amount of money you need to borrow for college, and give you valuable work experience that could help you land a job in the future.

Anyone going into, or already in college, should do some research into how much they can expect to make their first year. This is the best baseline to work with to determine how much you should be borrowing for college, and it can help give you a realistic estimate of what you need to do to become financially secure after you graduate. Start your research here

Topics: student loans, borrowing for college