With the school year quickly winding down many families are wondering what steps they should be taking to get ready for college — regardless of the age of their students. Here are some common questions and tips to be better prepared.

How does my student take out a student loan?

The first step to obtain a loan is by completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Most families completed the FAFSA in the fall — the application opens up October 1st each year. Once your student has accepted the student loan through their school they can go to https://studentloans.gov. If this will be their first loan, they will need to complete the entrance counseling, and then they can complete the Master Promissory Note. The interest rates for next year were just announced — and, as anticipated, the rates increased from last year. Interest rates on federal student loans for undergraduates will increase to 5.05 percent from 4.45 percent for the 2018-19 academic year, the federal Department of Education said on Friday.

Rates on loans for graduate students will go up to 6.6 percent from 6 percent; and rates on PLUS loans, for parents and graduate students, to 7.6 percent from 7 percent.

College freshmen are able to borrow $5,500 for the school year, sophomores can borrow $6,500 and juniors and seniors can borrow $7,500.

What should my Senior be going to be ready for college this Fall?

If they haven’t already done so, it is important to get their orientation scheduled. During orientation they will select their class schedule for the Fall, and the earlier they attend the better the selection of classes. Make sure to take the time to talk to their academic adviser about their major and requirements — and begin mapping out the four years of classes they will need. By planning ahead, they increase the chance of actually completing their degree in 4 years — or less, if they have AP and/or college credits from high school that will transfer.

What should my Junior be doing to get ready for college?

Since the common application opens August 1, and most colleges that have their own applications have them available sometime in August, now is a great time to start getting prepared to complete the applications. It is important to start narrowing down the list of schools that your student will apply to. They will need to decide from whom they are going to ask for a recommendation letter. In addition, now is a great time to get all of the information together that they will need — including a list of extracurricular activities, details on volunteering, work history and other items that will demonstrate the type of student they are. It is also time to determine if they should take the ACT and/or SAT again, to try to improve their scores.

What should my younger student be doing?

Schools are interested in grades, standardized test scores, rigor of courses, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, leadership, talent/ability, character/personal qualities, level of interest and work experience. This summer is the perfect time to work on areas that may need improvement. Start tracking activities now — it will make the college application process much easier down the road.

What should parents be doing to get ready?

Take the time to learn about what information is needed on the FAFSA and determine if there are ways to improve financial aid opportunities. Review your spending plan to see if there are areas of wealth leakage that can be improved. Continue to work with your student to find scholarships — there are more than $50 billion awarded in scholarships every year — get your part of them. Attend a Michigan College Planning workshop or schedule a strategy session to find out what category family you are — Category 1, Category 2 or Category 3.

Take advantage of Michigan College Planning’s College Planning workshop — there are many free workshops scheduled in the area. Visit their website or https://www.tcaps.net/programs/leap/for locations and dates. The workshops are informative and include steps you can take right now to assure you understand the cost of attendance and how you can afford college.

Vicki L. Beam is a college planner at Michigan College Planning located in Traverse City. She encourages questions and comments about future columns. Contact Michigan College Planning at (231)947-0203, by email at vicki@michigancollegeplanning.com and at www.michigancollegeplanning.com.

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