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Loans and Educational Debt – Can You Afford Your Top Choice?

Can you afford your top college? Should you take out loans to pay for school? These are questions that weigh heavily on many students and their families. Decisions have been mailed out, but financial aid packages, scholarship decisions, and loans can strongly influence where students decide to go. A report in the New York Times this week shows that "Student loan debt outpaced credit card debt for the first time last year and is likely to top a trillion dollars this year as more students go to college and a growing share borrow money to do so."

Loans are an important part of a financial aid package, but should you rely on them to attend your top choice when a different school has offered better financial aid?

1. Visit the colleges, get a feel for the communities

How well do you "fit" different colleges? Nothing can replace fitting a college well. You will have a better educational experience and be able to do more if the college feels natural to you. If you do not fit a place or fit the mindset of the student body, you will be paying in different ways.

Visit and talk with students and faculty. The image a college projects through marketing, its website, and recruitment is important – that will tell you about its mission and ideal look – but how a place feels is determined by its community and daily functions, which you'll be a part of. When you choose a college, in a sense you are also choosing a lifestyle. How well you fit or see yourself growing into that lifestyle is essential in your decision.

2. Talk to current students and alumni

Current students provide perspective no one else can. They can tell you why they chose their school, how well it fits them, and what they hope to do afterward. You'll gain a solid sense of how you could be a part of the place. Talking with alumni will help you think about after college, and the continued community of a college. Those alumni connections also translate into jobs and important career connections, which is a crucial factor when thinking about educational debt.

3. Consider educational debt in the long-term

Students must be extremely cautious when considering taking out any  type of loan, but consider educational loans in the long-term. Look at federal loans first, and then consider private loans and read the small print. When holding up two colleges and making a decision, look realistically with fit and alumni network in mind. If you plan on working directly after college, what kind of career resources does the institution provide? If you expect to complete your B.A. and move directly into graduate school, more loans will likely be a reality. Will taking out loans now affect your finances in graduate school? Will attending your top school give you a better base for graduate school?

Talk with different financial aid offices, your parents, and consider the above factors. Best of luck.

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This post is titled, "Loans and Educational Debt – Can You Afford Your Top Choice?" It was written by Marta Casey, a writer at Top Test Prep.

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