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Organizing Your Finances Before Your First Undergrad Semester

There is a certain reality that faces all incoming college freshmen: paying for college. Whether you have a full ride or an empty one, there are so many components to think about, from food to housing to daily spending money. So, the following are a few tips from a fellow incoming freshman that have been passed down from a few mentors.

Understand Where the Money is Coming From

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Go pick up your college’s financial aid letter and read it carefully. Make sure to notice whether the money is a grant, scholarship, or loan. Grants and scholarships are “free money” that you will not have to pay back, while loans are just borrowed and time-sensitive, meaning that some will accrue interest while you are a student in college, while others will not. Make sure to ask your Money Mentor about the difference and check out this article for further information!

Create a Spreadsheet

Use Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, or just a plain old piece of graphing paper (the latter of which may be more difficult to use than the earlier two). Figure out exactly how much you have to pay in direct costs (any amount of non-negotiable costs that you must pay the institution, i.e. tuition & fees and room & board) and indirect costs (any amount that is not fixated by the college and is set by you for yourself, i.e. transportation and laptop) for the year or for each semester, depending on your preference in organization. Separate these two categories as you see fit. The example below separates them by color, but you can come up with your own system. Also, if you are splitting the cost of college with your parents, make sure to create two different columns: one for your end of the bill and one for theirs.

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Crunch the Numbers

Below the total, add in the free aid you will receive for the year. If you would like to split up the gift aid into the different categories, you may do that. Then, use the subtraction tool on Excel or Sheets to figure out the difference between your costs and the gift aid. After that, add in work study, any other special programs you have to work for, and your loans if you are taking any out. This way, you can figure out the gap that you will have to cover.

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Additional Resources

If you would like more help to cover this gap, make sure to ask your Money Mentor for scholarships to apply to and for an appeal letter if you feel you deserve more financial help. Also, be sure to check our your college's financial aid website for links to more resources. Good luck!