college

College checklist for high school students

"If my (academic) profile is above the desired profile of the institution, I should expect an above-average merit-based award," says Blair.

Students can find net price information at the Department of Education's College Navigator site, and information on merit-based aid packages at collegeboard.org.

Nail your APs. By passing Advanced Placement exams administered in early May, underclassmen can knock a class or even a full semester off their college tenure before they even apply. According to the College Board, an $87 fee applies for each exam, but considering that the average three-credit college course at a public college costs $761, it's a worthwhile investment.

Take those SAT IIs. If your colleges require SAT II subject tests, Jacobs recommends taking them in May along with your AP exams.

"That's when students have the highest level of knowledge on that subject," Jacobs says, and subsequently, a better shot of performing well.

In addition to sweetening your application package, high SAT II test scores can increase merit award eligibility.

Seniors:

Check transferability. Students taking community college courses over the summer will be rewarded with a reduced tuition tag, says Blair -- provided that the credits transfer. Before hopping into a summer program, call the school you'll attend the following academic year to ensure you'll get credit for your hard work.

Fill out the FAFSA. If you haven't filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid yet, do it now. According to the American Council on Education, approximately 1.5 million students miss out on government scholarships each year because they don't fill out a FAFSA. Before leaving high school, complete the FAFSA at fafsa.ed.gov and contact the school you'll attend to see if you're eligible for school-sponsored aid.

Follow up. If you've been offered a financial aid award, View recommends that students follow up with the school to find out what's required to maintain it.

"Students need to ask if they'll need a certain GPA to maintain their scholarship and if the scholarship can be renewed," says View. "Students should also ask about the possibility of attaining additional funding next year."

While some colleges direct most financial aid to entering freshmen, View says that many institutions offer hefty aid for current enrollees performing well.

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