What You Should Do the Summer Before College

You’ve applied for financial aid, reviewed your Student Aid Report (SAR), and completed any required verification (a process to verify the information on your financial aid forms ). So now you’re wondering: What happens the summer before college begins? There are a few additional steps you need to complete over the summer to ensure you’re ready for college in the fall. We’ve put together this summer checklist to help you get started.

First-Year Students

If this is your first year in college, you’ll need to complete a few additional steps.

Review Financial Aid Offers and Make a Decision

Before planning any next steps for enrollment, you have to choose a college. When deciding, make sure you're factoring in cost, academics, and school culture, among other factors. An important first step is reviewing your financial aid offers and comparing all options using a college cost calculator before deciding where to go.

Once you’ve decided, you may need to pay a deposit to secure enrollment at that college. This deposit, ranging between $50 to $500, is nonrefundable and typically credited toward your tuition and fee bill. If you’re concerned about this payment, reach out to the college you’re interested in to ask about options to waive the fee—the earlier you contact the college, the better. May 1, National College Decision Day, is usually when these deposits are due to four-year colleges, so be sure to make your decision and send your deposit before then.

Review Student Portal

Once you’ve decided where to enroll, it’s important to review your college’s online student portal and complete any required actions. Colleges use student portals to give you essential information in one place—including financial aid, transcripts, tuition/fee bills, and even registration for classes.

You may have been given access to the student portal along with your student ID or student account. If the student portal is your college’s primary method of communicating with you, you may be required to enter your contact information.

Orientation

Colleges typically host an orientation in the summer for all incoming first-year students and new students to visit the campus, take placement tests, and collect documents. Check with your college to see when your orientation will be and what materials you’ll need to bring. And some colleges charge an orientation fee, so remember to ask if your college does and how much you’ll pay.

All Students

Whether you’re a new student or returning to campus, these are steps you must take before the fall semester begins.

Prepare to Pay Your College Tuition Bill

If you’re a returning student, you should review your financial aid offer and cost of attendance each year you’re enrolled to make sure there aren’t any significant changes. You should also check to see if there are any costs that can be waived, such as health insurance provided by the college. Many personal health insurance plans can be used instead of the college’s health insurance, saving you thousands.

There are other costs you should consider in addition to those your college will bill you for directly. These costs are often called indirect expenses. Indirect expenses can include textbooks, a computer, transportation, supplies, off-campus food, and entertainment. These expenses can add up, so it’s important to create a budget when preparing to pay for college.

Accept Financial Aid and Complete Loan Requirements

Your college may require you to accept or decline certain financial aid such as loans. This is typically done on the student portal, so be sure to check for any required actions. If you’re accepting loans for the first time, you’ll be required to complete entrance counseling and submit the Master Promissory Note (sometimes referred to as MPN).

Loan counseling is an online course provided by Federal Student Aid that helps students understand the implications of borrowing loans. The Master Promissory Note is a legally binding document where you, the borrower, agree to repay your student loans. You can complete these requirements at studentaid.gov .

Pay Remaining Balance

If you still owe the college a remaining balance after all financial aid has been applied to your bill, your college will provide payment details for this balance. It’s important to pay close attention to payment due dates and deadlines. There are a few ways you can cover a remaining balance.

The first is a payment plan, an interest-free plan that splits the remaining bill into monthly payments. Many colleges offer payment plans through the bursar’s office or student financial services office.

Applying for additional loans should be a last resort, but if you need to, the Direct PLUS Loan (commonly referred to as a Parent PLUS Loan) may be another option. Repaying this loan is parents’ sole responsibility, and they must apply to be approved for the PLUS loan.

Private loans are another option, but they’re not recommended as they do not have the same benefits as federal loans (such as low interest rates, delayed payments, and multiple repayment options). Contact your financial aid office to discuss these loan options.