The 4 Things You Should Consider Before Scheduling Campus Visits

For juniors and seniors who are spending hours and hours filling out college applications and working on getting into their top college, visiting the actual campus is highly important. No matter what college you are looking at, visiting the campus and getting a tour and a feel for the life their is a great way to know if you will enjoy the college or not. Scheduling a campus visit before going is crucial and requires key steps so you can get the best and most informative visit possible. Here are four things you should consider before scheduling a campus visit:.

1. What section of the school are you most interested in learning more about?

Before scheduling your campus visit, think about what you like that the school has to offer or if a specific program they have interest you. You can talk to the campus visit guides and tour students and let them know what you’d like to see in depth.

2. Group tour or individual?

While most schools offer group tours, many offer individual trips as well, and a lot offer both. Consider whether you would like to see the school with a private tour guide or get a viewing with a huge group of students. Many times, a huge group allows you to go to different presentations on the programs the school offers, and individual tours are more private and let you ask question to someone directly.

3. How much time do you want to spend there?

Some students like to visit a campus for only an hour to get a brief overview, while others could take more than a day to check out everything. Don’t be too light on your trip, rather consider how much time you might need. This will help you when you’re scheduling your campus visit time and will also give you the chance to make your schedule one you like while visiting. You can talk to counselors, visit different buildings, and much more. Always be prepared before taking your trip.

4. If you are traveling a longer distance, try to schedule visits of multiple schools on the same trip.

If you are going to need to travel far in order to visit a school and there are other schools in the area that interest you, try to save yourself some time (and frequent flyer miles) and schedule them all for the same trip. If you live in Oklahoma and there are 4 Texas colleges that interest you, it does not make sense to make 4 trips to Texas. If you can schedule them all over a few days and just make one big trip out of it.

Use these tips before visiting a campus and be ready for a great, interesting college visit.

A Tentative Step in the Right Direction on Student Loans

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) recently introduced the Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act, a piece of legislation that calls for the refinancing of all higher-rate Federal Direct and Federal Family Education (FFEL) student loans at 4% interest. She estimates that her plan will assist nine out of 10 students who borrowed under the various federal education loan programs.

The bill also affects roughly $300 billion of government-backed FFEL student loans, which may have been securitized by companies that had served as conduits for the discontinued program. This move will have a significantly negative impact on investors who participated in these complicated deals — the same folks who have generally resisted providing more than token forbearances to borrowers who are having difficulty making their loan payments.

But here’s the problem: Although moving to 4% interest from the current rate of 6.8% sounds great on paper — a 41% reduction — it doesn’t translate as meaningfully in practice.

For example, say a student exits college with $50,000 in student loan debt. At 6.8% interest, the monthly payment is $575.40. At 4%, the monthly payment would be $506.23 — only 12% lower. (Blame the time value of money formula for the math.)

A better solution would be to restructure the underlying term to 240 months (20 years) from the current 120 (10 years). Doing so would lower the payment to $381.67 or 34% less, without adjusting the original interest rate. Of course, a longer term means more interest paid in due course, which is why it makes sense to permit prepayments at any time, in any amount, without penalty.

And there’s another matter to take into account for any plan that’s intended to help these hopelessly indebted students: affordability.

Say the same $50,000 borrower is single and earns $44,000 per year (the average salary for 2012 bachelor’s degree graduates according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers). Under Gillibrand’s proposal, the revised monthly payment (at 4%) would still consume 14% of his or her pretax monthly salary. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for living expenses — let alone savings — after accounting for the 25% to cover taxes (including Social Security and Medicare), another 25% to 30% for rent, not to mention any other debt payments.

A better solution would be to solve for a monthly payment amount that does not exceed 10% of gross salary (unlike the government’s PAYER program, which is based on discretionary income), so that the same borrower would then be able to comfortably afford payments that run about $370 per month — $12 less than the payment amount of the aforementioned 20-year restructure and $136 less than Sen. Gillibrand’s 4% interest plan.

As important would be to incorporate into any refinancing program the most egregious of these loans: the roughly $150 billion of private borrowing. If Washington is finally willing to take on the complexities of securitized debt, it should also include the often-securitized loans that are dollar-for-dollar more burdensome than any other.

I believe Sen. Gillibrand is on the right track in her attempt to tackle all education loans that involve the federal government, especially if her bill does not discriminate against borrowers who are currently past due or in default — those who most need assistance. My hope, however, is that politicians will set aside their battles over interest rates and ignore the lobbying efforts of those who’ve unfairly benefitted in the past, and instead focus on payment affordability because that’s what’s needed to craft a fair and enduring solution.

Image: iStockphoto

At Middle Age, Is College Worth It?

By Christopher Maag,

Image: African-American man hugging graduate father © Ariel Skelley, Blend Images, Getty Images

Deidre Romeo was 40 years old when she started college. Pamela Monroe was 42. Believing that more education would lead inevitably to better-paying jobs and improved lives, both women received bachelor’s degrees, and continued on to graduate school.

But their outcomes couldn’t be more different. Just returned from a weeklong vacation in Mexico, Romeo is back at her job as communications director for a global engineering company.

And because her employer is paying most of her college expenses, Romeo’s student debt is minimal.

“It was scary, but it was one of the best decisions of my life,” says Romeo, who is now 45.

Monroe, meanwhile, has $45,000 in student loan debt but only $2 in her bank account. Unemployed for six months, her best hope now is to regain the job she had before school, working part time at a Victoria’s Secret store.

“I’m completely indigent,” says Monroe, now 54. “I think my education actually hurts me.”

Many Americans believe that going back to school is a universally good idea. They believe that spending the time and money to improve one’s education almost always leads to more pay, better opportunities and happier lives. College graduates earn 84% more money over their lifetimes on average than people with just high school diplomas, according to a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

That belief in education as a universal good holds true for middle-aged people. More than 3.9 million people ages 35 and older were enrolled in degree-granting institutions in 2010, the last year for which data are available, up 20% from when the latest recession started in 2006, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The number of middle-aged people in college, graduate school or technical school is projected to continue rising to 4.1 million by 2015, the center predicts.

“Older people have always gone to school part time,” says Jane Glickman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education. “But there’s definitely been an increase in full-time education among older students, as more people lose their jobs or go to working part time.”

Returning to school often helps older students switch careers, get better-paying jobs, or climb the corporate ladder within their current company. But it also can carry significant risks, including burdensome loan debt, without much prospect for higher earnings.

And because older students have fewer years left in the workforce to pay off their school loans, experts say it’s even more critical that they carefully weigh the potential risks and rewards.

“The advice I give really depends on the individual,” says Cristina Briboneria, a financial planner for oXYGen Financial in Alpharetta, Ga. “You really have to consider your age, your expenses, how much money you can expect to make after you graduate.”