College Choices: How to Decide What’s Right for You

Did you know McLennan County has more college choices than any other county in the state? We are home to both McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical School-Waco, both of which rank nationally among community and technical colleges respectively. We also have a top of the line research university in Baylor as well as access to four-year degrees from other major universities through the University Center on MCC campus. There are plenty of choices out there, now it’s just a matter of choosing one to attend! To help you out with your decision, here are some things to consider.

What costs can I expect?

1. Traditional Four-Year College or University

You can look up the cost of attendance at a school you are considering at CollegeForAllTexans.  However, while the average cost of tuition at a state school is between $7,000 and $10,000 each year, the average total cost of attendance, which includes things like books and living expenses, is around $20,000-$25,000 per year. Private universities vary, so you will need to consult the state website or the college website for the exact cost of any specific private university.

2. Community College (Two-Year)

Again, exact costs for a specific community college are available at CollegeForAllTexans. However, the average cost of tuition is around $2,000-$3,500 each year and the average total cost of attendance is around $12,000-$15,000 each year.

3. State Technical College (Two-Year)

The average cost of tuition is $4,000 each year and the average total cost of attendance is around $15,000.  Remember: state technical colleges (TSTC) are considered year round with three semesters included in the cost.

Now how can you pay for it?

1. Grants

If your annual family income is under $50,000, you can expect to be eligible for some federal or state grants. The amount of your federal Pell Grant may range anywhere from about $900 to $5,645 each year and the state TEXAS Grant is close to the average tuition at a state college or community college (keep in mind that the availability of state grants varies from year to year). Check with your college to see if you need to complete other forms for State grants.

2. Scholarships

Most colleges have a scholarship application you should submit to determine your eligibility and you should sign up for at least one free online scholarship search like FastWeb, Cappex, or Scholarships.com. Always apply for any scholarships you may be eligible to receive, no matter what other funding you may be receiving. Full scholarships are rare and usually only cover tuition not dorm costs etc. Complete scholarship applications for all colleges where you have applied for admission.  You can always turn down the scholarship if you decide on another college, but you can’t go back and fill one out.

3. Student Loans

The maximum Federal student loan amount available to dependent freshman students is $5,500. You should also inquire about state loan possibilities. (See here for more information about state loans)

4. Parent Loans

These are usually offered by colleges to cover the balance of the costs, so check with the Financial Aid department at the colleges you are considering.

5. Work Study

There is also the option of working at least part time while in college, either through the college work-study program or an off campus job.  About 80% of college students work at least part time, so it’s not unreasonable to plan on working to pay some of your living expenses.

If you’ve been comparing the amount of financial aid available to the average costs of attendance, then you know at this point how important it is to apply for private scholarships. Federal and state aid can offer you some help, but you’ll probably have to look for more opportunities to attend the college of your choice.

How does this help me to make my decision?

If cost of attendance and taking out student loans are a strong concern of yours, then you can see that the local community college or technical college are your most cost effective choices. Most students that live at home can finish their two year degree with no student loan debt, or at least very minimal debt. Having completed your basics and earning your Associate degree, you can always transfer to another university to complete your four-year degree to cut the amount of student loans you take out in half.  If you live at home and attend the University Center on the MCC campus, you may even earn your four-year degree with no loans. The University Center allows students to attend classes on the MCC Campus and receive a degree from a four-year university, such as Tarleton State or Texas Tech.

If cost isn’t necessarily your first concern or you are set on attending a four-year university then experts agree you should go for it, but make sure to keep plenty of options.  Don’t automatically assume that you can’t afford to attend your first choice for college, but don’t ignore other possibilities either.  You should apply to several colleges and include one or two colleges that you consider “stretch” colleges.  In other words, colleges you would like to attend but don’t really think you will be able either to be admitted or afford. Also include a local choice just in case the cost of living on-campus turns out to be more than you want to spend. Then submit your scholarship applications to every school where you’ve applied for admission. Make sure to list all these choices on your FAFSA so you can compare your award package options for each one later.

When making your choice and looking at possible student loans, don’t forget to look at your career options and future earnings.  There are several good sources for career information available online and at some college websites.  MCC offers a Career Coach that can help you find out what kind of jobs you can get with a degree, the availability of those jobs, where they are available, as well as the starting salary. This will give you an idea of what you will be able to afford after graduation as far as loan repayment.  Keep in mind that repayment options for federal student loans are good, offering low interest with a 10 year payout, and there are even some jobs that will enable you to enroll in loan cancellation programs. However, you still want to be careful with your borrowing.

So compare all your options and try to visit the colleges you are considering, and then choose the one that is the right fit for you.  Remember, the goal is for you to be successful in college, no matter what you want to study or where you want to go!

Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions about the MAC Scholarship

The MAC Program offers a variety of resources for you McLennan County college students, and some of you may have already received your letter from us recently containing a paper application for the MAC Scholarship. As the December 1st deadline for the application rapidly approaches, we wanted to give y’all a little more about the MAC Scholarship itself. MAC Scholarship recipients are awarded $5,000 for the last two years of your college career no matter where they are attending school, and the three Baylor transfer students who applied with the highest GPAs will receive full scholarships! You can fill out a paper application for the MAC Scholarship and mail it to us, or you can apply online here.

Students who are eligible to receive the MAC Scholarship meet the following criteria:

  • They applied to the MAC Program during their senior year of high school
  • They submitted their MAC Scholarship applications before December 1st of their sophomore year in college
  • They will have completed approximately 60 credit hours (two years) before June 1st of the upcoming year
  • They have earned a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • If they planned to transfer, they sent us their letter of acceptance before June 1st of the upcoming year

We here at the MAC Program, we receive many questions about the MAC Scholarship, so we decided to go ahead and list the answers to the most frequent ones in a handy list.

1. If I don’t plan to transfer next year but will be at MCC one more year should I apply anyway?

Unless you’re in a special program, like Nursing, then you may not have completed the 60 credit hours required to apply for the MAC Scholarship. If you will have completed 60 credit hours, but intend to stay at MCC another year before transferring, you will want to wait until December 1st of next year to apply so you will receive your MAC Scholarship at the more expensive school.

 2Can I apply even if I didn’t go to MCC or TSTC?

Yes. If you applied to the MAC Program while you were a senior in high school, then you are eligible to apply for the MAC Scholarship no matter where you are attending college, even if you attend a school out of state.

 3. What if I am going to be in Nursing School or the University Center at MCC?  

The MAC Scholarship can be used for a continuing program such as Nursing at MCC.  If you are attending the University Center at MCC, you are considered a Junior/Senior working on your Bachelor’s Degree and are therefore eligible.

 4. What if I already have a scholarship for tuition?  

The MAC Scholarship, unlike the MAC Grant, isn’t a “last dollar toward tuition” grant.  It is a true scholarship, and you will be awarded $1,250 per semester for up to 4 semesters whether or not your tuition is paid for.  It can be used for living expenses if you don’t need it for tuition.

 5. What if I am already at Baylor, am I still eligible for the Full Scholarship at Baylor?

The full tuition scholarships are awarded to transfer students to attract successful students to Baylor. So while you may apply for a standard MAC Scholarship of $5,000, you do need to have completed your first 2 years at MCC, TSTC or some other community college in order to receive full tuition at Baylor.

 6. What if I won’t have 60 hours completed by June 1st?

If you plan to transfer during the next academic year (Fall or Spring), you should still apply for a MAC Scholarship if you are close to completing 60 credit hours or will be completing them next Summer or Fall before you transfer.  We don’t require students to take extra classes just so they can have 60 hours, but we do encourage you to get your Associates Degree if possible.  Attaining an Associate’s Degree or other goals along the way to a Bachelor’s has been shown to encourage students to work on their next big goal, and it provides some security in case something drastic happens and you are unable to complete your Bachelors Degree on schedule.

 7. What if I won’t be transferring until the spring semester?

You should still apply for the MAC Scholarship now.  When you are awarded the scholarship, just notify the MAC Program to hold it until the spring.  The scholarship will still only cover you for 4 semesters, but it would expire in December of the following school year instead of May. However if you will still need 2 years after your Spring semester, you have the option of waiting until next December 1st to apply for the next round of MAC Scholarships.

 8. What if I have funding for Fall And Spring but really need help paying for Summer classes or to Study Abroad?

Even though the MAC Grant doesn’t cover summer classes, we do offer our MAC Scholarship recipients the option of using one or more of their semesters for summer classes or to study abroad. Quite often, those are the classes they have the most trouble finding funding to pay for.

 9. What if I don’t quite have a 3.0 GPA?

You can still apply in December; you just need to improve your GPA to a 3.0 by the end of the spring semester.  We go by the grades you turn in by June 1st of the upcoming year.

 10. How does the Baylor scholarship work?

Three full Baylor scholarships are donated to the MAC Program each year to be awarded to transfer students. Of all the students who apply for the MAC Scholarship, we consider the students who intend to transfer to Baylor during the upcoming year. Of these transfer students, we award full scholarships to the three applicants who have the highest GPAs. Again, the final decision is based on the applicants’ GPAs after the end of the spring semester so students still have a chance to improve after they submit their applications. After being awarded, the three full tuition scholarships are managed by Baylor and include four semesters of tuition and most fees. They don’t cover summer classes, however, so make sure and contact the Financial Aid office if you’ll need funding during the summer that goes beyond your scholarship.

We here at the MAC Program hope this helps you understand a little more about the MAC Scholarship. If you have any more questions, you can give us a call, send us an email, or make an appointment to come in and talk with us. Remember to submit your applications soon!

Top 7 Things Students Seeking Scholarships Should Know

 

You’re on-board for college. You’re researching schools, thinking about majors, and writing your application essays. The question now is: How am I going to pay? You’ve heard about the MAC Program and you’re planning on giving us a call after January 1st when the new FAFSA is released so you can be eligible for as much federal financial aid as possible, but will it be enough?

Reality Check

The truth is, even if you qualify for the maximum amount of federal aid, you may not receive enough to pay for college. According to recent figures from CollegeData, the average cost of tuition and fees was $22,261 in 2012-2013 at an in-state public college and $43,289 at a private college. If you, like many people, are worried about paying the difference, you’re going to need scholarships. Here are some helpful tips to find them.

7. Don’t Pay to Find Scholarships.

There are many free ways to check for scholarships online for free. Check out FastWeb, Cappex, and Scholarships.com for a start. You can also talk to a counselor at your high school, who should have information about local scholarships and tips for filling them out.

These are reliable, easy-to-use resources, so don’t let anyone make you pay for services they’ll provide for free.

6. Look for All Kinds of Scholarships

Scholarships are not limited to students with the highest GPAs. Having great grades or test scores will help you, but there are a variety of scholarships out there for everything from financial need, to athletic ability, and even to hobbies.

Maybe you’re tall. Maybe you’re creative and looking to save money at prom. Maybe you’re just crazy about duck-calling. If you look around enough, there’s a scholarship out there for you.

5. Pay Attention to Deadlines

Each school has its own scholarship deadline, and many of them are earlier than you’d think. Make sure and check the website of every school you’re considering and put in your scholarship applications even before you know if you’re accepted.

Get your applications in before January. Some school’s deadlines are before January anyway, but even schools with later deadlines will get very busy after January hits. Early submissions are a good way to avoid the lines and make your application stand out.

4. Scholarships and Paperwork

When you’re filling out your scholarship application, it can be easy to overlook a step or a form you have to fill out. Make sure and read the instructions carefully and, more importantly, follow them. Even if a question doesn’t apply to you, make sure and mark it as “Not Applicable” or “N/A.” If an application is available online, or you can write the answers on your computer, always choose that over writing by hand. Even an accurate and punctual application is useless if it’s not legible.

Pro Tip: Make sure and use a professional email address on your applications, something as simple as firstname_lastname will do the trick. If you don’t have one, create one. It may not seem like a big deal, but whose application is more likely to be taken seriously: John_Smith@generic-but-respectable.com or goldengod89380x@dont-use-this.ever?

3. Make Your Application Stand Out

Put effort into making your application rise above the rest. You’ve already got a head start if you submit it early and have kept your hand-written answers to a minimum, now it’s all about the content.

Check and double-check your essay for spelling/grammar mistakes. Then do it again. Then ask a teacher to proofread it.

List all your accomplishments, including community service, awards, and evidence of your academic excellence.

If you need a letter of recommendation, choose a teacher that you have a good relationship with and give them plenty of time in advance to write it.

Then, proofread your essay again (can’t do this enough).

2. File Your FAFSA

Many scholarships, even those not based on financial need, require you to submit a FAFSA. You might be eligible for federal aid, so don’t miss out on that and scholarship money by forgetting to fill this out. If you want help, feel free to contact the MAC Program to set up an appointment.

We help file over 2,000 FAFSAs each year and we will never charge you, so give us a call.

1. Apply to the MAC Program

There is no reason not to. The only thing our application requires is your contact information and submission of a FAFSA. We offer a MAC Grant of up to $1,000 per semester to any McLennan County high school graduate with a family income of less than $50,000 who attends MCC or TSTC during the first four semesters and a MAC Scholarship of up to $1,250 to any McLennan County high school graduate with a family income of less than $50,000 who attends any college or university during the 3rd and 4th year.

Maybe you don’t think you’ll qualify because you’re not going to MCC or TSTC, or your family makes more than $50,000. But the MAC Scholarship during the last two years of school isn’t limited to MCC or TSTC, and maybe in a few years the economy will dip again. Things change, but we only accept applications to the MAC Program during your high school senior year, so be ready with a backup plan by submitting your application to our program now.

Financial Aid for College: First Steps

Deciding which college you want to attend is an exciting process! But it can also be stressful trying to figure out the best choice, how you’re going to pay for it, and the myriad details that may arise. So we’ve done some of the legwork for you with these first steps.

First off, make a list of the colleges you are considering and do some research. There are a number of factors that will impact your decision, but here are some fundamentals that will serve as a good baseline for your comparisons:

  • Tuition Expense
    • College for All Texans is a great resource for finding out the cost of tuition at any college or university in Texas.
  • Admissions Information and Deadlines
    • You can usually find these on a college’s website. Look for the keywords “Admissions” or “Prospective Students.” Once you know the application deadlines, you can check out Apply Texas to submit an application to each college you’re considering. While many colleges require an application fee, some (like McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College) do not. Don’t underestimate the value of a free application to a school to which you’re even remotely interested in applying!
  • Financial Aid Information and Scholarship Deadlines
    • Again, the best place to look for this is the college’s website. Some colleges have priority scholarship deadlines as early as a year before your first semester there and require you to apply for scholarships before you even know if you’re accepted, so make sure and check early!

Remember that you can start looking for scholarships long before you’ve been accepted to a college, or even before you’ve submitted an application! Local scholarship information is sent to your high school counselors each year, and will often offer that information on your high school’s website.

You can also use several free resources online to search for other scholarships for which you might be eligible. Some of our favorites are FastWeb, Cappex, and Scholarships.com.

We’ll post more about federal and state financial aid in the future, but for now if you’d like more information about it you can visit the Department of Education’s website. And for an estimate of the aid for which you may be eligible, check out the FAFSA4caster.

If you’d like to learn more about financial aid, we here at the MAC Program are always happy to help. Feel free to email the program director Robbie Stabeno or program coordinator Sterling Moore with any questions you might have. If you’re looking to make an appointment with us, you can also call the MAC Program at (254) 752-9457 to set one up.