Financing College: Where There's A Will, There's A Way

Heather Patenaude, director of financial aid at Mohave Community College, navigates the web site to apply for financial aid to pay for college.

Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.

Heather Patenaude, director of financial aid at Mohave Community College, navigates the web site to apply for financial aid to pay for college.

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KINGMAN – Every parent wants to see their children surpass them in life’s achievements, whether the standards are personal, educational or professional.

It puts extreme pressure on the kids, as well as their parents, especially when it comes to paying for a college education.

Reality usually sets in toward the end of a student’s junior year in high school, when it’s time to start looking at college applications and financial aid. By the time they graduate, it’s too late.

Financial planning should ideally begin several years before college applications are due.

“College is not out of reach for any student,” said Wendy Hayes, guidance counselor at Lee Williams High School. “Financially, students may have to carefully plan and possibly adjust their plans to obtain their college goals.”

Many low-income families are eligible for Pell grants, which could pay for one year at a community college. The first step toward seeking financial aid is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

“The problem here is that a lot of our low-income families have no clue what the FAFSA is and are leery of providing their tax information to complete the FAFSA for their children,” Hayes said.

Both Lee Williams and Kingman High School hold informational nights on financial aid and scholarships to get families comfortable with applying for college and financial aid, but the turnout is not always great, the counselor noted.

Middle-income families are often expected to pay for more of their child’s education than they can typically afford.

“For these students, we still want them to fill out the FAFSA, and definitely want them to focus on applying for scholarships and keeping their grades up. Most community colleges and universities award student scholarships based on good grades and SAT and ACT test scores,” Hayes said.

All students are eligible for student loans, but Hayes tries to dissuade them from taking out loans if they have other options such as work study.

“If kids want to go to college, they definitely can,” she said. “It is expensive, but can be done with minimal costs if they work hard and apply for available financial aid and scholarships.”

Finding funds

Here’s some advice on how to pay for college from StatePoint Media:

• Seek federal aid. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible. FAFSA is your first step for securing financial aid for college, including federal student loans and most state and institutional aid. Unfortunately, many students don’t realize they’re eligible for such aid, leaving tons of money on the table. To complete an application, go to www.fafsa.ed.gov.

• Search for scholarships. Because scholarship money typically does not have to be repaid, it’s important to secure as much of it as possible. Begin your search using online scholarship databases, such as TuitionFundingSources.com, and meet with your school counselor to discuss other available scholarship opportunities. Micro-scholarships are another option to consider. Check out sites like raise.me to learn more about how you can earn scholarship money for your high school achievements.

• Understand family finances. Now is the time to have some important family discussions. Parents should set expectations about money with their students, letting them know what, if any, portion of college expenses they plan to pay. Students should find out if any funds have been set aside for their education, as well as what their responsibilities will entail – whether that involves holding down a part-time job or maintaining a particular grade point average.

• Consider private loans. After exhausting grants, scholarships and other aid options that don’t require paying interest, private loans may be worth some consideration and can, in some cases expand your educational opportunities as a college-bound student.

Borrow with care

“It’s important to keep in mind that there are often many unanticipated expenses associated with the college years – from taking an extra course to paying for materials and technology to spending a term studying abroad,” says John Rasmussen, head of Wells Fargo’s private student lending business.

He cautions against a cavalier attitude where loans are concerned.

“Whether you take out a private student loan or leverage other financial products to pay for miscellaneous expenses, it’s important to understand the terms of repayment.”

Don’t leave the future uncertain. If you are college-bound, plan ahead to ensure that you can meet the costs of your education.

Mohave Community College offers several different ways for students to pay for their education, including grants, scholarships, work opportunities and student loans. Check with the Financial Aid office to apply for federal aid and scholarships. Go to www.mohave.edu for more financial aid information.