This time of year can be difficult for high school seniors. Graduation is right around the corner, they’re researching and applying to colleges and universities, and there’s often one big question looming when it comes to their future educations: “How do I pay for my schooling?”
North Branch Area High School counselors Mari Ringness and Stacy Redding said there are many financial opportunities students can pursue to make college affordable.
The first step, they said, is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the document that allows students to become eligible for financial aid.
Filling out the FAFSA to apply for loans and grants can be a time-consuming process, but the time it takes to complete can be reduced if a prospective student and his or her family have the right documents available before logging onto the FAFSA website or filling out a paper application.
“You need your completed taxes, your savings and checking,” Ringness said, noting that since parents are usually involved in the financial aid process, their incomes are the ones that are usually taken into account when applying for aid.
She added that students’ income is usually not considered.
“Most high school students don’t make enough money to affect their FAFSA results, but they do have to report it,” she said. “If they get a W2, they have to include that information on the FAFSA, as well.”
Redding said now to the end of February is a good time to fill out the FAFSA, because it allows prospective students ample time to be considered for grant money.
“Once the grant money is used up, it’s gone,” she said. “It’s a chunk of money that’s replenished each year — the sooner the better, if you’re able to apply for it.”
Scholarship money available
Ringness and Redding said there are numerous scholarships available that can help pay for college, even ones offered from the North Branch community.
“We have a scholarship program through our high school — it’s one application the students fill out, and it can make them eligible for many local scholarships,” Ringness said. “We have a lot of local businesses and communities that support that, and then we have a scholarship night in May where we actually present them.”
Redding also noted high schools and universities have great resources for students looking for scholarships.
“We have excellent resources here,” Redding said. “Go to the school counseling office. Mrs. Huberty, our clerk, is very organized. She has a three-ring binder where she has all of the scholarships, and our school counselors have tons of scholarships we’re aware of.”
Redding said even if a student thinks he or she might not get much financial aid or scholarship money, applying is still a good idea.
“You still should apply, even if your parents do have a fairly decent income because you could still get grants, possibly, or maybe work study,” she said. “You could still get scholarships that you might have not known were available to you.”
Lifetime earning potential
Redding and Ringness both stressed the importance of post-secondary education, whether it be tech school, community college or a four-year university.
Some students might think they can make a fine living right out of high school, and that is the case for some, but statistics show that the more education a person has, the higher he or she earns over the course of their lifetime.
According to national figures from the bureau of labor statistics, the average pay per year for a person with a high school diploma is $41,288.
The average for people with bachelor’s degrees is $71,552.
Financial aid nights
There are two upcoming opportunities for students and parents to learn more about college financial aid.
At 6:30 p.m. Jan. 29, in the North Branch Area High School auditorium, Anoka Ramsey Community College Financial Aid Director Sean Johns will provide information on paying for college, including how to fill out the FAFSA. He will also explain how FAFSA determines student eligibility for grants, loans and work-study. Johns will present information on cost of attendance, expected family contribution, student aid report and financial aid award letters, as well. This one-hour presentation is for all seniors as well as parents and guardians. For more information, contact high school counselor Stacy Redding at 651-674-1604 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other opportunity is 6 p.m. Feb. 12 at the St. Croix River Education District building in Rush City, 425 S. Dana Ave. This financial aid night is geared toward students who are the first in their families to go to college. Those with questions can contact Redding.