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Financial aid and paying for college
Young people today are aware that education beyond high school will benefit them in the current and future job market. However, given the cost of college tuition, many students and parents are wondering how to make the cost of college affordable.
Without a doubt, a college education is an investment, and like other investments, it must be a wise one. One way to improve your investment is to take advantage of the financial aid resources available to help reduce the cost of college.
There are three types of financial aid available. Scholarships and grants are considered gift aid. Gift aid is the best type of aid as it is available to pay directly toward the cost of college and it does not need to be repaid. Work study is also valuable as financial aid.
Work study programs allow students to work part-time, sometimes in a related field of study, and earn money that is paid directly to the student to support costs which arise during the semester. Finally, student and parent loans are available to help pay for college.
However, loans do need to be repaid so decisions about loans must be made carefully. Decisions about loans should consider types and terms of loans, total debt, earning potential, and the student's commitment to completing their program.
Any student who feels they may need help paying for college should apply for financial aid and the first step in applying is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA determines student eligibility for all federal aid.
In addition, states, colleges, local and private organizations often use the FAFSA to award aid as well. Students planning on attending college in the fall of 2013 should complete the 2013-2014 FAFSA by visiting www.fafsa.gov.
Make sure to use the correct website. Completing the FAFSA is free, but there are websites that will allow you to complete the FAFSA but will charge you for using their site.
The 2013-2014 FAFSA is available beginning January 1. Many private schools will also require the CSS Profile and colleges sometimes require their own financial aid form. This information and filing deadlines should be available on each school's website.
It is incredibly important for students to know the financial aid deadlines for their schools. Many colleges have priority deadlines for financial aid. This is the deadline when the student's FAFSA and/or other forms must reach the school in order to be considered for all available aid.
For example, the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine have a priority deadline of March 1. In order to meet this deadline, the FAFSA should be completed by February 15th. Although the FAFSA does include questions regarding student and parent income and tax information, the use of estimated information is acceptable.
When using estimated information in order to meet deadlines, it will be important to return to the website to do a FAFSA correction once tax returns are filed.
There are many resources to help complete your FAFSA. The Financial Authority of Maine (FAME) has created a Virtual FAFSA Lab on its website at www.famemaine.com.
In addition, the OHCHS guidance department will have office hours available in the evening for families to meet with Skye Kwasnick, a representative of the Maine Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
And finally, the guidance department is available to answer questions and the aspirations lab is available during the school day for students and parents. Please call the OHCHS guidance office at 743-8914 ext. 9532 for information about any of these resources.
Once the FAFSA is completed and processed, a Student Aid Report (SAR) will be sent to the student and to the colleges listed on the FAFSA. This should be reviewed for accuracy and corrections made as soon as possible, including updating tax information if estimates were used.
The Student Aid Report will include the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is the amount that the federal process has determined that the family may be able to contribute to the student's education that year. Financial need is then determined by each college by subtracting the expected family contribution from the cost of attendance.
For example, if the cost of attendance (tuition, room and board, fees, books, travel, etc) is $30,000 and the EFC is $10,000, then the financial need at that college is $20,000. Because the cost of attendance and the financial aid awards vary from school to school, students should compare financial aid award letters carefully.
Colleges will use the FAFSA and other required forms to determine student eligibility for aid. However, students should also research other forms of gift aid by visiting each college’s financial aid website for other scholarships or grants that may be available. Students should also make sure to complete their local scholarship application.
Oxford Hills seniors will receive local scholarship information at the end of February. The Oxford Hills community is incredibly generous and all seniors should apply for local scholarships to have the opportunity to benefit from this generosity. Students should also talk with their guidance counselor or the aspirations lab coordinator to pursue other resources for scholarships.
Next, students should be saving earnings from work now and during the summer to contribute to college expenses. Saving enough to pay for at least books and supplies will reduce the amount of debt that students incur. Saving for college is a topic in and of itself. However, saving as early and as much as possible for college is a good idea. It will reduce the amount of student debt.
Finally, lowering the cost of college also comes by making wise choices. There are many ways to cut the cost of college: commute to campus or live with a roommate, leave the car at home, buy books online, consider starting at a community college and transfer to a four year college, attend an in-state college, check with your colleges about using Advanced Placement (AP) test scores or College Level Exam Program (CLEP) tests to receive college credit.
Also, take advantage of on-campus activities. Many students have spent much less money by spending weekends involved in free or very low cost campus events.