January 20, 2016 Edition

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Many options available
for financial aid

Pam Freer, academic counselor with the Educational Talent Search of North Arkansas College, works with seniors at Hoxie High School in an effort to prepare them for college both mentally and financially.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

With the beginning of another spring semester, many Lawrence County seniors are being bombarded with more information about colleges, financial aid and life after high school than they know what to do with. While there are many students out there who already have their college plan in place, there are many who still may be debating whether they even want to go or not.

No matter what stage of planning for college a student is on, it's important to know what resources are available to them. Parents can play a crucial role in helping their child plan and get organized during this stressful time.

"Parents must be proactive in the financial aid process," said Pam Freer, academic counselor with the Educational Talent Search of North Arkansas College. She said that the first priority for parents should be getting their information together to include on their child's FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

"Complete the FAFSA and submit it as soon after Jan. 1 as possible, even if you don't think you will qualify for aid. It is a requirement at most colleges and it is a requirement for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship," Freer said.

To fill out the FAFSA, applicants should have their federal income tax returns completed. FAFSA features the IRS data retrieval tool that can transfer this data directly to the form. An FSA ID is also required by both the student and parents. The ID serves as a legal signature for the online application.

The FAFSA will determine a student's eligibility for a Pell grant. Pell grants do not have to be repaid and are available for qualifying undergraduate students for up to 12 semesters. This grant is based on income and the apparent ability of the parents/student to pay for college.

Those who don't qualify for the Pell grant still have many different scholarships available to them. The Arkansas Academic Challenge being one of the most accessible. The scholarship, which is funded from proceeds from the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, offers different amounts based on academic year. College freshmen receive $1,000, sophomores and juniors receive $4,000 and $5,000 is awarded during the student's senior year.

The Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship is available to students who score at least 19 on their ACT. ACT test dates remaining are April 6, registration deadline March 4, and June 11, registration deadline May 6. However, the application deadline for the Academic Challenge is June 1.

Students can also consider loans and, depending on the cost of the higher education pursued, loans may be required to pay the tuition. However, it is strongly encouraged that students pursue all scholarship, work-study and grant opportunities before applying for a loan.

Beyond federal and state funding, there are a multitude of private, university and business scholarships available. Some offerings get little to no applicants.

Freer said there are also ways to cut costs, including going to an in-state college, starting at a community college, commuting and taking AP and concurrent courses to shorten the time at college.

"You need to talk to your parents and make an informed decision on what you can afford," she said. She also advised applying for one "safety school." This is a college where the applicant is certain they will get accepted and are able to afford.

High School
counselors
offer advice

The following is advice from Lawrence County High School counselors.

“Students do not need to wait to the last minute to make a decision about what they want to be and where they want to go to college. If a student wants to wait a year it does make it harder to go to college after that.

"Parents should not push their student to an area of study they think has the most money or prestige. Students should not let anyone tell them they can't. They may have to work hard but they can succeed." - Donna Pinkston, Hoxie.

"Parents and their seniors should realize that the financial aid process is just that: a process. Don't get overwhelmed; just follow directions, read all emails and correspondence and meet all deadlines. If you do that, you will be fine.

"Seniors should remember that the work they do on the front end to apply for scholarships and other financial aid will pay off for them in the long run. It might take just a few minutes to complete an application that will help them and their family financially throughout college." - Debbie Findley, Walnut Ridge.

"For students: apply to all colleges/universities that you think you might possibly attend and accept all scholarships, even if you think you are not going to that college/university.

"For parents: don't be afraid to ask for help. Call your school counselor or the financial aid office at a college/university that your student has applied to if you have any questions." - Marnie Johnson, Hillcrest.

"College costs keep escalating every year, far outpacing the average family's ability to pay the full price of a degree in higher education. Luckily, there are some things that families can do to maximize college financial aid and minimize college debt.

"So often, parents and students tell me that they aren't going to bother applying for financial aid or scholarships because they won't get it anyway. Wrong. Every year thousands of dollars in scholarships goes unclaimed because students refuse to apply. Apply for everything," - Amanda Rorex, Sloan-Hendrix.

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