College-bound students seek financial aid in tough times

More college-bound seniors are finding themselves in Misty Sellden’s office than in years past hunting for financial aid opportunities.

“Yes, the economy is absolutely affecting a lot of things,” said Sellden, a counselor at Central High School. “Students are more aware of the financial impact of their college choices on their families.”

A spiraling economy can have a trickle-down effect on college-bound students in a number of ways, including slashing the value of investments set aside for college, forcing tuition up in states facing budget shortfalls, or making college all but unattainable for students from families struggling with job cuts or home foreclosure.

“That need is present for most families,” Sellden said.

Many sources of financial aid are under-utilized, particularly in better economic times, but for every student seeking assistance tracking aid down, Sellden said the hunt starts with a conversation.

“FAFSA is always step one,” she said. “But there’s funding available at every school, so we need to know where they are going.”

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a form that opened Jan. 1 and is required by many institutions offering aid.

The form determines a student’s financial need based on family tax information, so the best advice Sellden said she can give is to have taxes done before filling it out.

“You don’t have to actually file your taxes, but many parts of the FAFSA reference information on tax forms,” she said. “It’s a governmental form. It’s cumbersome, so families need to take a deep breath before they start.”

Most students are unaware their parents’ places of employment offer tuition assistance or scholarships or that they may qualify for scholarships based on the military service or ethnicity of family members, Sellden said.

She said she encourages her students to research their family histories.

Online scholarship databases can sometimes be scams, Sellden said, but two sites — collegeincolorado.org and fastweb.com — are legitimate.

“The problem is a lot of students get frustrated with them because a lot of scholarships seem minute,” she said. “It really does take a lot of work and time.”

Every scholarship adds up, Sellden said, and essay writing is made a lot easier for students who have a healthy amount of activities and experiences to draw upon from high school.

“Students should build a nice portfolio,” Sellden said. “But almost everyone would rather see depth over breadth.”


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