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Paying for School

By Brenda Hicks

My mission – the mission of a financial aid professional and God’s helper – is to guide students and their families through the twisting, woodsy, sometimes overgrown trails in the forest called “funding for college.” I am an advocate. I am a teacher. I am a counselor. I am a coach.

I am also not unique! You all have a knowledgeable partner in the financial aid officer at the college you plan to attend. Financial aid offices are filled with dedicated, caring individuals whose primary interest is helping families figure out a way to pay for school. 

Beyond that infinitely important tip, I will add these five items:

1. Follow John Wesley’s advice: Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.

  • Saving for college is a long-term financial goal requiring a savings strategy. Save now to avoid high debt later. 

2. When choosing a college, consider value over price.

  • College is an investment. The college you choose should be a full partner on your path to success. You will want to choose the college that provides you with the most value for your money. How robust is the college’s advising? How committed is the college to preparing you for your career? Will you be lost in a classroom of 500 or highly engaged in a classroom of 20? How well does the college support and encourage your faith journey? A college that scores well on these points offers the greatest return on your time and money.

3. Complete a FAFSA.

  • This universal application is free, required by most colleges, and available online

4. Request an estimate from the colleges you are seeking and budget wisely.

  • Discovering what you will pay to attend a particular college isn’t hard, but it takes a tiny bit of work. Find out the college’s sticker price, but don’t stop there. Ask your financial aid counselor for an estimate of what you will receive in financial aid. Then, create a budget listing what you will really pay for tuition, room and board, and other expenses. (Don’t forget your cell phone, insurance, and gas.) Now, add the income you will receive from work and other scholarships.  Let your financial aid counselor review your budget to see if there is something you forgot to include. Compare your income to your expenses. Is there a gap? How do you plan to fill it? What is your student loan debt? Can you reduce debt by either working or applying for additional scholarships? Begin here.

5. Search and apply for scholarships.

  • If you are in the scholarship getting business, you are in the scholarship applying business. Search here and here.

God be with you as you embark on this journey. As you travel, don’t forget to enjoy the wildflowers along the path.

Hicks is director of Financial Aid at Southwestern College.

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