Aid can make or break college choice | SteamboatToday.com

Aid can make or break college choice

Federal financial assistance often key to selection of institution of higher education

Mike McCollum

Steamboat Springs High School's college and career adviser Gayle Dudley discusses the responsibilities of students and their parents in securing financial aid for college.

— The college application process never seems to end, according to Gayle Dudley, Steamboat Springs High School’s career and college adviser.

While steps such as embarking on college visits, filling out admission applications and taking standardized tests have been completed by most Steamboat seniors, Dudley said one crucial application step still awaits many students – securing students loans.

The financial student aid process begins with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, a requirement for any student looking to qualify for need-based federal financial aid.

“The federal government evaluates each student who submits a FAFSA application,” Dudley said. She noted that students will receive a Student Aid Report that summarizes information reported, including the student’s family’s Expected Family Contribution, which is used by schools to determine an applicant’s financial aid award.

“The kids from Steamboat are evaluated the same as kids from New York City or kids from Mississippi,” she said. “With that information, schools will decide what kind of financial aid the student is going to get.”

In addition to FAFSA, students also have the option to apply for institutional aid, need-based aid and private student loans. Dudley said she tries to educate students and parents about all student loan and scholarship options.

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“Many of the parents in our area don’t apply for FAFSA because they feel like they make too much money,” she said. “What I tell them is that they may not get any money, but I can guarantee them they won’t get any if they don’t apply, because FAFSA is required by every college before they give out any funding.”

In regards to student loans that must be repaid, Dudley also tries to explain to students the repercussions of taking out loans.

“I try to sit them down and ask them, ‘How do you or your family feel about debt?'” she said. “That is one of the first things they have to decide. : One of the things I tell kids about college loans is that it’s their debt, it’s not their parents’ debt. The loans come to the kids.”

Dudley said many students don’t understand that choosing to attend a private or out-of-state school may have more lasting effects on their lives than going to a cheaper, in-state public school.

She said college loans typically start arriving nine months after graduating college, which Dudley said could affect post-collegiate travel or work plans.

“A lot of them have not had much of a discussion with their parents about how they are going to pay for this,” she said. “You want to go to a $40,000-a-year school, how are you going to pay for it?”

Senior Andy Mucklow said he’s not sure whether he’ll apply for student loans, but he applied for federal financial aid to ensure that he’s eligible for any money colleges might use to attract him.

“I applied for it because it’s free money, and free money is an awesome thing,” he said. “It’s kind of intimidating because if you get bad results back, it means you are not going to get any money.”

Senior Margot Binnetti said she also filled out a FAFSA form.

“It’s pretty important because it can make or break where you end up choosing to go,” she said.

On the ‘Net

For more information about FAFSA and to fill out the free application for Federal Student Aid online, visit http://www.fafsa.ed.gov