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Federal aid, a resource to help pay for college



By AL STOVER

Cheney Free Press staff reporter


To read the story online, visit the Cheney Free Press website http://www.cheneyfreepress.com/story/2016/11/10/education/federal-aid-a-resource-to-help-pay-for-college/19347.html

Note: This is the first installment of a two-part series that focuses on resources for high school seniors to help them pay for college. Part one is about federal aid that is available to students. Next week, part two will focus on scholarships.


Although it is only a couple of months into the academic year, Cheney and Medical Lake high school seniors should get a jump start on preparing for college — specifically finding ways to pay for it.


There are resources available for students to pay for college besides having to rely on their parents’ bank accounts or private loans with hefty interest rates.


One that Cheney and Medical Lake counselors recommend to help high school seniors is Federal Student Aid, which are funds available to students help them pay for tuition, fees, room and board, transportation and books. According to the most recent Federal Student Aid annual report, $128.7 billion in aid was awarded to 11.9 million postsecondary students in 2015. Numbers for 2016 have not been reported as of press time.


This year, students can complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In previous years, students would have to wait until Jan. 1 to begin the application.


"It’s a lot easier than it used to be," Nicole Starkey, Cheney High School college and career specialist, said of the change to the FAFSA. "It helps relieve so much stress that goes into filling it out."


Medical Lake High School counselor Lori Wilbanks said the change has forced students to complete their application earlier. According to Wilbanks, Medical Lake High School has a 42.1 percent processed FAFSA completion rate. Cheney High School has a 25 percent completion rate.


"Most of the seniors who apply for financial aid are first-generation college students who have not researched ways of paying for college," Wilbanks said.


To apply for federal aid, students and their parents can visit the Federal Student Aid website, acquire a FSA identification number and complete an application.


For the application, students will need to provide personal information, including their social security number, dependency status and federal income tax information. Students can use their 2015 income tax information for the 2017-18 application.


Applicants who are considered "dependent students" will need their parents to provide taxed and untaxed income, assets and benefits — such as unemployment or Social Security. The information is factored into the student’s


expected family contribution, which is an estimate of their or the parents’ ability to contribute toward their child’s college expenses.

"A lot of students think their parents make too much money and won’t fill out the FAFSA, but many schools require it," Wilbanks said.


When a student is filling out the application, they will need to list colleges they want their information sent to. The college’s financial aid office will subtract the student’s cost of attendance from their expected family contribution to determine how much aid they can receive. For example, if a student’s cost of attendance is $16,000 and their EFC is $12,000, they cannot receive more than $4,000 in need-based aid.


Both high schools are in the process of scheduling events where students can come and finish their application. Wilbanks and Starkey said they are available to answer questions for students and parents regarding the application process. They also suggest students and parents contact the local university’s financial aid office for more information.


Starkey added that students should stay on top of deadlines. The federal deadline for the 2017-18 FAFSA is June 30, 2018. However, colleges have their own deadlines for priority funding, including Eastern Washington University, which has a priority deadline of Feb. 1, 2017.


Al Stover can be reached at al@cheneyfreepress.com.


MORE INFO

Types of federal aid include:

• Pell grants for students with a low expected family contribution.

• Federal Direct subsidized loans, which has a fixed interest rate of 4.29 percent. The interest is paid by the government while the student is enrolled at least half time.

• Federal Direct unsubsidized loans, which also has a fixed interest rate of 4.29 percent and accumulates into a student’s outstanding balance.

• Federal Perkins Loan, a school-based loan that is lent directly by schools.

• Federal Work-Study Program where students can get part-time work.


Federal Student Aid website: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/.