Get the best deals for college financial aid

November 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The threat of major fee hikes at UC and CSU has many students wondering if they can afford college next fall. But there is hope for students who think they are out of luck.

The high price of higher education is the biggest single reason qualified kids don't go to college. But if you think you can't afford to go, especially in this economy, this is a story you need to hear.

Shelene Worland is helping her daughter Devon through the stressful college application process. It is not so unusual, except Shelene isn't sending just one child off to college next fall -- she's sending two.

"Having to do it for two has been really overwhelming, and also dealing with all of their stress times two, plus mine," she said.

Devon and Conner Worland are bubbly seniors at Mountain View High School. They have similar looks and different interests, but they have the dream to go to college.

"I want a big school and Conner wants a small school," said Devon Worland.

"She knows what she wants to do and I have no idea," said Conner Worland.

College is expensive for any family, but imagine trying to send two kids at the same time.

Tuition, room and board can range from $15,000 per year at a community college or state college to over $50,000 per year at Ivy Leagues.

"I didn't know that it would cost as much as it does," said Devon Worland.

"Financially it's overwhelming for two," said Shelene Worland.

"You can't send one of us to college and not the other," said Conner Worland.

Millions of parents, especially in this tough economy are wondering how they will afford college for their kids next fall. But even with state cutbacks and Wall Street woes, experts tell us, there are billions of dollars out there in student aid.

"The misconceptions, one of the biggest ones is, I cannot afford college. A lot of the families look at the sticker price and they get sticker shock," said David Childress from studentaid.com.

Childress helps families calculate how much financial aid they are likely to receive at each individual school where they apply and he says it can surprise you.

Students often wind up paying far less than the stated tuition room and board.

"That's not the true cost once you consider all of the types of aid they are eligible to receive," said Childress.

Consider this number: students and families receive $145 billion each year in financial aid. The biggest single chunk, nearly $90 billion from the federal government. But most of that is not free money. It must be paid back with interest. About half the aid is in the form of student loans and federal tax benefits.

There are grants but most of these go to low income families.

In California, the Cal Grant program awards nearly $800 million dollars per year in tuition aid but again most of it goes only to needy families.

"You can't predict the price of college until you apply for financial aid," said Mountain View High School career and college counselor Laurel Brock.

She says many private colleges will give full-boat financial assistance but only if they really want you on their campus. One third of freshman students receive private aid directly from the colleges they attend.

"If you need the money they will come up with a way for you to have it, and this applies even to the middle class," said Brock.

The most important step is to fill out the free application for federal student aid form -- known as the FAFSA form.

It's available online January 1. The form serves as your application for most public and private aid. It can be overwhelming. The twins paid $100 apiece for a report from studentaid.com and Shelene says she's happy to know all the money is there for those who qualify.

"We definitely will take advantage of what's out there," said Shelene Worland. "To make it possible for your child to go to the school they've dreamed of, it's a nice thing to know that it's possible."

The Web site www.studentaid.com provides free reports to families earning under $40,000 per year and there are several other college aid consulting companies to choose from, as well as free websites where you can search for grants and scholarships.


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