PANAMA - High school juniors, seniors and their parents are faced with many decisions when considering higher education, but with support those choices can be easier to make.
That's why Panama Central School held a financial aid night on Thursday to review types of financial aid, the application process, how to interpret aid packages and to answer questions.
According to Dane Simmons, guidance counselor, those who start the application process early have an increased chance of finding a financial aid package that works for them. And, hosting meetings such as the financial aid night is a key factor to prepare students and their parents for the tough choices that lie ahead.
On Thursday, Panama Central School juniors, seniors and parents of students were invited to a financial aid night hosted by Dane Simmons, guidance counselor.
P-J photo by Dusten Rader
"Paying for college is nobody's favorite topic," said Simmons. "A lot of parents can be intimidated by the process, especially if it is for their oldest child. I think they just need someone to lay it out for them. To tell them that if you do these things, and you do them in a timely manner, it may be more doable than you think."
The first step for everyone considering attending college is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, www.fafsa.ed.gov. Both parents and students must get a pin number to complete the FAFSA at www.pin.ed.gov. After completing the FAFSA families will receive an expected family contribution, which signifies the monetary amount in which parents are responsible for fulfilling. Simmons recommends visiting www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov to get an estimate on the EFC before actually completing the FAFSA. It is also important to submit the FAFSA no later than Jan. 31.
"What I tell kids starting in their junior year is that you have no idea how much a college is going to cost until you apply, get accepted and you receive a financial aid package," said Simmons. "You can go to any school website to see what they cost, but it is more than likely not going to cost that sticker price. You may not know until February or March of your senior year how much a school is really going to cost you. That's why I encourage kids who are serious about going to a four-year school right away to apply to a whole bunch of different schools because your dream school might not come up with a package that satisfies you."
There are many resources for information pertaining to financial aid available online including: www.mynextmove.org, which offers career and salary information from the U.S. Department of Labor; www.nces.edu.gov/collegenavigator, offers college cost and financial aid data from the U.S. Department of Education, studentaid.ed.gov, is the official website for the U.S. Department of Education; and www.collegeboard.org, a website for college research and SAT preparation.
Simmons believes it's a good idea to start doing the leg work of research and applications beginning in October because the earlier a FAFSA is submitted to a school, the greater the possibility of receiving grants, scholarships and low-interest loans. He also pointed out that work study is a great way for students to have a job while studying, but that money is paid up front via grants, scholarships or loans, and the student then earns a paycheck.
"Schools have a ton of money to give, but once it's gone it's gone," said Simmons. "So, if you're applying in January or February that money is already gone. But, even if you do get grants or scholarships, you should still expect to come out of college with loans. So, you want to get low-interest loans, and those go first too. Eventually you will get a financial aid award letter that covers the different types of aid. Anything that says grant or scholarship is what you want because that is money you don't have to pay back."
Nicole Campbell, a Panama senior who plans on studying autobody at Lincoln Technical Institute in East Windsor, Conn., attended the event with her parents Brenda and Larry. Before applying to college Campbell took auto tech classes at Erie 2 Chautauqua Cattaraugus BOCES. She believes it is important to know if you truly like something before going to college for it.
"I had a couple schools in mind and I chose them whether money was an issue or not," said Campbell. "I recommend that people follow their heart and their dreams. I'm going to be leaving all my friends and family to go to a school six hours away, but I think it's for the best because I'm going to be following my dream."
In addition to the financial aid night, Simmons also teaches a senior level class called College Transition. For more information call Panama Central School at 782-2455 or visit www.pancent.org.