Pay for College Night shows students options for tackling tuition payment

NILES — It can be one of the most exciting times in a young adult’s life when they tear through an envelope to find out that they got accepted into the college of their dreams. What might not seem so exciting, however, is determining how to fund college tuition and navigating the paperwork that comes with it.

During a Pay for College night Tuesday at Niles High School, financial advisors from Andrews University sought to shed some light on the process and present students with options for pursing their dreams in higher education.

Parents and students first learned how completing a FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid) can show them what financial options they are eligible for, including scholarships, grants and student loans. Those who attended Tuesday got some help completing and submitting the forms.

Qaisar Ayaz, an Andrews University senior financial advisor, recommended that every student interested in applying for college complete a FAFSA application. The application process for 2018 to 2019 opened Oct. 1 last year and the deadline is June 30, 2019. Students must submit a new FAFSA every year and they can complete an application before applying to college.

“Never assume that you are too rich to receive anything from the FAFSA or you are too poor to attend school or college,” Ayaz said. “There are students who will say, ‘I can’t attend school my family can’t afford it.’ They should never assume that. They should always fill out the FAFSA and try to tap into different resources.”

For those looking to pursue a higher education, Ayaz said students should start preparing for their financial options as soon as they are a freshman in high school.

“Early financial planning is important, because it can be very stressful if it is left to the last minute,” Ayaz said.

Ayaz also said that if students wait to the last minute to apply, they might have fewer options for collecting aid. For example, he said some grants are awarded on a first come, first serve basis.

Here’s another tip — earning a student scholarship is not like winning the lottery. If students do their research, there are lots of options for them to find funds to help with their tuition. Ayaz said a number of business corporations and credit unions are apt to offer students scholarships. Students can also search fastweb.com, where users create a profile to get matched with scholarships found on a free database. For those looking for advice on applying for scholarships, Ayaz advised them to talk with their high school guidance counselor to get pointers and recommendations.

“If a student is diligent enough in searching for free funding, there are many scholarships out there that students can tap into,” Ayaz said.

When it comes to student loans, Ayaz said it should not be students’ first choice. Though, he said they should not be discouraged to use student loans if it is their only means to pay for college.

“They are an investment if you have no other resource,” Ayaz said. “I would still tell my daughter and son, ‘hey, you must go to school, even if you have to borrow money, because it is an investment.’”

Ayaz said students should be cautious that student loans come with interest that students will have to pay back on top of the principal. 

For those who were not able to attend Tuesday night, advisors said those looking to complete their FAFSA can log on at FAFSA.ed.gov. They should not use FAFSA.com, which will charge users for their application.

Ayaz recommended having a few things handy when they log on to apply, including their social security number, prior year’s tax information and W2s of parents and students.

With options available for students to attend college, Ayaz and fellow financial aid advisor Shelley Bolin said they hoped that those who attended Pay for College night walked away understanding how a FAFSA could help them and that they felt a little less daunted by the process.

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