By Julia Swensen, The Piedmont Highlander
Escalating substantially, the cost of college looms over students and parents as students determine what their options are for the future. Rather than letting the cost of college deter students from applying to certain schools, students can seek out another another option: financial aid.
Students who are going to apply for either financial aid or work study in college to get a Federal Student Aid Free Application, or FAFSA, by going online and filling out a profile to help colleges understand the needs of their family, said College and Career Center Director Sandra Brod.
Brod said although every student may not get financial aid in dollars, they can qualify for a work study program, which is a certain amount of hours per week that they can earn money on campus. Students cannot get federal work study jobs unless they have filled out a FAFSA, so parents and students should always fill it out, unless their kids will not have to work while going to school, Brod said.
Private schools may also ask for the College Scholarship Service, or CSS, Profile, along with a FAFSA, Brod said.
“Financial aid absolutely affects Piedmont students’ decisions on college. Without getting some financial aid or merit aid, some students cannot afford it,” Brod said. “That’s why the FAFSA is important, because parents fill out their assets and each family has their own situation.”
Junior Cooper Wetherbee said financial aid is often a sliding scale between the ideal college and the one a family can pay for. He said as far as his college decision, financial aid will be a factor if he’s deciding between two similar schools, but his intention is to attend the best college for him and work out the costs as best he can.
“College decisions are largely based on how much financial aid people can get,” senior Arlyn Upshaw said. “A lot of my friends couldn’t go to the schools they got into because they just couldn’t afford it, especially if they have a single mother or several siblings.”
Senior Julia Wakeling said she had to choose where she will attend college based on the amount of aid the different schools offered, especially because she was choosing between two private schools. She said she would encourage more people to seek out financial aid, because although it can be hard to get the right amount at the right school, it is worth a try.
“What’s most important is finding a school that really resonates with the student,” Wakeling said. “Although brand name schools are desired in Piedmont, they are not what is important. Financial aid can help students attend the right schools for them.”
Each college has its own kind of scholarships, so while filling out your FAFSA, it
is very important to research the schools you may be looking at for places you might qualify, whether it’s based on grades or not, said Millennium High School Counselor Pam Brandau.
Brod said in the fall, Piedmont High is partnering with Bishop O’Dowd High School in a financial aid workshop for families to ask questions and learn how to fill out the applications.
Senior Max Skugstad said most people are not so inclined to go to schools that refuse to give financial aid; so most people try to stay in state where they can avoid out-of-state tuition.
“In these economic times everyone is looking for some help,” Skugstad said.
Because many of the private schools are trying to compete with University of California and state schools, many are offering grants and merit aid to students, which can sometimes bring the tuition down to almost a UC price, Brod said.
“Financial aid is definitely something to take advantage of, because a significant amount of financial aid could make attending a private college cheaper than a public university,” Wetherbee said.
She said as a total package, the UCs run about $31,000-33,000 a year, the state colleges between $21,000 and $24,000, and private schools between $43-55,000.
Students can also apply for Cal Grants (state grants) and Pell grants (federal grants), and the Blue and Gold Opportunity offered by many of the UCs, Brod said. The UCs have done a lot to make sure middle-class families are not frozen out.
There is also an association of colleges on the West Coast (WUE) that offer a 50 percent reduction in out-of-state tuition if the school is a "reciprocal," Brod said, but sometimes it is only offered to students with certain academic record, test scores, or GPA.
Another option for students is going to community college for two years to save money, Brandau said. Staying local can help students find work study at their colleges as well.
“Students usually can’t attend the schools that refuse to give them financial aid,” Skugstad said. “This is hard because they might have to settle for a school that isn’t a great fit for them.”
Brod said that students should apply to any college they have their hearts set on as a right match and not worry about the money up-front. She said to apply and see what is offered, because as long as you have other schools that are more reasonable, there is no reason not to take the risk and apply to a school that might give you an offer.
“Piedmont families should not assume that just because they make a lot of money, they will not qualify,” Brod said. “There are many factors to financial aid, and it’s to your advantage to apply. There is no reason not to create a FAFSA.”
Brod said she thinks there could be more sensitivity in our community toward the need for financial aid. There is much less of a stigma around needing it now because school has gotten so expensive, she said.
“There is no stigma against getting financial aid,” senior Konstantine Piterman
said. “Money is money.”
Wetherbee said people should worry more about what colleges they get into than the fact that they may need financial aid to attend a certain school.
“Don’t let the cost of college deter you from applying,” Brandau said. “See it through. Take chances.”
Julia Swenson is a junior at Piedmont High School and the opinions editor for The Piedmonter Highlander. She plays lacrosse for PHS.