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Planning to pay

For one group of area teens, this fall can seem like the busiest time of their lives. The seniors at Wilsonville High School are in the middle of college application season, and as of Nov. 4, nearly a third of the class of 2014 had submitted at least one application.

Many of those students already have received acceptance letters from one or more colleges, meaning they have just one hurdle left in the process of planning their post-high school careers.

Figuring out how to pay for college is a big hurdle for many.

by: FILE PHOTO - College is an expensive investment for families, with payments including tuition and room and board as well as textbooks and fees combining in the national annual average of more than $22,000 for in-state public colleges. “It’s the thing that creates the most anxiety in parents and seniors. It can be an overwhelming process,” Lyndi Tucker said. She is the college and career counselor at WHS, and part of her job is helping students and their families understand the process.

An event scheduled this week is one of the first steps. WHS Financial Aid Family Night will be held Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the high school. A financial aid director from Pacific University, Mike Johnson, will be there to answer questions and provide guidance. One topic will be a hot one: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which allows students to apply for financial aid, including Pell grants and other sources of state and federal aid.

By a large percentage, WHS graduates attend college. Among 2013 WHS graduates, 78 percent are attending either a two- or four-year school this year. But not all WHS seniors apply for financial aid — and not everyone fills out a FAFSA.

by: FILE PHOTO - Tucker“Some kids don’t,” Tucker said. “Some don’t have to.” Other students skip FAFSA because they think they will not qualify for aid, she said.

“My response is always, ‘Do not not apply,’” Tucker said. “Many people think (they) make too much money, so they don’t do the FAFSA. That cuts them out for consideration for many scholarships. Even if they don’t get or expect to receive federal financial aid, they should complete the FAFSA.”

The Badwan family of Wilsonville easily could have skipped FAFSA. The family’s religious beliefs forbid them from paying or accepting interest, as on a loan. Yet they completed FAFSA for their daughter, Zaina, now a freshman at Oregon Institute of Technology, and they plan to do it for their son, Husam, a senior at WHS looking at state colleges in Oregon.

“We focused on scholarships,” the students’ mother, Eman Badwan, said. However, because many schools prefer applicants to complete FAFSA, the family filled out the application.

A good student while at WHS, Zaina Badwan applied for and earned scholarships. Husam plans to do the same, focusing on merit-based awards because of his high SAT scores and strong high school record.

The Badwans plan to attend the information night at WHS.

“We need to remind ourselves about FAFSA,” Eman Badwan said. “We want to be informed and not think we know everything. Things might change.”

She credits the staff at WHS for providing guidance to families. The Badwans used online tools, including Family Connection, which is available through the school’s website and Naviance. And the family has an advantage, because they have been through the process before.

“We have something to start with,” Badwan said. “The beginning of the tunnel is lit for us. With Zaina, it was learning a new language. Now we have the basic vocabulary.”

Families with younger students can start research early, using the Family Connection tool and FAFSA to forecast their financial aid eligibility. Students can gain a picture of their eligibility at any time, not just when they intend to start applying for aid. The system retains data, so families can update it when they are ready to apply.

“It will give you an idea of what you’re looking at,” Tucker said.

Scholarships are available for younger students, too. Veteran parents like Badwan keep that in mind for her seventh-grade daughter, Dana.

“I think I would maybe plan for her to be more involved in volunteer work and extracurricular activities,” she said. “I would steer her toward things I saw mentioned in applications.”

For more information about the resources available to WHS college-bound students, visit blogs.wvhs.wlwv.k12.or.us/staff/TuckerL.




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