By Jon Schroeder
The Cove Herald
Anyone who wants to go to college will be able to — if they’re willing to put in the work. That was the main message of Tuesday’s talk at Copperas Cove High School on how to pay for college.
Verna LaStrapes, an early awareness coordinator with Brazos Education Service Corporation, spoke to an auditorium full of juniors, seniors and their parents about planning for college.
As she said, “college” does not necessarily mean a four-year university. Community colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, universities and professional schools each have a unique role to play, and any one (or several) of those options may be right for a particular person.
Regardless of what college high school students wants to attend, if they want any sort of financial aid they need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Aid as soon as possible after the new form comes out Jan. 1.
Several parents said the most useful part of the lecture taught them how to fill out the FAFSA to “maximize financial aid eligibility.”
The FAFSA has two parts, LaStrapes said. It’s divided into a student section and a parent section, so the distiction between who owns money saved for college matters.
Based on the information from both sides, an “expected financial contribution” is calculated for the family.
To maximize eligibility for financial aid, parents shouldn’t save money in their student’s name. That’s because a student is expected to pay 50 percent of any money above $3,000 toward tuition.
Parents can also maximize their eligibility by avoiding putting college money into their savings accounts. Instead, LaStrapes encouraged parents to save in retirement IRAs and home equity, neither of which factor as heavily into aid eligibility.
If parents use regular savings accounts, they will be expected to pay 10 to 20 percent of yearly income toward tuition.
Getting good information and applying early is the key to getting money for college, LaStrapes said, cautioning parents never to pay anyone to find money for college.
Carolyn Taylor, who works at Copperas Cove High School as a career and college councilor, said several parents told her afterward that the talk would directly help them take the first steps toward putting their children through college.
She repeated LaStrapes’ words: “You have to have the want to go to college,” adding a line of her own — “you also have to have the follow through.”
At Copperas Cove High School, where less than 50 percent of all seniors go directly from high school to college, LaStrape said she sees students pick up applications for scholarships, but they often don’t turn their applications in on time.
That runs counter to LaStrapes’ message: “If you don’t apply, you won’t get a scholarship. You can be sure of that.”
If there’s one point students and parents should take away from the lecture, it’s “fill out the FAFSA.”
She said everyone needs some form of education beyond high school, and it’s possible for everyone.
“That’s what you need nowadays,” she said, noting that most students want to go, but many don’t have the information they need to find money. “They just have to know the process of paying for it.”
Cove senior William Mallow, 18, who listened to the talk with his mother, Margarita Mallow, said he wants to go to Texas Tech.
Having heard about the many financial aid options available, Mallow said he’s more sure that he’ll be able to go.
His mother said she was encouraged by the talk and that she heard more useful information than she expected.
A similar event featuring LaStrapes but targeted at eighth graders through sophomores will be held April 1, 2008.
Contact Jon Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 547-0428