Many seniors have already been through the exciting part of their last year of high school – applying for college and thinking about majors. But now students have to start figuring out how to pay for their degree.
“This is not the fun part,” said Carol Lott, a representative from the Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC).
She hosted an hour-long seminar on financial aid Monday night at the Richmond Hill High School. Bryan County High School will hosted its hour-long seminar at Thursday in the cafeteria.
During the seminar in the Richmond Hill High School cafeteria, Lott explained to more than 50 students and parents the available resources for paying for college, including the HOPE Scholarships, and how to fill out the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
Students can get free money to pay for college from the state through HOPE Scholarship and from the federal government through Pell Grants, as well as colleges and universities they plan to attend through work study or other scholarships, Lott said. She added that community groups often offer scholarships, too.
In Richmond Hill, 71 percent of graduating students start a four-year college degree, 3 percent start a two-year college, and 2 percent enlist in a branch of the military, according to Tom Swinford, a guidance counselor at Richmond Hill High School.
Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship is a merit-based scholarship awarded to students who maintain a 3.0 grade point average or higher. It covers tuition, fees and provides a stipend for books for students attending a public college in Georgia. For students attending a private institution in Georgia, the HOPE Scholarship will provide $4,000 a year to cover tuition, Lott said.
High school guidance counselors will send students’ transcripts to the GSFC in mid-February to calculate individual GPAs and again after graduation to see which students are eligible for the scholarships. Lott warned students to keep their grades up between February and May so they can stay eligible for the HOPE Scholarship.
Lott also said there will likely be changes to money available for students through HOPE since the program is running an approximate $243 million shortfall in funds. State representative are looking at ways to minimize that deficit, including reducing private tuition, book and fees allowances.
“Everybody’s looking to see what happens,” she said.
State Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, previously said that he believes the legislature will find a solution to funding the scholarship this year.
Lott encouraged parents and students to fill out the FAFSA form as soon as possible so eligible students can take advantage of Pell Grants, a need-based grant that students do not have to pay back. Swinford also told parents and students to fill out the form early because colleges might run out of Pell money to give out.
Lott walked parents and students through filling out the FAFSA application and said completing it will create other options for paying for college, including eligibility for subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
Lott and Swinford warned parents and students to be sure to visit the correct website, www.fafsa.gov, to fill out the forms.
Swinford noted that completing the form at the correct website is free, while other sites, like www.fafsa.com will charge a fee.
For more information on financial aid and paying for college, visit www.GAcollege411.org.