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High school students searching for college financial aid options

DeKALB – When Courtney Winters started searching for a college to attend, she weighed the location, available majors and athletic opportunities of several private Illinois universities.

But the No. 1 factor for the Genoa-Kingston senior, like many other students, was money.

“I really look for campus life, but in the end, it doesn’t matter how much I love the school if I can’t pay for it,” Winters said.

As the cost of college continues to rise, many students across DeKalb County are in the midst of filling out scholarship and financial aid applications in order to pay for their educations.

Winters, 18, hasn’t made a decision, but the front-runner for her college of choice is Trinity International, a private college based in Deerfield. Although other schools appealed to her, the amount of scholarships Trinity offers to help cover the $37,000 a year it will cost to attend the school factored heavily into Winters’ choice.

She hopes to finance at least $30,000 of her education with scholarships and financial aid.

So far, she’s spent a handful of hours filling out a couple of scholarship applications, as well as her Free Application for Federal Student Aid. By completing the FAFSA, students determine their eligibility for financial aid such as Pell grants, federal student loans, work-study programs and the state’s Monetary Award Program, which provides grants that do not need to be repaid to Illinois residents who attend a number of Illinois colleges and demonstrate financial need.

According to Illinois Student Assistance Commission Executive Director Eric Zamikow, Illinois students who filed their FAFSA in 2013 are receiving more than $1.4 billion in state and federal aid this school year.

The need for financial aid has risen in tandem with college costs. According to a study from the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, the net price in 2012 for a year of public school education in Illinois was nearly $15,000, and for private schools about $22,000. Those costs represent 21 percent and 5 percent increases since 2008, respectively.

Dennis Waymire, a DeKalb High School counselor who helps students with financial aid, strongly advised students who have been accepted to a college to contact that school’s financial aid office. He also urges students to submit their FAFSA as soon as possible.

“The thing about getting money from the federal government is that it will run out at some point,” Waymire said. “It’s important to get their information in by the middle of [this month] or they could lose out on some money.”

Through mid-January, about 150 students no older than 18 from DeKalb County’s public high schools have completed their FAFSA, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Last year, more than 750 students who are 18 or younger across the county completed the federal aid form for the first time.

Travis Hughes, 18, also a senior at Genoa-Kingston, is one of the 35 students from his high school to complete a FAFSA. He plans to spend about six hours a week searching for sources of college funding.

Although his immediate postsecondary step will be an associate degree in fire science technology from Fox Valley Technology College in Oshkosh, Wis., he hopes eventually to earn a master’s degree and become a college professor in fire science. All of this education will cost “too much,” he said, adding the associate degree alone will cost $18,000 a year because of housing.

“The goal is to get my entire education paid for by getting good grades, scholarships and other aid,” Hughes said.

He’s applied for at least a dozen scholarships, many of which he’s positive he’ll receive.

All the applications demand he and students like him take a few hours out of their schedules already filled with school, homework, extracurriculars and jobs.

“I think it’s a matter of sacrifice,” Hughes said. “I know when I’m 40, I won’t have lots of loans to pay.”

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