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Applying for college and getting financial aid may seem confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Aldine ISD is ready to help families and students by helping demystify the process.
There are many options to finance college. But Denise Keaton advises families to get familiar with grants and scholarships as early as possible. Keaton serves as the coordinator of student financial aid. She stressed that back-to-school is a great time to focus on future plans like college and career goals.
“I encourage middle school and high school students and their families to get ahead to prepare,” said Keaton. “High school families want to know about college financing. This is especially important when students are juniors and seniors. Middle school is not too early for families to start planning for college. This is a good time to begin thinking about college. Parents want to know how to plan, prepare and finance their child’s education.”
For some parents, middle school may seem way too early to begin thinking about college. According to a 2008 ACT study, The Forgotten Middle, middle school may be the best time to build college readiness.
Dr. Charlotte J. Davis also echoed that conclusion. She serves as director of guidance and counseling.
Davis pointed out that this was especially true for math classes. She explained that math class choice and performance affects future decisions in high school. For instance, it may affect where a counselor will place a student. Students need to meet prerequisites to get into honors classes. This may also be the case to get into Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes.
Keaton stated that money is the biggest obstacle keeping many students from earning a college degree.
“Parents and students need to know that they can afford college and that financial aid is available,” Keaton said. “We tell students to work hard in their classes and apply for financial aid. College really is a viable option.”
Davis and Keaton want parents of students as young as middle school to start thinking about their children’s future. They need to talk about interests and talents and how these might translate into a college major. Most importantly, they want parents to know that it is never too early to start planning for college.
“Parents need to talk to their children in a casual way about future plans,” said Keaton. “The earlier families talk about college, the better prepared they will be. By doing the work now, they will be better able to handle the college and financial application processes later.”
More than 80 percent of AISD students are economically disadvantaged. Many of these students will be the first in their families to pursue a college degree. To encourage higher education, prekindergarten to high school campuses across the district have created college-going cultures.
“A lot of low-income students think they’re not able to go to college, so they don’t work hard or take the right courses,” said Davis. “Higher education is possible. We have staff to help guide them on their path to success.”
Aside from guiding students through academics, financial aid awareness is vital to help students reach their dreams. Families need to know their options as soon as possible. According to Keaton, most students and parents may be aware of federal financial aid. But she stressed that many were unaware of Pell Grants and other forms of aid.
“It’s important to have the money conversation ahead of time,” Keaton said. “Students need to know what schools they can afford before they begin looking. And then they need a checklist of things they need to do to apply for financial aid early.”
AISD students and their families are taking advantage of the information the district provides. Nearly 500 seniors from the Class of 2016 received scholarships. The students earned 1,031 scholarships that totaled $40,545,056. That is an increase from the previous year.
“We work really hard with students,” said Keaton. “We know families have a large part to do with getting the paperwork completed. It is wonderful to see students receive aid to help them achieve their college dreams. Every year, we strive to see more students receiving scholarships and grants awarded to our kids.”
There are many scholarships available to students. And scholarships are not only for top scholars and athletes.
Students and families can get a head start this fall. The Scholarship Office is hosting several Financial Aid Information Sessions for parents and students. The presentations will give information about college applications and the financial aid process. For example, parents will learn about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Folks that attend can also ask questions to help them better understand the processes and be aware of resources.
For those that can’t attend any of the Financial Aid Information Sessions, visit the Scholarship Office webpage. Students will find information about early college awareness and financial aid resources. They will also find scholarship news and deadline dates.
September … Financial Aid Sessions (attend location that is closest)
October … College Application & Financial Aid Session
November … College Application & Financial Aid Sessions
Keaton also advises that students and families attend College Fair. Each year representatives from many universities, technical schools and branches of the military attend. The recruiters present will discuss majors and other aspects of college.
“Students and their families need to take advantage of the events planned in the fall semester,” Keaton said. “They will get important information about college applications and how the financial aid process works. They will hear about the issues associated with funding a college education. Finances are important to talk about but they shouldn’t stop students from attending college.”
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