The Commission for Higher Education is encouraging students and families to explore all financial aid options with its Cash for College campaign.
“Paying for college is a very important process but it can be a very overwhelming process so we want to simplify it to the point where people don’t feel intimidated and feel comfortable,” said Jason Bearce, Associate Commissioner for Higher Education.
Bearce said the main message is it’s never too early to start saving for college and it’s never too late to go to college.
High school seniors need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by March 10 this year. Current college students also need to reapply each year they’re in school. Additionally, the Cash for College campaign offers contests for schools to win grants that can go to students pursuing a college education.
Bearce said the worst outcome is a student who starts college and fails to graduate because they’re often strapped with debt and left without a degree.
“The message we’re sending to current college students is if you’re a full-time college student, make sure you’re taking at least 15 credit hours per semester,” said Bearce. “That’ll help students graduate on time.”
The Commission for Higher Education estimates the average Indiana college student pursuing a four-year degree graduates with $27,000 in debt. An additional year of college can cost up to $50,000 in living expenses, tuition and lost wages.
“Don’t take out more in loans than you expect to make your first year after college. So, depending on what career you’re in and what your average annual salary will be, don’t take out more than that unless you absolutely have to,” said Bearce.
The Indiana College Costs Estimator is a free app that allows students to plug in their estimated scholarship and financial aid information to find out the actual cost of a year at a specific college. It also provides side by side comparisons of schools to help students make smart choices.
Cash for College organizers are hosting an online forum on “FAFSA Friday” Feb. 15 and a face-to-face financial aid help session on Feb. 24 at more than 40 locations across the state.