How to find college funding, avoid big time debt

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – About one third of young adults have student loan debt, and some will pay off that debt for decades.  That’s why it’s important to get funding for college so you don’t have to pay as much back, if any.

"If you explore all your options, college is definitely payable.  There are so many options out there.  I’m applying for a variety of loans, but I’m also applying to get into West Point.  Instead of having student loans, I would have a service commitment on the back end where the government would pay for my schooling up front and then I would serve in the military for five years, and that would pay for my school,” said Caroline Ramsey, a senior at Carmel High School.

If Caroline doesn't get into WestPoint, she's also filling out her financial aid forms for other schools like millions of others students are doing.  Filling out these forms is a key step to getting college funding.

“One of the first things to do is determine what colleges and universities you are interested in and use an online navigator to help you.  Then check out net price calculators to determine how much schooling will cost.  Filling out the FAFSA is the critical form for all financial aid,” said Bill Wozniak, Marketing VP InvestEd.

Wozniak is with InvestEd.  It’s a nonprofit to help kids and parents find college money.  It was started in Indiana and has spread.  Just in Indiana, they have 37 locations with six in the Indianapolis area. The nonprofit puts on almost weekly "College Sundays" to walk parents and kids through the financial aid process.  You can find the time and place for each College Goal Sunday on their website.

College Sundays are a big element many school leaders say is vital to understanding the college process, from searching for institutions, to applying, to getting the funding to pay for it.

"Use the resources at your high school, use resources like InvestEd, use the resources at the various colleges and universities. There are a lot of people out there who are here to help, and you should take advantage of them," said Melinda Stephan, college and career resources coordinator.

Francis Ramirez is a senior who is in the process of filling out his FAFSA.  He has also worked the last two years to save money for college.

"I'm looking at state schools like IU and Purdue, but then I'm also interested in Xavier University which is a private school, and so there is certainly a contrast there in how much it would cost," said Francis Ramirez, Carmel High School senior.

The cost of going to a college or university can be staggering.  At the same time, there's a staggering amount of funding never even applied for.  Applying for grants is a mainstay, but it's far from the only option.

"Institutional aid from the colleges themselves is billions and billions of dollars every year and people leave it on the table.  So many opportunities are not even applied for," said Wozniak.

You can search individual colleges and universities and nonprofits and grant programs to find funding.  There are also several sites that compile where to get scholarships.

"Fast web is a free scholarship search service.  You set up a free account and then it will actually send a student different scholarship opportunities weekly," said Stephan.

So for those wanting to go to college, do not pay for the on-line help. There are several sites that charge you to help you apply, look for a college or search for funding.  The government FAFSA website is free.

And remember to apply for financial aid early.

"You don't want to make the assumption that you're not going to be able to get anything.  It's certainly worth the time to fill out your financial aid forms and make all the deadlines," said Ramirez.

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