TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. -As she was preparing to move into her freshmen dorm at CSU Channel Islands, a local student heard a portion of her financial aid package had fallen through. I received her frantic call in late August and immediately went to work. Not surprisingly, the cost of a college education is one of the biggest challenges many high school students and their parents face. Tuition increases annually, and tuition is just one of many college expenses. Think books, supplies, room and board, and general living expenses. After more than five years of helping students apply to college and guiding them through the financial aid process, I've learned the hard part isn't getting into college, it's about affording to stay enrolled and succeeding.Back to our new CSU freshman. After I spoke with her, she contacted the financial aid office, figured out what was missing, completed the forms and promptly faxed them in. Within 48 hours of discovering the problem, her financial aid was approved. Taking an educated approach to college planning significantly reduces the cost of private and public colleges and debunks the frequently held myth that four-year college is too expensive. Many parents and students don't realize how advanced planning and a thorough understanding of the financial aid process can significantly reduce the cost. For example, last year a local family with a household income of more than $150,000 received approximately $7,500 in financial aid (including grants, scholarships, student loans and an on-campus job) to attend UC Berkeley. Her family contributes approximately $25,500 instead of $31,000. Learning Bridge also worked with a student from a family with a household income of $25,000 and five children. The North Tahoe High School student, the first in her family to go to college, wanted to attend CSU Chico but after looking online at the total cost of attending - more than $23,000 annually - was intimidated by the expense. With assistance, she put fear aside and applied. In March she received an attractive financial aid offer including $11,000 in grants, a guaranteed campus job with income more than $3,500 for the academic year and one $3,500 loan. The package significantly reduced the cost of college to a little more than $3,000 - a sum manageable with a summer job.All of our workshops and programs are geared toward providing a pathway to a better life through education. Learning Bridge's sliding scale offers higher income families services at a reasonable cost while youth from families with household incomes below $40,000 or who are eligible to receive free or reduced price lunches, receive the same college prep services at no cost. No one should be left out. Our free "You CAN Afford College" workshop will help families get a start on understanding how much college will cost.Today's seniorsDid you know regardless of SAT scores, students with a 3.0 GPA who successfully complete the college prep courses known as "a through g" are guaranteed admission to a local college within the CSU system (for Tahoe Truckee students, this is Sacramento State)? And, even a student with a lower "a through g" high school GPA such as 2.3 who scores 1060 or higher on the SAT will be admitted. We believe as more people are supported, more students will commit to a four-year college education. Why care? Year after year, data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows higher earnings by people with college degrees over high school graduates with no additional training. Common sense tells us that more education and skills translates to employment opportunities and higher earnings. At Learning Bridge we are committed to improving the opportunities for all youth who show an interest and have the desire to succeed in college.College prep workshops and eventsHigh school seniors were invited to participate in Learning Bridge's free CSU application workshops that took place in Truckee and Tahoe City last week. In addition, all high school students, younger siblings and their parents are encouraged to attend the College Knowledge Expo at Learning Bridge of the Sierra in Truckee from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 24. The College Knowledge Expo offers tips plus useable information for all current high school students. Participating organizations include Adventure Risk Challenge, Aim High, Sierra College, Tahoe-Truckee, Sierra Nevada College and Learning Bridge. Refreshments will be served. Come for the whole evening or drop in for the resources that most interest you. For a full agenda, visit learningbridgesierra.org. Learning Bridge receives support from the Truckee Tahoe Unified School District, Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation and individual donors dedicated to expanding opportunities for teens and adults. Our Truckee office is located in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District building at 11603 Donner Pass Road in Truckee.- Emily Wexler, a former career technician at Truckee High School, engineer by training and college coach by passion is the director of the College Preparation Program for Learning Bridge of the Sierra. Emily can be reached at 530-426-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information bisohttp://learningbridgeofthesierra.wordpress.com/
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