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It takes smarts just to pay for college

Life after college is challenging enough without the added weight of owing thousands of dollars in college loans. And although most American adults will have debt in some form or another during their lives, going to college doesn’t necessarily require saddling parents and students with overwhelming loan payments.

So how can it be avoided in this day and age when a four-year college education often has a $100,000 price tag attached?

The key lies in the vast, and often daunting, world of financial aid and the time for college-bound students and their parents to explore that dark universe is now.



But don’t panic, there is plenty of help available.

Sylvia Terzich, a South Tahoe High School Career Center technician, has been helping students and parents find scholarships and grant money for seven years. The most important thing to remember, she said, is that students need to keep up with deadlines.




“We try to get the student’s attention early on,” Terzich said. “Senior year is not when you kick back, you have to be very informed and aware of deadlines or you might end up without any aid at all.”

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the starting point for every financial aid seeker. It is available in high school financial aid offices and must be completed and mailed between Jan. 1 and March 2. The sooner it is filed the better, Terzich cautioned, because federal money runs out fast.

South Tahoe senior Amit Patel heeded that advice and after being accepted at his dream school, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He and his parents got to work finding ways to foot the $25,000-a-year tuition.

The first thing they did was call Michael Alexander, who, for a flat fee of $79 per year or $189 for four years, runs a business that completes financial aid applications, searches for private scholarships, calculates financial eligibility and helps with loan applications. After 27 years in the financial aid business, Alexander said he has the experience needed to help parents and students save time and money.

“These days virtually any family is eligible for some sort of financial aid,” Alexander said. “But whether they earn $100,000 a year or $3,000 they need to file the FAFSA or they won’t get a cent.”

Although Terzich highly recommends Alexander, high school counselors caution parents and students to be careful when selecting independent financial aid businesses.

“A lot of them are worthwhile, but a lot of them are scam artists,” said Lisa Jaureguito, a Whittell High School counselor. “Parents need to call and make sure it is a legitimate operation.”

Jaureguito said things to look out for include guarantees that a student has won a scholarship, requests for credit card or bank account numbers, flashy mailings, no physical return-address or phone number and companies masquerading as federal agencies. A quick call to the Better Business Bureau in the city where the service is located, or the National Fraud Information Center at (800) 876-7060 should eliminate potential problems.

Alexander, who can be reached at (800) 750-3446, is a firm believer in the importance of early financial aid filing and noted that although many parents might be tempted to wait until the end of January when W2 forms come in the mail, income estimates are perfectly acceptable and adjustments can be made later.

Terzich noted that close to 40 local organizations offer scholarships and can be contacted at the addresses listed in the Financial Aid and Scholarship Handbook available free of charge at the career center at the high schools.

Terzich also encourages parents and students from both South Tahoe High School and Whittell High School to attend a presentation called College Choice by Fred Ruggs, author of “Ruggs Recommendations on Colleges,” Jan. 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the high school. Other useful information can be found on the Internet at http://www.finaid.org and http://www.collegeboard.org

SIDEBAR ON OUTSIDE SCHOLARSHIPS TO CHECK-OUT

–Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation: 150 awards of $4,000 to $10,000. Based on leadership, academics, motivation and extracurricular activities. Write P.O. Box 442, Atlanta, Ga., 30301-0442.

–William E. Schmidt Foundation: Awards from $5,000 to $10,000. Deadline March 31. Students age 16 to 20. Write 4445 Commerce Street, Evansville, Ill., 47710.

–McNeil Consumer Products Company-Tylenol Scholarship: 510 awards of $1,000 to $10,000. For elected class officers. Write P.O. Box 8499, Clinton, Iowa 52736-8499.

–The John Gyles Education Fund: Available to full time post-secondary students with U.S. or Canadian citizenship. Awards up to $3,000. Send SASE to The John Gyles Education Fund, Attention James Cougle, P.O. Box 4808, 712 Riverside Drive, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada E3B 5G4.

–Educational Communications Scholarship Foundation: 200 scholarships of $1,000. GPA of “B” or higher. Send request to ECSF, 721 N. McKinley Road, P.O. Box 5012, Lake Forest, Ill., 60045-5012.

–Hitachi Foundation: Awards of $5,000 presented to students grades 13 through 16 who have demonstrated community service. Requests to Hitachi Foundation, Yoshiyama Award, 1509 22nd St. NW, Washington, DC, 20037.

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