21-years-old and drowning in debt

January 5, 2016

No job, no money and $30,000 in debt, the average 21-year-old struggles to make ends meet. Treading in deep waters of bills and stress, the attempt to keep afloat lies within countless scholarships and financial aid. January 1 is known as Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) season as seniors begin to fill out financial aid forms and countless scholarships. The average post-graduate college student leaves school searching for a job and $30,000 in the hole, according to Gallup.

During the 2013-2014 financial aid application season, students didn’t claim $2.9 billion in free college money nationally, according to a study done by NerdWallet, a financial advice company. In the state of Michigan alone, $90.8 million was left unclaimed. This is because nearly 45 percent of graduates did not complete FAFSA.

In 2014, 47 percent of Stockbridge graduates completed FAFSA, according to MISchoolData.org. This year, the goal is to raise FAFSA completion to 60 percent.

And finally, not a lot of students or families know exactly what they qualify for. A student who thinks their parents “make too much money to receive aid,” may actually qualify for a small scholarship. You never really know until you fill one out. Plus, it’s free, so why not try.”

— Island Ellerby

The importance of completing FAFSA can determine other financial aid granted to students.

“FAFSA in particular is important because a lot of colleges base their own financial aid packages on what information is put into the FAFSA,” Island Ellerby, Stockbridge High School college adviser said. “So, when students fill out the FAFSA, they can list out 10 different schools that they applied to, and when those schools look at FAFSA information, they will have a better idea of your financial need. This way they can offer you their own set of scholarships/grants along with what the government gives out.”

Instead of being like the average post-graduate student, $30,000 in debt, just doing FAFSA and applying to endless scholarships can make this huge number dissipate.

“Maybe you only qualify for loans from the FAFSA. Those loans through the government are often at a much lower interest rate than private school loans, so overall it is a much better deal,” said Ellerby. “And finally, not a lot of students or families know exactly what they qualify for. A student who thinks their parents “make too much money to receive aid,” may actually qualify for a small scholarship. You never really know until you fill one out. Plus, it’s free, so why not try.”

Students who plan to go to college have an idea on how they are going to pay for it. Senior Hailey Pierce is getting help from her parents, and she plans to complete scholarships and FAFSA to pay for the majority of her schooling.

“I am going to apply for as many scholarships as I can,” said Pierce.

Pierce needs advice from someone like adviser Ellerby.

“I know how to apply for scholarships, but I personally don’t know how to apply for FAFSA,” said Pierce.

Unlike Pierce, Roberts has a different avenue to pay for college.

“I am Native American, and I get a lot of college paid for,” said Roberts. “Sometimes you can get college fully paid for, depending on your percentage. Also, my parents and my grandparents are helping me.”

A lot of students rely on their parents to help pay for their college tuition, but others don’t have that option. Some students have to find a way to pay for college all by themselves.

“My parents are not helping me with college tuition,” said senior Megan Green. “However, that’s why I am taking cosmetology right now. After I graduate high school, I’m taking my state boards and going to do commission for awhile. Then, once I build my clientele, I am going to do chair rental. I will make more money doing that instead of commission, which is your minimum wage type of deal. Meanwhile, I will go to college, and the money I make will go towards my tuition.”

Also, Green didn’t understand what FAFSA is.

There are other ways to get free money for college besides FAFSA. Scholarships are very crucial according to Ellerby.

“Money in general, in terms of other scholarship opportunities, is one of the number one concerns for families/students,” said Ellerby. “It’s important because a sticker price should not stand in the way of someone pursuing higher education, and a lot of local and statewide scholarship money goes untapped every year. It’s out there, so we should all make use of it instead of giving up because the sticker price seems so high. Why not take advantage of every opportunity? (Including FAFSA, and other local scholarships). It can’t really hurt, and it’s free. If there’s a “fee” to apply for any scholarship, it’s most likely a scam.”

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