Crunch time for college-bound seniors seeking financial aid

  • Maggie Botka, center, high fives Lily O'Connell after learning she was accepted to Lewis and Clark University in Oregon. The two were in the counseling offices at Cardinal Newman High School filling out applications for scholarships. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

The class of 2014 is in the home stretch of the high school experience, but many college-bound seniors are likely buried in piles of financial aid applications as they search for help in paying for the next four years of education.

"It's kind of like crunch time right now," said Beverly Fuller, counselor at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa.

"Definitely. Financial aid deadlines are looming," said Susan Gutierrez, director of financial aid for Sonoma State University.

And with college costs on the rise, getting a plan in place for how to pay for it is crucial, local school counselors said.

The average cost for a year at a public, in-state four-year college is more than $18,000, according to the College Board, the New York-based association that administers Advanced Placement curriculum and exams as well as the SAT.

A year at an out-of-state public school is upward of $31,000, while a year at a private university averages between $31,000 and $40,000 a year.

A key element to securing financial aid is completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance, or FAFSA, a financial form used to determine a student's financial aid need. The priority deadline for California's college-bound students is March 2.

The FAFSA requires disclosure of a family's income and assets and takes into consideration how many other students in a family are in college.

The College Board Profile application is an online application that collects information used by nearly 400 colleges and scholarship programs. Though there are multiple deadlines, the last day to submit that form is Feb. 15.

"The sooner you get your FAFSA and Profile submitted, the sooner you get your student aid report," Fuller said.

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