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Michelle Warkentin speaks to students about the different forms of financial aid they can receive when they go to college.

As students begin to apply for college the inevitable sticker shock begins to set in. Up until this time they have searched for colleges by major, sports teams, and distance from the beach.

However, when it comes down to it, finances are often the biggest factor in determining which college a student will attend. For the 2011-12 academic year, annual current dollar prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated to be $14,300 at public institutions.

This cost increases to $37,800 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,300 at private for-profit institutions, as published by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2013). Unfortunately college prices continue to increase over time.

Although the statistics may seem depressing, there is a glimmer of hope. Along with an increase in price also comes a rise in financial assistance. From academic years 2006-07 to 2011?12, the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students at 4-year degree-granting institutions receiving any financial aid increased from 75 to 85 percent, also according to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2014).

In order to get an accurate perspective on financial aid, I sought the advice of Gary Nichols, Director of Financial Aid from Fresno Pacific University. My first question for Nichols was what students should do if they are really interested in attending a specific college, but don’t think they will be able to afford to attend.

He encouraged students to continue to pursue the college because with different institutional scholarships you never know what type of financial aid package you will receive.

“If you never apply you will never know the outcome,” Nichols said.

As students are aware many colleges offer great financial aid packages for athletes, scholars, musicians, etc. But what about other forms of assistance are there?

Outside scholarships. There is billions of dollars out there for students to apply for outside scholarships.

“If a student spent 10 hours working on a scholarship and won a $500 scholarship, they just earned $50/hour,” Nichols said. “That is a great return on investment.”

Nichols recommends that students visit the following scholarship websites: Fast Web, Cappex, SallieMae and College Board. Students also have the opportunity to participate in community service programs through AmeriCorps. This program allows students to earn up to two education awards, up to $4,725 each.

Students often sell themselves short and do not think they have a shot at earning outside scholarships, or do not think it will be worth the effort it takes to apply. I agree with Nichols’ statement that you never know what you are going to get until you apply.

Students should apply to several colleges, even if the price tag seems too high. Since you don’t have to make a final decision until May, you have plenty of time to weigh out your options and apply for as many scholarships as possible in the meantime. Honestly, what do you have to lose.

For more information on personal statements/college essays, read the Oct. 16, 2013, column, College Corner: Personal Statements.

Happy application time!

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For more College Corner, read the Oct. 17 column, College Corner: More bang for your buck.