Woodward, Okla. — By Dr. Janet Cunningham
How to pay for a college education is a question on the minds of many parents and high school seniors these days. As we move into late fall, many students will begin the process of exploring college options. The costs associated with a particular college or university will be a major factor in the decision-making process.
While the senior year in high school is the traditional time to choose a college or university, determining your financial aid options should begin years in advance.
Oklahoma’s Promise is a unique program established by the Oklahoma Legislature that can help pay college tuition. Students must enroll in the program in the eighth, ninth or 10th grade, meet certain income requirements, agree to take certain high school courses and stay away from gangs, drugs and alcohol. In short, the student promises to prepare academically for college and stay out of trouble, and in return, the state of Oklahoma promises to help pay the student’s college tuition.
The Oklahoma 529 Savings Plan also is a great way for parents, grandparents or other family members to establish an investment account to provide funds for a student’s college education. Oklahoma’s 529 Savings Plan has been cited as one of the best managed in the nation and can offer tax benefits for the account holder.
Another early option is for high school juniors and seniors to enroll in concurrent classes that allow them to earn both credits for high school and college graduation. Currently, high school seniors can enroll in concurrent classes and receive free tuition. At Northwestern Oklahoma State University, we extend the free tuition benefit to high school juniors as well. In some cases, concurrent classes can save a student thousands of dollars in tuition costs.
For students considering Northwestern, attending the university’s Ranger Preview day on November 3 is a must. Every high school senior who registers for and attends Ranger Preview will automatically receive a $600 scholarship to Northwestern for their freshman year at the Alva Campus. Students can register for Ranger Preview by clicking on the Ranger Preview banner on Northwestern’s home page at www.nwosu.edu.
Of course there are a myriad of other more traditional financial aid options such as scholarships, federal and state grants, college work-study and student loans. All of these options will require students and their families to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Additional information about financial aid options is available at www.okcollegestart.org or through your high school guidance counselor.
At times, the financial aid process can seem a bit intimidating, but with a little planning and a few hours spent on task, the rewards can be significant and bring the dream of a college education a little closer to reality.
Janet Cunningham, Ed.D.