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On a quest for college funds?
Counselors say the money still is out there
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Gainesville High School counselor Kay Holleman reviews a college application with Suzanne Cindea. - photo by Tom Reed

Gainesville High School college financial aid meeting

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Gainesville High School media center, 830 Century Place, Gainesville

First, choose which colleges to apply to. Second, find out what each college requires for their applications. Third, fill out all the forms and write all the essays. Fourth, wait for an answer that will hopefully justify all that hard work. Oh, and don't forget devising a plan to pay for it all in the midst of a bad market.

For high school seniors, and parents, too, the process can be more than overwhelming.

Kay Holleman, head counselor at Gainesville High School, said although getting into college now is more competitive than ever, it can become a reality for any Georgia student with the desire to go.

Many schools don't have final application deadlines until the spring, but Holleman said she encourages students at Gainesville High School to get all their applications in before the holiday season is over to increase their chances of getting accepted to the schools of their choice.

"I think if anyone wants to go to college now, there's a way to afford it," she said. "...For most of our really strong students, we encourage them to stay in-state and save their money for medical school or graduate school."

Students who graduate from Georgia high schools with a B average or higher are eligible for the HOPE Scholarship, which covers the full tuition for two-year or four-year degrees at public colleges or universities up to 155 hours. It also provides $150 toward books each semester as well as some student fees. David Benner, executive vice president of operations for the Georgia Student Finance Commission, said the state scholarship also covers $3,500 of private school tuition each year.

Holleman said students who prefer to venture down the technical college route can pay tuition, as well as some of their fees and book expenses, using the HOPE Grant. The HOPE Grant is available to all high school graduates in Georgia regardless of their final high school grade point average.

Benner said since July, the state has dispensed $547 million in scholarships and grants for higher education students. Benner added many schools offer work-study grants and assistantships to help students cover additional student expenses. Pell Grants are also available to low income students.

"The bottom line is there's a plethora of grants and scholarships they can go and look for," he said.

So where do you find these deals?

Benner points to the financial aid officers at schools and colleges as well as to the Internet. Web sites such as Gacollege411 walk students through the steps of exploring their financial aid options, determining their eligibility, applying for aid and obtaining student loans.

Holleman said CareerCrusing is a great resource to guide students through the decision-making process of selecting a career for which to study in college. She said thousands of great scholarship opportunities are posted on FastWeb, too.

As for student loans, Benner said it is slightly more difficult for students to obtain loans this year, but that could change as soon as January.

"The turmoil in the market has made it somewhat difficult for lenders to get enough capital to put it on the street," Benner said. "But Congress is addressing that right now."

Benner said Congress is working on legislation regarding updates on the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act that may make it easier for students to get loans in early 2009. In general, however, Benner said students need not worry.

"By and large, the capital is there for enough lenders to get loans to students," he said. "There's still many, many lenders in the program."