Right now, high school seniors in the Kansas City area are making big decisions about their futures and, for many, that means going to college.
Figuring out how to pay for a college education, of course, also is at the forefront of their minds.
Many schools in the region have planned informational events for students and parents about securing financial help now the filing period opened for the 2018-19 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The deadline to fill out and submit the FAFSA in Missouri is Feb. 1, 2018, for students planning to attend college during the 2018-19 school year, but high school guidance counselors suggest that students fill out a FAFSA as soon as possible.
The Office of Federal Student Aid awards grants, loans, and work-study funds until the money has been depleted.
In other words, it’s “go-time” for high school seniors to send in college applications and FAFSA, according to Laura Hillbrand, a longtime counselor at Lee’s Summit North.
At her school alone, Hillbrand said there are 436 students in the 2018 class. On average, she said about 82 percent of Lee’s Summit North students attend a two- or four-year college or university.
“Now is the time to start applying for colleges and looking for scholarships and financial aid is a huge part of that, because most people don’t know how they’re going to pay for college,” Hillbrand said. “I think one of the reasons that a lot of people don’t fill out the FAFSA is because they don’t know what it is or they don’t think they’ll get money, and that’s really not true. We talked with all of our seniors recently and tried to remind them that this is the time to do things. And there are deadlines that some schools have of Nov. 1, Dec. 1, Oct. 30, sometimes for early applications.”
Earlier this month, hundreds of area high school students and their parents flocked to separate college night events in Lee’s Summit and Belton.
Lee’s Summit’s 30th annual College Night in The Pavilion at John Knox Village took place Oct. 10 with more than 100 colleges and universities from the state and other parts of the country on hand to make their case. In Cass County, Belton High School held its own financial aid night Oct. 11 followed by a college and career fair.
Trey Thompson, a Lee’s Summit North senior, said he’s already completed the FAFSA. The 18-year-old said he is considering a career in accounting and expects to receive financial aid through the state’s A+ Scholarship Program.
“I am going to Longview for the first two years because I did the A+ program, so I’ll go there for the first two years and get my associate’s, and then I’m either thinking of going to (the University of Missouri-Kansas City) or (the University of Central Missouri),” Thompson said during Lee’s Summit’s College Night. “Right now, I have two jobs and I’m saving as much as I can. I’ve already signed up for the FAFSA.”
Sheila Thompson, Trey’s mother, said he is her first son set to go to college. She said the family felt confident about going through the process to seek financial aid after attending a meeting at the high school on the subject and attending the College Night at John Knox.
“They were very thorough and helpful when they held that at school and had that informational meeting for us,” Sheila said. “It really answered a lot of questions for us.”
For other parents, like Melanie and Charles Hasek, this isn’t their first time sending a child to college.
The Haseks have had two boys who’ve attended college.
Now, their daughter, Sabra Hasek, is weighing her college options She wants to study nursing and was looking at William Jewell College, Truman University, and UMKC during College Night.
As for submitting a FAFSA? The Haseks say they might not fill one out.
“Not unless I have to, because we don’t qualify for aid based upon our income,” Melanie said. “But some schools require you to fill it out in order to get the scholarships that they’re going to give you.”
Hillbrand said that last part is key and is a big reason she often encourages families to fill out the FAFSA, even if they don’t think they’re going to get free money from it. Hillbrand said filling out the FAFSA allows students to get work-study funds or loans at a lower rate and with a six-month grace period.
“Plus, which I think a lot of people don’t think about, is that there are lots of scholarships that suggest or require that you fill out the FAFSA first, so if those scholarships come along in January, February, or March, they can still fill it out,” Hillbrand said. “But you might as well do it earlier and get it done.”
Sabra said she’s not sure if any of the schools she’s considering will require her to fill out the FAFSA, but she’s looking into it.
With or without a completed FAFSA, Sabra, a Lee’s Summit North senior, said it’s important for her to get some help paying for college, especially if she wants to attend a private university. The Haseks want their daughter to get the best financial-aid plan possible with the fewest number of college credit hours needed to graduate.
“If I decide to go to William Jewell, it would be really important to me, because it’s a lot more expensive as a private university, and so I want to lessen the burden on them (my family) and try to get as many scholarships as possible to make it as cheap as possible,” Sabra said.
While some schools already have held financial aid nights and FAFSA Frenzy events, managed by the Missouri Department of Higher Education, more help is on the way.
At least three more FAFSA Frenzy events are scheduled — Oct. 26 at Metropolitan Community College-Longview in Lee’s Summit, Nov. 2 at Raymore-Peculiar High School in Peculiar, and Nov. 14 at Harrisonville High School. The first two are open to all students, but the last one is only open to Harrisonville students.
Aside from filling out the FAFSA, Hillbrand said scholarships are key.
She encourage students to look for local scholarships through their high school and their parents’ employers as well as any clubs or organizations in which they’re members. Hillbrand says there are also many scholarship opportunities posted on the websites of their college choice.
“There are scholarships out there,” Hillbrand said. “It’s just a matter of looking.”
Need help with the FAFSA?
Schools in eastern Jackson County and Cass County are offering FAFSA Frenzy events managed by the Missouri Department of Higher Education to help answer questions for parents and students planning to attend college. Here are three upcoming FAFSA Frenzy events:
▪ 2-6 p.m., Oct. 26, Metropolitan Community College - Longview, 500 S.W. Longview Rd., Lee’s Summit
▪ 4-6 p.m., Nov. 2, Raymore-Peculiar High School, 20801 South School Rd., Peculiar
▪ 6-7:30 p.m., Nov. 14, Harrisonville High School, 1504 E. Elm St., Harrisonville (open to Harrisonville High School students only)