By Nora Heston

Linzey Leinart, a high school student at Sequoia Choice Arizona Distance Learning, not only will graduate from high school a full year early, she also will receive her associate’s degree in art from Chandler Gilbert Community College.

Hundreds of high school students throughout the state take advantage of dual enrollment and early graduation programs to get a head start on their college educations and their future careers, all while saving money in the process.

Charter and online schools, private schools and public schools all offer different programs tailored for different high school students. Start by making an appointment with your high school student’s counselor. Freshman year is not too early; senior year is not too late.

Your counselor can guide you on the ins and outs of the school’s offerings, including Advanced Placement, or AP, classes – college level classes taken in high school. Students can dual enroll – pay community college tuition while taking the class –  or take the AP test at the end of the class for a lower fee and receive college credit.

Eleven high schools in Arizona offer the International Baccalaureate, or IB, program. This specialized program provides a challenging high school curriculum and allows students to graduate with an IB Diploma and/or IB Certificates. While students may test for college credit, like in the AP classes, the IB program prepares students for a successful future and increases opportunities at universities.

Calculating the Cost
How much money you need for school depends on a variety of factors. Does your child plan to live at home? Will he or she be working while attending school and contributing to tuition or other expenses?

Are you or other relatives prepared to help cover tuition and other costs? Does your family have a financial need that will qualify for grants that do not need to be repaid? Is your child talented in academics, art, music or sports and will qualify for scholarships?

Academic rigor in high school – a B grade in a hard class vs. an A in an easy class – can help your child qualify for scholarships, too. High test scores on the SAT and ACT make a difference, and the best scholarships are awarded on a combination of test scores, GPA, class rank, academic rigor and community service.

“Scholarships are not ‘given,’ they are earned. Merit-based scholarships are the best because schools are awarding students for hard work; they are not like many national scholarships that award one winner,” says Cindy Fair, career center specialist at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria.

At Sunrise, typical of many Arizona high schools, students were offered more than $8 million in scholarships last year.

With so much available online, students have the opportunity to be very proactive in their search for funding. Parents can help, too. Fair suggests parents utilize their business affiliations for scholarship information.

If a student knows what school they will be attending, they can look for scholarships tied to that institution. Students and parents can use a scholarship estimator, like the one Arizona State University offers (https://scholarships.asu.edu/estimator), to enter test scores, GPA and class rank and get an idea of what type of assistance they can expect to receive.

Additionally, if students apply early to colleges and have completed all of their “pre-college” core classes, there may be more scholarships available to them, Fair adds.

Set Expectations
Be upfront with your student about expectations and realities. Community college costs less than in-state universities and private universities. Grades matter with college acceptance and earning scholarships.

An in-state college may be what your family can afford. If a student wants to go out-of-state, he or she will need to make up the difference with scholarships.

“Some students can live at home and attend ASU West with a President’s Scholarship, which pays for most of their schooling. For financially needy households, University of Arizona has the Arizona Assurance program; ASU has an Obama scholarship. Many private colleges have special programs to keep students from taking out loans or very many loans. Ask the College Admissions counselors and look on various university websites [to learn more about your options],” Fair says. “[Maricopa Community Colleges] and the state universities have worked together to make smoother transitions for students.”

To answer this question, a good place to start is to research how much it will cost for your child to attend. Individual schools offer tuition estimators and average cost lists to help students determine just how much they need to cover their college expenses.

For example, Collegedata.com estimates total cost of attendance for in-state residents at Arizona State University (ASU) to be $23,596. This includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies and other expenses. n


 

Paying for College
Many families don’t have the resources to pay for college completely out of pocket.

Financial aid is reserved for lower income families, but it’s worth looking into as different family situations can be taken into account. According to statistics from 2011-2012, 80.5 percent of incoming freshman at ASU applied for financial aid, and 80.2 percent were found to have a financial need.

Low-interest loans are available from the government for all students, and college and high school counselors can advise families on the details.

Scholarships, though, do not need to be paid back and are awarded based on criteria other than income:
Students can receive scholarships based on heritage, parents’ occupations or military service, career aspirations and more. Be sure to check out memorial and business-sponsored scholarships to tap into all of your possible resources.

Students can apply for some scholarships as juniors so don’t wait until the last minute. The National Merit Scholarship program, based on PSAT scores in the junior year of high school can offer $2,500 for students – and more importantly – open the door for other scholarships.

Follow through and pay attention to details such as meeting deadlines, carefully proofing essays and providing complete information including letters of recommendations. Every scholarship is different.

Check the  validity of scholarships and scholarship services with the help of your counselor and trustworthy websites like studentscholarshipsearch.com, finaid.comFastWeb.com and scholarships.com.

Check scholarships tied to the school if your student knows where he or she wants to attend. Most websites have a scholarship estimator.

Make sure the scholarship is beneficial. Some scholarships only cover tuition. Others cover room and board, books and other living expenses.

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