By SARA MILLER
Kitsap News Group
Attending college in America can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a young person’s life. It can also be one of the most expensive.
According to the College Board, a nonprofit organization that helps transition prospective students with financial and academic opportunities, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year was $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.
While students are encouraged by educators, friends, parents and/or government officials to strive for a higher education, it’s not always feasible when some students can barely afford clothes they’ll wear to class.
Enter the Career Center at South Kitsap High School: Dave Reichel and Sandy Elton work with students to help guide them through college applications, earning Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and applying for scholarships.
“Scholarship season is now, so we have students coming and going all the time,” Reichal said. “It’s past the time for college applications and FAFSA was in October, but now students are looking for scholarships and coming up on deadlines for submission.”
In 2015-16, South Kitsap Career Center posted more than 118 scholarships on its website. Graduating seniors were offered $4,666,009 worth of scholarships and awards (including military awards of $1,205,672).
“We only know a portion of the numbers because many are done online,” Elton said. “We don’t have a full handle on that number, but we usually have 118 scholarships go through our office every year.”
The Career Center is open every day from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for students to come in, get help, look up available scholarships and use computers to complete the applications process. Many students also come in during lunch.
Inside the office are files of various applications available for students. Each available scholarship is also posted on the South Kitsap High School website’s Career Center page, organized by deadline date with a list of what’s needed to apply.
“A lot of community groups offer good scholarships,” Elton said. “The Port Orchard Rotary, Port Orchard Yacht Club and Elton Goodwin — you hate to mention just a few because you know you’ll forget someone important. But the point is, the community really supports our students.”
Students invariably have difficulties meeting deadlines and thoroughly checking their applications before submitting the information.
“Financial aid problems are big,” Reichel said. “I had a student who filed her FASFA with the wrong Social Security number. Another had their birthday date wrong. When that happens, the federal government has to prove who you are, and that’s a hassle and can take weeks.”
But the biggest issue students are facing is having enough time.
“Some are really after it and have applied for a dozen. Others haven’t applied at all. It’s hard to average out,” Reichel said.
In fact, one of the most common mistakes he sees students make is waiting until June to come talk about available scholarships when they realize college will be more expensive than they anticipated.
“Some come in in June to ask (for information), and I have to say the season is over, that train has left the station,” Reichel said.
“They come in after finding out they need more money for school then they realized. But there are no more scholarships to apply for. All of them are gone.”
South Kitsap seniors Hayley and Kayley Brown have both been accepted into colleges and are working through the overwhelming process of getting enough financial help.
Both seniors work the maximum allowed weekly hours at McDonald’s and go to school full time. While Hayley has been accepted to Washington State University to study education, Kayley has been accepted by Seattle Pacific University (and is waiting to hear back from the nursing program), WSU and is waiting to hear from Gonzaga.
“Our biggest hang-up is time,” Hayley said. “The process is easy enough to understand, but it can be stressful.”
Hayley said her goal has been to apply for 10 or more scholarships. Kayley is hoping to hear back from Falcon Bound, which, thanks to signing up for College Bound in the seventh grade, would cover her entire tuition at Seattle Pacific.
The College Bound Scholarship program is an early commitment of state financial aid to eligible students who sign up while in middle school and fulfill the scholarship pledge. Both Brown sisters were signed up in middle school.
The Career Center also offers workshops and counseling for students and parents to come in and learn more about similar programs and scholarships. All are posted on the Activities &Events link on the school’s main website at www.skitsap.wednet.edu.
“Reichel always loves to help out, and his opinions really help,” Kayley said.
Their biggest advice for future seniors is to not procrastinate because deadlines sneak up on you.
“Scholarships are free money,” Kayley said. “Apply to as many as you can.”
For more information, visit the Career Center page at www.skitsap.wednet.edu.