CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE HELPING STUDENTS PLAN THEIR FINANCIAL PATH TOWARDS COLLEGE WITH KAPLAN EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION?

As a first-generation student that attended community college, I qualified for financial aid but I was not an informed consumer of education. While my admissions counselor referred me to a financial counselor who helped me apply for financial aid, I did not fully understand how the financial aid process worked. I was thankful to find that I owed no out-of-pocket tuition, but it wasn't explained to me that I also needed money for books, classroom materials, transportation, and other required expenses. During my first semester, I remember getting a syllabus for each of my courses with a listing of books and no understanding of how I was going to purchase them. Like many of my classmates, we worked multiple low-paying jobs to contribute to our household living expenses. For me, the cost of room and board included my mother and my siblings. I didn't know how to apply for work-study, request additional funding, or ask about programs geared towards helping low-income students.

The Kaplan Educational Foundation part of our curriculum provides an understanding of financial aid language, which helps students know what questions to ask as they determine if a school is affordable. I make sure that my students are able to advocate for themselves. Some students I've worked with have been hesitant to apply to highly-selective schools based on the high cost of tuition. Nearly all of our students are Pell Grant eligible, and all receive some sort of state or federal financial aid. While they are familiar with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), most are unaware of the institutional grants provided by top schools to subsidize the higher cost and have never heard of the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile application needed to access that funding.

To truly understand the sources and amount of financial aid you can get, you first have to understand all educational costs for each institution you are considering. You then have to assess the school's commitment toward meeting your financial needs. There are some schools that make a commitment to meet 100% of need without student loans. Some state colleges may waive tuition and fees costs, and some colleges may have specialized institutional aid for non-traditional students. I would argue that no one college, even within a state system, is the same when it comes to available financial aid and the process for accessing available funds.

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

Schools will work very hard to provide students who match the profile they are looking for with a competitive merit and need-based financial aid package. This is true for freshmen, and at the Kaplan Educational Foundation we have seen an increased interest in transfer students, evidenced by increasingly larger financial aid packages, as well as improved support services to ensure that transfer students have the same high-quality opportunities and experiences as freshmen students.

When a student looks at the cost of attending a college without assessing the school's ability to meet their financial needs, they don't have all of the information necessary to determine the actual cost to them and their families. When they see a school with a cost of attendance of over $50,000, which is nearly twice that of a local college, the price tag becomes a deterrent. However, when combined with federal and state grants, need-based institutional aid can result in a financial aid package that makes a private, high-cost school more affordable than a public, lower-cost college. This is not readily apparent for students that are not familiar with the system.

For many students, staying at home and commuting to college is seen as a cost-savings option, but the reality is that staying close to home also means they may miss out on considering schools that are most likely to cover a greater percentage of your educational costs, including room and board. Ultimately, the lack of understanding of how financial aid is determined and applied against the total cost of attendance is a major contributing factor for why students feel deterred from applying to colleges, especially those with higher tuitions. Until students have a clear understanding of how financial aid works, how to apply for institutional aid and access fee waivers - this will continue to be the case.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PAYING FOR COLLEGE?

I have found that many students living in a middle-class household with home ownership and steady income feel they will not quality for financial aid because they do not qualify for Pell Grants. However, financial aid depends on the total cost of attending college. Given the full cost of education, many families that are not Pell eligible may still lack the financial resources to cover the majority of educational costs and may be eligible for grants/loans offered by many schools.

Another major misconception is that schools with lower tuition costs are cheaper to attend. While the sticker price may be lower, these schools often have a smaller pool of funds for financial aid that may increase the financial burden for students and their families. Many schools with larger tuition costs can tap into larger endowments and financial aid resources to provide a lower out-of-pocket cost to students.

Many students focus on getting summer jobs and miss out on free money from scholarships. Many independent organizations, at local and national levels, provide scholarships based on criteria beyond financial means. Students should earmark time to submit these applications - scholarships, unlike loans, do not need to be paid back.

Another misconception is that financial aid packages are fixed. One of the benefits of applying to a solid list of schools is the ability to negotiate financial aid packages. Students may be able to get additional institutional aid by speaking with financial aid advisers. Also, while the applications for FAFSA and CSS Profile ask for financial aid information from specific time periods, situations can change. Students and their families can reach out to provide context on changes to income that may improve financial aid packages from year-to-year.

WHAT CHOICES ARE YOU SEEING STUDENTS AND FAMILIES HAVE TO MAKE BASED ON THE COSTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION? HOW DOES THIS AFFECT LOW-INCOME FAMILIES? MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILIES?

For low-income families, students are often responsible for a portion of the household bills and/or serve as caregivers for siblings or other family members. In these situations, families need to consider the short-term and long-term implications of students attending college. Students need to weigh the short-term sacrifices of leaving the household with the potential long-term income gains associated with degree completion. Students also have to choose between volunteer or unpaid internships that increase experience and low-paying, hourly jobs to cover education expenses.

Families, both low and middle-income, often choose which colleges they want their kids to apply to based on what they see as the full cost of college attendance. This can sometimes discourage their student's chances of maximizing financial aid and finding the best fit.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS/ GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?

Look beyond the sticker price -- there is funding available to make high-quality education affordable. Many colleges offer cost calculators to help families get a better idea of the portion they are likely to pay towards their children's educations. This is why it is so important that students take into consideration colleges that offer merit-based and need-based financial assistance, and that these resources are often combined in order to make college more affordable.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS THINKING ABOUT APPLYING TO COLLEGE, BUT AREN'T SURE THEY CAN AFFORD TO ATTEND?

You need to prepare for the college admissions process and put time and effort into researching the schools that are the best fit for your academic and financial needs and apply to a range of schools. There are many options and resources available to fund your education. Don't hesitate to ask for help.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE KAPLAN EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION'S TO PROVIDE RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS TO HELP THEM NAVIGATE THE COST OF COLLEGE?

The knowledge needed to successfully navigate the financial aid process is not intuitive, and access to financial aid is a major barrier to college completion, especially for first-generation college students and other students for whom college affordability is an issue.

Organizations like the Kaplan Educational Foundation provide resources to navigate the financial aid process. This levels the playing field of college access for low-income and middle-class families.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS YOU SEE THE HIGH SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL DISTRICT'S YOU WORK WITH ARE SUPPORTING STUDENTS APPLYING TO COLLEGE, SPECIFICALLY FINANCIAL AID?

We visit high schools in NYC, and have found that many schools have FAFSA completion dates. Community-based organizations are key partners in offering volunteers to provide organized FAFSA support services. Finding out that there is a cost to complete the CSS Profile, without knowing that there is a waiver process, may lead some students to not apply for admission or financial aid from schools that may be able to provide a larger financial aid package. Identifying colleges that are best suited to provide financial aid is a key part of offering financial aid counsel to students. Identifying schools based on low cost is not enough.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

A student's ability to complete a college degree -- and one with out-of-classroom activities, such as internships, research, extracurricular and leadership skills development -- are often connected to that student being secure in the financial resources they have to fully engage in their studies.

A college's reputation is often connected to its ability to graduate the students it enrolls, and prepare graduates who are career ready. Colleges must work to provide students a full understanding of the types of financial aid available and make sure students understand the responsibilities that come with taking on student loans. Responsible student loan borrowing is usually based on a student that fully maximizes all forms of aid, self-advocates, and understands the timeline for repayment and how it will affect their career goals.

WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND STUDENTS, AND THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, TURN FOR RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE AS THEY BEGIN TO PLAN HOW TO FUND THEIR EDUCATION?

The U.S. Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center includes college score cards and a net price calculator to help students and families estimate the true cost of a college education.

For high school students and their families, it is important that they understand a college's commitment to provide merit and need-based financial aid and the school's policies on student loans.

Visiting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid at www.FAFSA.ED.Gov is also a great resource. It explains the documents needed for submission, presents the different types of financial aid offered by the U.S. Federal government, and begins the process for state financial aid.

Go to the www.CSSProfile.CollegeBoard.Org for information on this form which is utilized by many colleges in order to access non-federal financial aid.

For transfer students, I just published a book, Your 2018 Guide to College Transfer. This guide offers specific information about 90 profiled schools, as well as guidance on admissions, financial aid policies, and housing for non-traditional students. These may include students with dependents, military veterans, and DACA or undocumented students. For free transfer resources, go to www.kaplanedfoundation.org.

ANY FINAL THOUGHTS FOR US?

Securing student financial aid doesn't necessarily start with a scholarship search or completion of the FAFSA. Start by targeting a broad range of colleges and understanding each school's commitment to providing financial aid. Make sure you are aware of the school's opportunity programs, which may supplement financial aid by providing allowances or waiving certain fees.

Nancy Lee Sanchez

Executive Director of the Kaplan Educational Foundation

Nancy Lee Sánchez is Executive Director of the Kaplan Educational Foundation and the author of Your 2018 Guide to College Transfer. She is responsible for the design and implementation of the Kaplan Leadership Program, a community college to four-year advisement model preparing students for a lifetime of socially conscious professional leadership. Nancy has over 18 years of expertise opening access to higher education, improving the college experience, and supporting leadership in low-income and nontraditional students. She earned an associate in early childhood education at Kingsborough Community College, a bachelor's in education from Long Island University, and a master's in sociology from Brooklyn College. A National Hispanic Executive Leadership Fellow, she completed leadership programs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and at the Center for Creative Leadership. Born in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, Nancy currently resides in Brooklyn.