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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

College beckons — but, how will you pay for it?

By Maya Rajamani
Posted
Riverdale Press file photo by Karsten Moran
Acceptance letters from colleges like Manhattan send students scrambling for financial aid.

DeWitt Clinton High School senior Jerlisa Fontaine was excited to receive her acceptance letter to the University at Albany-State University of New York, one of her top two college choices. 

But her enthusiasm faded after she learned how much financial aid the university decided to award her. 

“I didn’t get anywhere close to what I thought I would have received from them,” said the 17-year-old, who plans to study biology on a pre-med track. 

As the spring brings college acceptance letters across the country, many local students are finding the process of planning for college payments more arduous and complex than the admissions process itself. 

While the unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree is a third lower than the national average, soaring tuition costs mean that the average student taking out loans graduates from undergraduate school with more than $26,000 to pay back, according to 2013 data from the White House.

“Financial aid is one of the biggest barriers in terms of college,” said Clinton guidance counselor Leslie Lambertson, who works with students in the school’s Macy program, an honors program for high-achieving black and Latino students whose scores do not qualify them for New York’s specialized high schools. 

A guidance counselor at the school since 2006, Ms. Lambertson has found that colleges’ assistance packages have become less and less adequate to cover tuition and other costs over recent years. 

While she explains to many students that they will have to take out loans to pay for all of their education, she and Clinton’s counseling staff work hard to help them apply for scholarships and grants in order to avoid heavy financial burdens. 

“We don’t want kids taking out 20, 30 thousand in loans when they’re going to put themselves at such a disadvantage,” she said. 

Jerlisa, for example, received only $2,500 a year, which will cover her estimated expenses, but not her tuition. As it stands now, she will have to pay $20,000 a year. She plans to apply for student loans to cover those costs. 

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