KEIZERTIMES/File Photo

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The holidays are usually the time when families least want one more thing to do, but for those with college-bound students, now is the time to be preparing to apply for financial aid.

That was the message imparted by Paul Allen, a financial aid counselor with Western Oregon University, during a presentation about financial aid preparation provided for students and their parents at McNary High School Tuesday, Nov. 29.

Beginning Sunday, Jan. 1, students planning to enroll in college for the 2012-13 school year can submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a single application that provides access to federal loans for college students. The application process takes about half an hour and requires assembling W-2 and bank statements, but it will be time well spent, Allen said.

“Take the time because it will increase the options for the type of financial aid available to you as a student,” Allen said. “Fill it out as soon as possible because it will give you priority over students that fill it out later.”

Early completion may also open the door to other funds provided through the student’s chosen college or university. The application requires tax information from the year that will have just ended, but applicants can use estimates based on a prior year’s tax returns and then correct the numbers after they prepare their taxes.

In addition to applying for federal loans, Allen urged attendees to seek out scholarships that would help pare back the seemingly ever-rising costs of higher education.

A single application that can be completed at www.oregonstudentaid.gov can put the student in the running for more than $15 million in scholarships awarded annually. If a student has already chosen a path of study, Allen suggested looking into departmental scholarships at the school they plan to attend. He also encouraged dinner table conversations on the topic of paying for college.

“Some employers offer scholarships for their employee’s children, and the Elks and Rotary clubs also usually offer some sort of scholarship, but people often miss those opportunities because they don’t talk about it,” Allen said. Other Keizer organizations offering scholarships include Making Keizer Better and the Keizer Heritage Foundation.

While the time spent may seem like a burden, Allen cautioned against seeking shortcuts.

“If an organization or website asks for money, promises a guarantee, or says a national foundation has selected their student, it’s probably a scam,” Allen said.