By BILL KOHLER
10:13 PM EST, January 17, 2013
Ask any parent of a teenager about what keeps them up at night and there’s usually plenty of answers, including how to pay for their child’s college education.
Thanks to the annual Financial Aid Night on Thursday night at Waynesboro Area Senior High School, some parents might be sleeping a little better these days.
The high school’s counseling department presented the event, which drew about 100 people to the high school’s auditorium. Several dozen students were in the audience, but most were parents trying to get a clearer picture of the routes available to them as their children head off to a postsecondary education.
With the average debt for a graduate of a four-year college being $27,000 (roughly $300 per month in student loan repayment), parents are looking for ways to find the “free money” that exists in the form of federal and state aid, scholarships, work aid and low-interest loans.
Pamela Shoap, one of the event’s organizers and a high school counselor, said the most important message she wanted to get across to parents and students is that they should not let money be the reason they do not go to college.
“We want parents to have some confidence that they can do this and that there are tools to help them do it,” Shoap said.
She said there are many unique situations and circumstances that can help a student receive more aid or scholarships and that students and parents should leave no stone unturned.
“There’s not always a clearly defined path on how you go about doing this,” said Shoap, who has been a counselor at the school for nine years.
Speaker Dan Wray of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency provided some of the clear paths that parents and students could pursue.
In short, he emphasized the benefits of planning early and — certainly appropriate in the school setting — doing their homework.
Wray, a former financial aid officer with Penn State who helped guide five children through the aid process, recommended dozens of tips during his presentation, including:
Wray introduced the different kinds of aid, including Pell and state grants along with the several types of student loans, including Perkins and Stafford programs.
“The more work you do ahead of time, the better off everyone will be,” he said.
Todd Wolff of Waynesboro, the parent of a junior and freshman at the high school, said the presentation was a positive experience for him.
“I wanted to learn how the whole grant and loan process works,” he said.
Wolff said he felt a lot better about the process after the presentation and said Wray was a “great resource.”
The event also featured brief presentations from local organizations that offer scholarships, including Waynesboro Rotary, Waynesboro College Club, Waynesboro Hospital Auxiliary and the local Masonic Lodge and American Legion.
Students were encouraged to check with their guidance counselors for more information.
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