‘Every little bit counts’
NORTH BRANCH — With the arrival of spring, seniors across Lapeer County are turning their attention to the future. After graduation, each student must decide which post-high school path he or she must take, and for some, college will be the destination.
With the rising costs of higher education, however, sending a senior to a two or four-year university is a daunting task for families in Lapeer County and often students and their parents feel overwhelmed with the prospect of choosing a college and financing the program the student chooses to pursue. For Amy Hyrman, counselor for students at North Branch High School, and James Owen, counselor at Imlay City High School, a significant portion of their duties revolves around preparing the students for the reality of college.
“Scholarships are a huge part of paying for college,” said Hyrman. “Even small ones, some are only $400, students might look at it and think it’s not worth applying for since it’s so small, but every little bit counts.” There are a large number of college scholarships available to students, from a national level to a local one, and both Hyrman and Owen make sure the information for all of them is readily available to students heading to college the next year. In both schools, scholarship information can be found in the guidance counseling offices, online and on each school’s specific database. “We try to make it as easy as possible for kids to find that information,” said Hyrman.
Both Owen and Hyrman pointed toward local scholarships as a huge resource many students might not realize is available to them. In Imlay City, roughly 60 scholarships are available specifically to students at Imlay City High School, ranging in amount from $500 to $1,000. North Branch also has several local scholarships designed to be given only to North Branch students. With a smaller pool of competition, these scholarships are often easier to obtain and can act to bridge costs that financial aid and other sources of finance don’t cover. These local scholarships are almost entirely funded by donation from local businesses or private citizens and are often specific to areas of study the student intends to pursue.
For a student heading into a field of study related to agriculture, for example, he or she could apply for the Daley Acres Agricultural Scholarship — established in 2011 to honor Thomas Daley, who died tragically in an agricultural-related accident, and J. Clifford Daley, a lifelong farmer who dedicated his life to his family farm in Lapeer County. “Students can come into the office and take a look at all the scholarships available, and see if any are in their area of interest,” said Owen. “Most kids can apply to several.”
Applying for scholarships can sometimes be as arduous as applying for college itself — and to help their students, both Owen and Hyrman work with educators to teach the students the skills they’ll need to compete for scholarships. In both schools, senior-level English classes teach students how to write a college essay — used both in applying for college and scholarships. “That way, when we hand out the applications, they already know how to write the scholarship applications,” said Owens.
To help their students transition into college, both Hyrman and Owen employ several strategies that they hope will take away some of the guesswork that might come from taking that next, big step.
“Picking a college is probably the most important thing,” Hyrman said. “But beyond that, probably filling out the FAFSA is a close number two.” The FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form filled out by prospective college students and ongoing undergraduate and graduate students that is used to determine eligibility for federal loans and grants.
“Everything is based on the FAFSA,” Hyrman said. To help, both schools offer special programs to help students and parents tackle to FAFSA, from inviting parents and students to their computer labs to walk the families through the application in real-time to offering on-call assistance if necessary. “Also, as of October 1, the FAFSA got a lot easier for new college students,” said Owen. “It’s become a lot easier for families to get that (tax and income) information in.”
All this financial assistance for college isn’t important if the student is unable to make an informed decision regarding their college of choice, said Hyrman. Both Hyrman and Owen try to match each college-bound student with the perfect school to suit their goals, taking into account cost, distance and area of expertise. “A kid looking to study pre-med wouldn’t want to go to a college focusing on engineering,” said Hyrman. “We try to expose (the students) to all the options available in the state and beyond, and try to match kids with a degree program and a college that they would fit with.” To achieve that goal, both Imlay City and North Branch facilitate “college nights,” where representatives of several area universities visit the high school campuses to meet with juniors and seniors. “Kids go to these college fairs and learn so much about the colleges in the area,” said Owen.
Making an informed decision can often mean the difference between college success and struggle, and students in Lapeer County schools have all the tools available to them to ensure a smooth transition.