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For Hoosier high school students, college is just around the corner. More jobs today require a college degree or some type of post-secondary training, and financially planning for this next step can be daunting.

College costs remain far too high, and too many students leave college saddled with burdensome debt or fail graduate at all. State leaders are committed to making sure post-secondary education is attainable and affordable for all Hoosiers, but there are steps students and their families can take to prepare as well.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one of the most important documents to complete before entering college. It qualifies students to receive financial aid from colleges, the State of Indiana, the federal government and other sources. The deadline to file the FAFSA is March 10.

To complete the application, visit www.FAFSA.gov . Here you can download a printable application or submit it online. Before you fill it out, have the following items on hand:

·Social Security number
·Driver's license number
·Most recent federal income tax returns
·Records of money earned, including W-2 forms and recent bank statements
·Records of untaxed income

Incoming freshmen as well as returning college students must fill out the FAFSA to be eligible for financial aid each year.

Financial aid can be beneficial, but Indiana offers other opportunities to help parents and students save for college on their own. Opening an Indiana College Choice 529 Savings Plan is a great way to start investing in college early. It only takes $25 to start, and a 20-percent state tax credit is awarded for contributions to the account.

Another useful savings program is Upromise, which automatically transfers part of certain purchases from your debit or credit card to a College Choice 529 account. To learn more about these programs, visit www.collegechoicedirect.com

Future college students should also examine state and local scholarship opportunities. Indiana provides $4,000 grants to students who graduate high school in three years or less through the Mitch Daniels Early Graduation Scholarship.

Exploring websites like www.scholarships.com  and www.fastweb.com , as well as talking with school guidance counselors and visiting career centers, can be great resources.

For current college students, a good way to cut costs is to know your college plan and graduate on time. Meet with your advisor regularly, map out which courses you must take to graduate, and avoid changing your major if possible.

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education recently conducted a study that shows most college students in our state do not graduate on time. Less than one out of every 10 students finishes a two-year degree within two years, and just three out of every 10 students finish a four-year degree within four years.

Late graduation can significantly increase college costs, and is an obstacle to getting more degrees into the hands of Hoosiers.

To combat this concern, the Indiana General Assembly enacted a law last year that encourages students to excel in college by offering extra financial aid dollars to students who earn credits on pace to graduate early.
The more credits a student earns, the more financial aid they can receive each year. Additional aid can also be awarded to academic honors students. To view this new financial aid chart, visit www.in.gov/sfa and click on "2014-2015 State Financial Aid Menu."

College is a meaningful and vital experience for young Hoosiers, and planning early is key. More resources and tips for college preparation can be found at www.in.gov/learmoreindiana


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