Victoria Juarez, recently appointed CEO of Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara. October 17, 2018. Photo: ©2018 Isaac Hernandez Herrero copyright

Victoria Juarez

The cost of post-secondary education and the burdens it places on students and their families have animated high-profile debates among policymakers and educators in recent years. Despite this, misconceptions surrounding financial aid for college remain prevalent. The implications for students and their families can be serious.

For example, students often assume they are ineligible for financial aid by virtue of their family income or grades, and so temper their plans for college or rule it out entirely.

The fact is that financial aid programs vary greatly, and many favor particular industries, backgrounds or skills, in some cases irrespective of family income or exemplary academic achievement.

Similarly, many students confuse cost with affordability. A college or university that costs more but offers a larger financial aid package is often preferable to one costing less but offering a more modest aid package.

We often see this in relation to private schools, which initially can seem dramatically more expensive than state colleges or university. However, many of the former offer substantially larger financial aid packages. A school that costs $45,000 but offers $38,000 in financial aid is a far better deal than one costing $30,000 but with just $15,000 in financial aid.

Colleges and universities add to the confusion with financial aid offer letters that are in many cases bewildering. Studies have found that award letters often lack consistency and transparency when describing forms of aid. Some colleges even fail to draw sharp distinctions between loans and grants. Is it any wonder that financial aid misconceptions persist?

Closer to home, many North County residents mistakenly believe the Scholarship Foundation does not offer assistance to students in Santa Maria and surrounding communities.

In fact, the Scholarship Foundation is a tremendous force for educational attainment in North County. Last year, 58 percent of Foundation scholarships went to students in the Santa Maria Valley, Lompoc and the Santa Ynez Valley, continuing a trend that began several years ago.

To put that figure in perspective, we awarded a total of just more than $8.3 million to 2,620 students throughout Santa Barbara County in 2018. Of that group, North County awardees numbered 1,521 and collectively received a bit more than $4.8 million from the Scholarship Foundation.

The takeaway from all this is to do your homework, seek out knowledgeable professionals and other resources, and be bold in applying for financial aid. Never assume you are ineligible for assistance or that a particular scholarship provider is not for you.

If you a current or aspiring college student anywhere in Santa Barbara County please know you have a powerful advocate in the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara.

Victoria Juarez is president and CEO of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara.

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