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With Bright Futures on the line, experts outline other options for financial aid

college students
Posted at 3:35 PM, Mar 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-31 18:36:58-04

On Wednesday, lawmakers with the state senate appropriations committee are set to discuss Senate Bill 86, which outlines changes to the Bright Futures scholarship system.

If passed, Senate Bill 86 could take away guarantees that recipients will receive either 75% or 100 % of their tuition paid. In its amended form, SB 86 would instead tie aid to budget appropriations.

Before the pandemic, college was a major expense for households and now people are really pinching pennies.

RELATED: Florida lawmakers are debating Bright Futures Scholarship changes that may limit money awarded

"College in itself can be very, very expensive. And that's usually the determining factor in where students end up attending school," King High School college and career counselor Mesha Stubbs said.

The State University System of Florida's most recent data shows on average full-time, on-campus students pay $2,608 a semester in just tuition fees.

"I absolutely push as much free money as possible through scholarships," Stubbs said. "Looking for free money to pay for school is almost like looking for a job. It can be very tiring. It does take a lot of energy and a lot of work."

Stubbs recommends and to find opportunities from all parts of the country. You can even filter certain qualifications to find the best one for your child. There's no limit to how many scholarships a teen can receive.

To save time when applying for several scholarships, Stubbs recommends saving essays and recommendation letters to re-use. Make copies as well. You'll also want to apply for all the scholarships your child qualifies for.

"About two or three years ago, there was a $20,000 scholarship for King high school students. One student applied for that scholarship and she received that $20,000 scholarship because she didn't have any competition," Stubbs said.

Another important resource you should fill out for your teen before they even get acceptance letters is the FAFSA application. It asks about your family's income and will recommend grants that wouldn't need to be paid back, work-study opportunities that could help pay for college or loans.

If you want to look at borrowing money, Billie Jo Hamilton suggests federal loans. She works as the University of South Florida's Associate Vice President of Enrollment, Planning, and Management

“There [are] loans we call subsidized loans, where there's no interest accruing during the time the student is in school and for six months after they leave," Hamilton said. "The unsubsidized loans are still available to students, but the interest does start accruing as soon as they take out the loan”

Hamilton advises parents and students to check with the college's financial aid office to find tools that could help you calculate how much you need. She also says parents and applicants should be aware of "priority deadlines." Meeting qualifications and that deadline could net you institutional money.

"They’re awarded to students when they're admitted. There's no separate application," Hamilton said. "We look at their test scores and their high school GPA and things like that."