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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2005

College aid search consumes families

By Deborah Adamson
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kathy Fung rifles through crates of paperwork at her house in Kaimuki and pulls up a thick folder labeled "Jason."

Jason Fung, 18, far right, shown here enjoying a meal at the family home in Kaimuki on Wednesday evening, is trying to decide on which college to attend. Below, his mother, Kathleen, talks about the various college options for her son. Parents like the Fungs go into overdrive at the start of each year to meet deadlines for all types of financial aid.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

For the past two years she has been researching college and financial aid options for her eldest son, Jason, an 18-year-old student at the Honolulu Waldorf School. To help narrow the search, she used a spreadsheet to compare about a dozen colleges on different merits such as tuition, sports activities and scholarships.

After visits to most of these colleges, Jason has come up with his short list: the Air Force Academy, University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., and a community college in the Bay Area, after which he would transfer to either the University of California at Berkeley or Davis.

Even if the Fungs are ahead of many families when it comes to planning, they're still not done: more scholarship applications are looming.

The work is enough to strain even the most organized parent.

"It's such a huge, gigantic experience," said Kathy Fung, a part-time ballroom dance instructor. "I'm amazed at how much work it is."

At the beginning of the year, parents like the Fungs go into overdrive to meet deadlines for all types of financial aid. With thousands of aid options available nationwide — there are 300 scholarships in Hawai'i alone — it's no wonder the task can be overwhelming.

"It's a very exciting time, but it's a lot of stress," said Wren Wescoatt, executive director of College Connections Hawaii, a nonprofit group specializing in helping local families go through the financial aid process. Paying for college is "the second-largest expense a family will ever have."

The average four-year public university costs $11,354 a year for tuition, fees, room and board, according to the College Board's "Trends in College Pricing 2004" report. For private universities, the cost soars to $27,516 a year nationally.

In Hawai'i, public colleges run from about $3,500 a year for tuition and private universities at $11,000 a year for residents, Wescoatt said.

Grants are good to have, but in the flurry of juggling college application deadlines, parents are tempted to take the easiest route — apply to just a few of the best- known scholarships for which their children qualify.

If they don't get the award, they'll resign themselves to taking out a loan or paying for school themselves.

Finding college financial aid

Local scholarship searches are available for free at www.collegeconnections.org or www.hawaiicommunity
(click on "scholarships" at the top and then "scholarship categories").

For national searches, go to www.fastweb.com or www.finaid.org.

College Connections offers free financial aid seminars. The next two will be at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 9 and 9 a.m. Feb. 12 at 3465

Wai'alae Avenue, #300B, in Kaimuki. For more information, call 737-8955 or e-mail info@collegeconnections.org. Seating is limited to 25 per class.

By doing so, they miss out on thousands of dollars in grants from lesser-known sources, especially locally, Wescoatt said. One year, a family memorial scholarship fund said it didn't receive any applications at all.

A study by the American Council on Education brings this to bear: half of the 16 million undergraduates in the 1999-2000 school year who may have been eligible for financial aid didn't get it because they didn't apply. Out of the 8 million, 1.7 million were low- to moderate-income students.

It's the same in Hawai'i. Well-known sources of scholarship aid — such as Kamehameha Schools and the Hawai'i Community Foundation — get more applicants than they can help. But parents should look into lesser-known sources as well, Wescoatt said.

Hawai'i families should especially apply for local scholarships since they'll have a better shot at getting them, he added.

Consider awards from the 'Aiea General Hospital Association, the Big Island Press Club or L&L Drive Inn.

The 'Aiea group gives aid to students in ZIP codes 96701, 96706, 96707, 96782, 96792 and 96797 who will major in any health-related field. The press club scholarship is for Big Island high-school graduates who have lived on the Island for at least a year and wish to study communications media. L&L Drive Inn has several scholarships, one of which is directed toward families of fast-food workers.

Other noteworthy scholarships: Hawai'i Pacific University provides an 80 percent to 100 percent discount on tuition for students who join the band or become a cheerleader for the university. Water sports enthusiasts can apply for the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Scholarship.

Scholarships that give preference to certain ethnic groups include the Korean University Club, the Samoan Scholarship Fund and the Portuguese Pioneer Civic Association. Interested in anything Okinawan? You could get $2,000 from Hui Makaala of Hawaii.

Other scholarships are geared toward certain fields, such as nursing. Also, several large employers such as ABC Stores, Tesoro, Hilo Hattie, First Hawaiian Bank and American Savings Bank give aid to their employees' children.

If you meet most but not all of the requirements for a scholarship, call the organization and ask whether they can be flexible, said Kalei Stern, scholarship officer for the Hawaii Community Foundation. If they have few applicants, they might waive a requirement that your child doesn't meet, such as the GPA.

If you're flexible in your choice of college, consider schools that belong to the Western Undergraduate Exchange (www.wiche.edu/SEP). Residents of states with schools in the program can attend each other's institutions at a discount. But the list excludes a lot of the more popular colleges.

Reach Deborah Adamson at dadamson@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8088.