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Early start helps college planning

Starting early is one key to success.

So said Joan Jurek, director of college planning in the Omaha office of EducationQuest Foundation, suggesting some tips for high school students beginning their search for the right college and the financial aid to make attending possible.

The statewide, nonprofit organization helps college-bound students through free college planning and need-based scholarship programs, plus grants to high schools to develop or enhance their college access services to students.


Start early

Students should start early – even by freshman year – participating in extracurricular and leadership activities to build their resumes, Jurek said. They should talk to college admissions recruiters or potential coaches to learn scholarship criteria and deadlines. And by junior year, students should begin learning about priority dates for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), she said.

The federal government made the FAFSA process easier last year by allowing families of high school seniors to submit their applications beginning Oct. 1, using the prior year’s tax information, rather than having to wait until the beginning of the next year with their latest tax return.

"This was very well received and allowed families to get their FAFSA applications done early, and allowed colleges to start packaging their financial aid offers in November and December so students could see what kind of money they would be eligible for," she said.


Increase in applications

As a result of the earlier availability of the FAFSA application, more than 15,000 Nebraska students filed applications for the 2017-2018 school year, an 11 percent increase from the prior year, said a report by the National College Access Network, an association of colleges, organizations and professionals promoting access to a college education.

Students also should meet with their high school counselors and check with organizations that they or their parents belong to that may offer scholarships, Jurek said.

Helpful tips

In addition to starting early, EducationQuest offers these tips:

Visit to search for possible colleges and available scholarships, use the College Funding Estimator to get an early idea of FAFSA results, and access other tools and information resources.

Attend one of EducationQuest’s one-hour financial aid information sessions offered around the state to learn about types of financial aid, the process for obtaining financial aid and FAFSA details. Families attending can apply for a $500 scholarship from EducationQuest. Go to for a calendar of upcoming sessions.

Attend the Omaha Area College Fair Oct. 1, 1-4 p.m., at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Sapp Fieldhouse, co-sponsored by EducationQuest, where students can meet with representatives from up to 160 colleges and universities from around the country. Visit to register.

Personalized help is available from EducationQuest by calling 888-357-6300.

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