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September 21, 2007 :: Counselors Help Students and Parents Navigate the Financial Aid Process

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For students starting the fall semester at colleges, universities and career technology centers across Oklahoma, there’s one more face on campus they’ll want to be familiar with: the financial aid counselor.

There’s no question that higher education remains one of the best investments any individual can make. A postsecondary education, including a college degree, yields increased professional opportunities and higher lifetime earning potential. But paying for college can seem overwhelming to students and parents who don’t understand the process or the terminology used. That’s where the financial aid office comes in.

“When it comes to paying for college, there are many options for students to consider. Seeking the advice of a trusted financial aid counselor is a smart move for students who are confused about how much money they’ll need to cover expenses and where to look for money,” said Mary Mowdy, executive director of the Oklahoma Guaranteed Student Loan Program (OGSLP), a division of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

Financial aid counselors can help students explore options and identify the best approaches to pay for school. Financial aid is available in several forms. It’s best for students to use free money first, such as personal savings, grants and scholarships. Once that money is spent, they may need to consider student loans to close the gap between available free aid and college expenses.

If students must borrow to pay for school, experts recommend exhausting all federal loan options before considering private or alternative loans. Loans disbursed through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program often have lower interest rates, offer more flexible repayment options, and include important deferment, forbearance and loan forgiveness benefits.

“Financial aid isn’t one-size-fits-all. Every student has a different situation and unique needs. Financial aid programs, by design, provide customized assistance to meet each student’s needs, empowering them to meet their educational goals,” said Mowdy, who also serves as board chair for the National Council of Higher Education Loan Programs (NCHELP).

An initiative of the U.S. Department of Education, the FFEL Program is composed of private and nonprofit lenders who raise capital for student loans through private financial markets and guarantee agencies that insure the loans for participating lenders. Nationwide, hundreds of lenders, 35 guarantors, more than 80 percent of eligible schools, and more than 5 million students and parents participate each year in the FFEL Program, which has an impressive cohort repayment rate of nearly 95 percent. The rate reflects the significant commitment FFEL Program partners have made to preventing loan default and emphasizing financial literacy, helping students understand the importance of loan repayment and the value of wise money management.

“We’re very proud of the FFEL Program repayment rate,” Mowdy said. “These loans require no proven credit history or collateral, which makes the incredibly high rate of repayment even more remarkable. Financial aid counselors play a critical role in encouraging students to borrow only what they need to pay for school to help keep their payments affordable after graduation.”

To learn more about the financial aid process, grants and scholarships, and student loans, contact a local financial aid office or OGSLP at (800) 442-8642 or www.ogslp.org.

The Oklahoma Guaranteed Student Loan Program (OGSLP) is a guarantor for the Federal Family Education Loan Program and serves as the primary guarantor for Oklahoma students and post-secondary institutions, insuring lenders against default, bankruptcy, disability or death of student loan borrowers.