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Our view: Planning key as costs of college rise

College is becoming more expensive while the nation’s financial woes haven’t eased. So the proposition of sending a child away for four years of school has become even more daunting for McHenry County families.

On average, a year of tuition, room and board at a state college costs $13,600 per year. At Northwestern and the University of Chicago, it costs more than $60,000. For four years, that adds up to more than $240,000, with no guarantee of a job upon graduation. Those numbers, however, do not mean that hope is lost.

The key for families and students is to be prepared.

Scholarships and grants are available, but students should apply early. The same is true of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as FAFSA.

Financial aid and scholarships, however, are not the only way to trim costs. Another way is to get ahead in high school classes and either take dual enrollment college courses through McHenry County College or AP high school courses for college credit.

According to Crystal Lake-based School District 155, more students are taking advantage of those options than ever. This year, 286 students are dual enrolled as opposed to 272 last year and 255 in 2010-11. The district estimates that means students will save a combined $188,370 in MCC tuition this year.

Last year, the district had 872 students take AP exams with 83 percent receiving honor scores for college credit, saving their families $1.9 million as estimated by the district. That was up from 756 taking those exams the year before.

By choosing a major and making a graduation plan early, students also can avoid the costs that go along with taking unnecessary credit hours. Earning an associate degree at MCC before heading to a higher-cost institution is also a cost-effective option.

Planning, however, is the best option. Because the sooner a student knows where he or she is headed, the sooner he or she can get there.

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