2020 Louisiana Next: Your Guide to Life After High School

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B E P R E PA R E D

WHERE DO I SIGN UP? To apply for TOPS, fill out your FAFSA form … fafsa.ed.gov. That’s right–the two go hand-inhand. You can also apply via the TOPS online

Getting your money’s worth

application at mylosfa.la.gov. TOPS comes in varying degrees of award levels. By making a certain score on the ACT and maintaining a certain GPA in core subjects, students are eligible for different amounts of scholarships. Try these websites as well: studentaid.ed.gov, fastweb.com, scholarships.com

BY LIZ CRAFT

There is no doubt college is expensive. Attending a Louisiana state school costs approximately $6,500 for tuition alone, according to the website College Tuition Compare. Food and housing are additional. Many students and their families turn to scholarships, grants, work-study jobs and loans to pay for college. That’s where FAFSA comes in. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a form that prospective and current college students must complete to determine their eligibility for student aid. The form also helps determine how much money you can get from other sources. It must be filed every year a student takes advantage of the various forms of student aid.

TOPS, which stands for Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, is a scholarship for Louisiana residents who attend a public state college or university. Students who meet the scholarships’ requirements are eligible for varying degrees of financial benefits. One big reminder: Don’t wait until your senior year to make sure you’re eligible for TOPS. According to the state financial aid website (LOSFA), students must take certain courses required for TOPS throughout their high school career, such as four years (or units) of English, math, science and social studies. Add to that two units of a foreign language and one unit of fine arts.

Be warned about depending solely on TOPS for financial assistance. The state legislature has eyed the program for cuts in years past, meaning scholarships may not be fully funded. Jennifer Malone, a guidance counselor at Ouachita Christian High School in Monroe warns students to be prepared with alternative sources of funding. “We encourage students to consider multiple sources of financial aid,” she says. “Have your counselor show you how to access and apply through government, institutional, and private sources, of which TOPS is only a part and a source whose funding is not guaranteed.” LaNEXT.com

The alphabet soup of FAFSA and TOPS may not make sense yet, but as graduation gets closer, they could spell money.

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