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Students seek scholarships to alleviate college debt

Park Rapids Area High School seniors Jesseca Pritchett, Erika Jerger, Bonnie Baumgartner and Hannah Fischer have been busy applying for scholarships to stay out of debt after college. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

With college tuition at all-time highs and student loan debt increasing, some Park Rapids students are taking a proactive approach to alleviate some of those costs.

The average debt for 2010 Minnesota college graduates who took out student loans was $29,058, according to the Project on Student Debt.

In addition, 71 percent of state students have debt. This is the fifth highest percentage in the U.S.

Increasingly, high school students are aware of these statistics and are competitively seeking financial help through scholarships and grants. Many local scholarships are available for students.

Seniors Jesseca Pritchett, Erika Jerger, Bonnie Baumgartner and Hannah Fischer are all planning to attend college this fall and are seeing sticker shock when they see the cost of tuition.

Pritchett has chosen to attend Hamline University but the others are waiting to decide on a college until they see how much financial aid they receive through scholarships.

"We started applying for scholarships back in November probably," Fischer said. "It started with scholarships through the colleges."

Then, by January or February the girls started applying for local scholarships. Many of those applications were due by the end of March and others have deadlines in April, Baumgartner said.

"I have my resume, list of activities and everything together that can be used for most of them," Fischer said.

"Most of them involve writing an essay," Pritchett added.

Guidance counselor Susan Rassier said she keeps an updated list of local scholarships on the school's website so students have easy access to those applications.

"It's gotten so expensive for students," Rassier said of college. "The expense is unbelievable."

She said local businesses and organizations have been very generous over the years in offering scholarships to students.

Each of the girls filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which shows which grants and loans are available.

For Jerger, along with many other students from middle class families, the FAFSA application showed her that financial aid available was mostly through loans.

"It's hard when you're a middle class family," she said. "We can only take out so many loans."

Jerger would like to attend Concordia College in Moorhead but she's not sure it's financially feasible. She is hopeful she will receive some scholarships that could make it possible. Or, there are other colleges she is considering.

The girls are likely competing against each other for many of the local scholarships and said many of the college scholarships are also very competitive.

But, they see the value in higher education and will continue to search for money to assist them in paying for college.

"Anything and every little bit counts," Fischer said.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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