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PCHS advisor gets word out about paying for college

Having spent the last several years working in the admissions office at the University of Utah, Heather Briley knows a thing or two about what it takes to get into college.

Briley has brought that expertise home this year. A 2001 graduate of Park City High school, she is her alma mater’s new financial aid advisor, helping students understand the options available to them to pay for college.

Just months into the job, Briley is already discovering that it’s a good fit. While she enjoyed her time at Utah, she gets a sense of satisfaction from now being able to focus solely on the individual needs of students.

"Now I get to have more of a neutral (influence)," she said. "I don’t have to recruit students for the U. It’s wherever their best fit is. Already, I feel like I’m building these great working relationships with the students. It’s just more personalized, I think, than my previous position."

So far, Briley main focus has been ensuring parents and students are aware of everything that goes into planning for college. The first step — and one of the most important — is to meet with school counselors to ensure students are taking the required classes to gain admittance into the schools they hope to attend.

"The counselors are really great here at doing that," she said. "Park City is really lucky because they do have that support. Not all schools have that."

A sometimes-overlooked aspect related to that, Briley says, is for students to make themselves attractive to colleges by participating in extracurricular activities. Gone are the days when colleges evaluated applicants solely on grades and test scores.

"Colleges and universities are looking for well-rounded students," Briley said. "Even the University of Utah now has holistic admissions. It’s about student involvement. Whether it’s clubs or community service or athletics, do something."

Once a student gets accepted into college, the next step is paying for it. But parents and students should be planning for that well before it’s time to pony up a check, Briley said.

As far as finding funding, she encourages students to look first at the scholarships that colleges dole out directly.

"That’s where a lot of the big money is," Briley said. "And a lot of times, those are automatic scholarships. It’s like if you apply to university, you’re automatically considered for a merit scholarship, for example. So why not meet those deadlines? That’s huge."

The next step is to look at federal financial aid, as well as private scholarships, where loads of money goes untouched each year because it can be difficult to find.

One easy way to get a private scholarship, however, is through the school’s Community Scholarship Program, which typically offers more than $100,000 in financial aid each year. Students may be given scholarships based on academics, leadership and extracurricular involvement.

Briley said she is hoping to tweak the program this year so that fewer scholarships are given, but recipients get more money.

"We’ll see how it goes," she said. "We’ll be playing that by ear."

PCHS will be participating in a fundraiser put on by the Park City Community Foundation’s Live PC Give PC fund drive in November, where donors can contribute money to the Community Scholarship Program. For more information, visit livepcgivepc.com or e-mail Briley at hbriley@pcschools.us .


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