Students are often overwhelmed by the college application and financial aid process, but there are many free resources available.

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Students are often overwhelmed by the college application and financial aid process, but it doesn’t need to be such a chore, thanks to public libraries.

“Students need help with the entire application process,” says Jerene Battisti, teen services coordinator for the King County Library System. “How to fill out the application, how to write an essay that will get noticed by an admissions office, how to apply for financial aid, what can their family afford, and so on.”

Here’s how libraries can assist with all that — and all you’ll need (at most) is a library card to access a wealth of free resources.

Seattle Public Library
Seattle Public Library  offers SAT-prep classes in the fall, and last year, it also piloted a “Get Ready for College” program at the Lake City branch.

“Get Ready for College volunteers help students navigate the online application system. Every college is different, although many are starting to use the common application,” says Josie Watanabe, of the Youth and Family Learning Team at Seattle Public Library. “Get Ready for College volunteers also help students approach their essay strategically so that they can use their essay for multiple applications — and eventually, scholarships.”

Help with understanding financial aid is available at select SPL branches — trained volunteers answer questions about the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA) forms.

SPL’s Education page offers college-ranking listings, information on college planning from the CollegeBoard, and a rundown of Washington colleges and universities from the Washington Student Achievement Council.

Undecided on a major or field of study? Planning for future careers requires research — the Career Information System database offers info on current salaries and educational or training requirements.

Of the resources offered, “I really like wois.org,” Watanabe says. Wois.org helps students understand career options. “Since we started working closely with students we found that they really need help figuring out what they want to do and finding the college that will help them get there,” she says.

The SPL site is a one-stop list for financial aid information from the U.S. Department of Education including application forms. Scholarship databases and listings are plentiful as well, including those for Gates Millennium Scholars and the Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship, offered by the Seattle Public Library Foundation. And to prepare for test day, try SPL’s LearningExpress Library, which has test-prep guides for the SAT and ASVAB.

King County Library System

Each fall, KCLS offers more than 40 programs in its “Life After High School” series — focusing on financial aid, scholarships, testing, SAT/ACT prep, finding a job and going to college — presented in schools and at its library branches. Everyone is welcome at these events — no library card required.

But using just a library card, college-bound students can access KCLS’s wealth of tutoring options (kcls.org/teen-subject/tutoring), including one-on-one tutoring sponsored by Brainfuse, which preps students for the Smarter Balanced testing required to graduate high school, and the SAT, ACT and GED.

From home or at the library, students with a KCLS library card can access Tutor.com, which offers an SAT Essentials resource. Create a study schedule; take full-length, timed or untimed practice tests online or on paper to boost scores; watch SAT-related video lessons and perform practice drills; and receive updated score reports. Tutor.com also offers one-on-one tutoring with essays.

KCLS’s Life After High School page includes higher ed, trade and military resources, including a listing of STEM education resources and online materials to prep for the SAT, ACT and ASVAB.

Of course, sometimes it’s best to get back to basics. Dependable old-school paper books for the SAT and ACT are available as well through SPL and KCLS; these books teach strategies for test success, with hundreds of pages of sample questions. Books on college options, essays and other aspects of the college-application process are also available.