According to the College Board, the average tutition for a public four year university is $6,585 -- for a private four year university, $25,143. With college prices not getting any cheaper and families tightening their budgets, school officials say the number of financial aid applications they're receiving is on the rise.
Central High School student Amber Lee Sikes says she looks forward to starting her first year of college in the fall. But before she can get there, she and her mom are spending time figuring out how to pay for it.
"As a family you try to get through life, paying bills, and stuff like this, so it's nice that we can apply for this and she can go to college," said Laura Sikes, Amber Lee's mother.
And they're not alone. Sunday, dozens of families came to Mesa State for College Goal Sunday, a statewide event where they could ask questions and receive free help filling out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, forms.
"Financial aid means you're not gonna have to come up with that money yourself," said Amber Lee Sikes. "That really helps a lot, especially with college since it's so expensive."
Katie Powell works for College Invest, a non-profit division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education that sponsored the event. She says in the three years they've done the event at Mesa State, she has never seen so many people.
"Across the board, we're seeing numbers that indicate an upstick in the amount of students applying for financial aid," said Powell. "I think today is a great indication of that."
Mesa State officials say their numbers agree.
"We have a sizeable increase in the number of financial aid applications we're seeing," said Curt Martin, Director of Financial Aid at Mesa State.
Experts say the economic downturn has hit many families who might have thought they had college costs covered, and who now say they need help.
"We've also seen a large number of what we call loss of income appeals," said Martin. "That's where people that have had jobs and are no longer working in those jobs, so their income is not as high."
Regardless of financial situations, experts say everyone should fill out a FAFSA form during these uncertain times. They say even if you don't think you'll qualify for federal grants, you still might be eligible for work studies, scholarships, and the big one -- federal student loans.
"Federal student loans are absolutely a better option than private student loans," said Powell. "They have lower interest rates, better benefits to students, and the only way you can get a federal student loan is by filling out the FAFSA."
Colleges may also offer their own form of financial aid to students who fill out FAFSA forms. Mesa State says it has budgeted $3.3 million for the upcoming school year in institutional aid.
"We encourage everyone to fill out the FAFSA," said Martin. "It's not that hard."
With that much at stake, families like the Sikes say they're glad they did.
"Just get this done so we can get ready for college and everything," said Amber Lee Sikes.
Experts say the sooner you fill out your FAFSA forms, the better. While Mesa State says it does not have a deadline for financial aid applications, experts say many schools require you do it by March 1.
If you would like to learn more about FAFSA or fill out the form online, click on the link below.