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The college search: what a terrifying, exhilarating rite of passage. For most teenagers, it is the first major life choice they will make. And for those without a family history of higher education, it is a bewildering, exasperating process. Fortunately, there are many supportive services and resources for teens and parents who need help.

Testing, testing …

Generations of high school students have quailed at the sight of six letters: SAT/ACT. The Evanston Township High School College and Career Center website, http://sp.eths.k12.il.us/ccc/, provides dates, registration information and guides to test-preparation services.

However, all Evanston residents are eligible to use a free online test-preparation service called LearningExpress through the public library. With LearningExpress, students can take free, timed practice tests for the ACT, SAT and Advanced Placement exams. The beauty of LearningExpress is that it gives students an accurate idea of how long exams take to complete – and it grades results and suggests areas to focus on. Learning Express even has a writing component to help prepare for the SAT essay.

Evanston residents can access Learning Express 24/7 from home via the Evanston Public Library website, www.epl.org/testprep. They will need an Evanston Library card to connect.

Choosing a school … and paying for it

Check out the Evanston Library’s College Planning Resources guide (also at www.epl.org/testprep) for tips on choosing a college, lists of college rankings and guides to financial aid. EPL has a large collection of college and scholarship guides and ratings on the shelf; just ask a librarian on the second or third floor for help, or call us at 847-448-8630 or 8620.

Financial aid … often a decisive factor

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the starting point for most students. To help parents and teens navigate the application process, Lacy Wood of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission will offer a FAFSA walk-through session on Feb. 22 in the Teen Loft. Registration for this program opened December 1, so call 847-448-8625 or register online at www.epl.org/teencal.

Investing for college … a unique challenge to parents

Although there are many guides to
college financial planning, a great free
online resource is the Mutual Fund Investors Center, powered by Morningstar Mutual Funds service. This is a great way to learn about 529 plans and other tools
for college saving and investing. See
www.mfea.com/InvestmentGoals/InvestingChildren/default.asp

For a list of other helpful online guides to investing and college planning, see the library’s business resources page: www.epl.org/business.

Saving for college … never too soon

Parents of younger children should consider CollegeIllinois, www.collegeillinois.com/ the state’s prepaid tuition program. The library will be hosting an information session on CollegeIllinois on Feb.11.

Drop-in help…But there is no need to wait until February for help with college planning. Lacy Wood is available for drop-in college prep and financial aid assistance every Monday night from 5-8 p.m. Just drop by the Loft of the Evanston Public Library (www.epl.org/teens) on Monday evenings, or contact Ms. Wood at lwood@isac.org or at 224-422-8168. She offers mentoring and one-on-one assistance with all aspects of college planning.

Funded by the Federal College Access Challenge Grant to help increase the number of students going on to achieve a degree in higher education, Ms. Wood is part of an outreach program that mentors all students and especially encourages first-generation college students navigating the complicated higher education system to attend the drop-in sessions.

The Evanston Library, ETHS and ISAC are all committed to making college accessible to everyone. Please contact us.