At this time of year, some high school seniors are counting the months and days until they can begin seeking that college diploma. Meanwhile, juniors are counting the days until their senior year of high school.

For both classes, thoughts also focus on applying and paying for a secondary education.

This is not an idle question, with the costs of college skyrocketing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost for a four-year institution in 2014-15 was $25,409, compared to $20,756 in 2005-06. For the 2015–16 academic year, the average annual price for undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board was $16,757 at public institutions; $43,065 at private, non-profit institutions; and $23,776 at private for-profit institutions.

Charges for tuition and required fees averaged $6,613 at public institutions, $31,411 at private nonprofit institutions, and $14,195 at private for-profit institutions in 2015-16.

Hudson district lends a hand

The Hudson City Schools started a program last year called College 101. Jill Okey, a counselor with the district, started this mandatory program for high school juniors.

"Once a month ... juniors attend large group sessions on various topics relating to the college application process," said Shelley Ladauto, guidance department head at the high school. "They are required to complete assignments on their Chromebooks through Naviance."

Naviance is an American college and career readiness software provider that partners with high schools and other K–12 institutions to provide students with college planning and career assessment tools, Ladauto said.

Topics covered include career planning, PSAT results, understanding top factors in admissions, financial aid review, college visits, and letters of recommendation.

"This is the most comprehensive program we have for college readiness," Ladauto said. "In addition, colleges routinely visit the high school and can answer student questions in a small group setting."

The high school also hosts a financial aid night in September and a mandatory assembly for seniors in January, where they learn about scholarship opportunities, Ladauto said.

Hudson has had more students who go into two-year programs to control costs, Ladauto said.

Sheryl Sheatzley, manager of communications and alumni outreach, added that "while many of our students choose Ohio colleges, our state is ranked pretty low in assisting with college costs."

Jennifer Harpham, director of student financial aid at The University of Akron, said the helpful Free Application for Federal Student Aid for the next school year came out Oct. 1, earlier than in previous years.

"It used to be that the application for FAFSA came out in January," Harpham said. "Now is the time students should be applying for financial aid for fall semester. Schools use these as a way of prioritizing who gets their limited school-based aid."

Harpham encouraged students to file the FAFSA as soon as possible.

"It accomplishes a lot of things," she said.

High school seniors also need to start applying for scholarships as soon as possible, Harpham said. College-bound students should reach out to their counselors for scholarship ideas. In addition, libraries have materials on entities that offer money for college, and local organizations also may offer scholarships.

"Those scholarships translate into actual dollars," Harpham said. "It means less money you have to pay back."

A third avenue for paying for college is part-time employment, Harpham said.

"Working part-time is an excellent way to raise money," she said.

Harpham encourages students to find a job on-campus, which makes it easier to balance work and study.

"With on-campus employment, you don't have to leave the campus," Harpham said. "In addition, we can be more flexible with a class schedule. Seek out student employee options as a way to get money to finance your education."

Student loans, Harpham said, "are still a viable option" if funding can't be found elsewhere to completely cover schooling.

"If students are smart up front about how they manage that debt, they should have no problems paying back those loans," she said.

Students should check the starting salaries of the fields they are pursuing, Harpham said.

"If you are going in a field with a lower starting salary, you don't want to overburden yourself with a lot of debt," she said.

Saving money

Students living close to their university should consider commuting to school, rather than living on campus, Harpham said.

Those who stay on campus should investigate the dorm options, Harpham said.

"Pricing can vary," she said. "Know what you can afford."

In addition, students should buy used or rent textbooks when possible, she said.

"The cost of books and supplies is increasing," she said.

Another potential spending trap is with meal plans, Harpham said.

"A lot of students will purchase the biggest meal plan because they don't know how it works," she said. "Evaluate your eating habits. You'll find you can probably go the middle of the road."

Ultimately, it's never to early to start planning, Harpham said. Parents should take advantage and start saving money to an account such as a 529 plan.