While visiting a parochial high school in Gloucester County, New Jersey this spring, I was impressed to learn that the school offers a course for 11th graders called Post Secondary Planning, which is designed to give students fundamental skills in navigating life after high school. The students learn about researching careers and filling out financial aid forms, and they get to tour college campuses and meet with college admissions personnel. The school’s guidance counselor said that it is not a state mandate to offer this course; rather she feels a responsibility to provide it.

What a way of empowering your students to take charge of their future!

I bring this up because U.S. News & World Report posted an interesting and accurate article June 2nd on how students and their families simply need more and better information about how to apply to college, figure out financial aid and what options they have to pay for their education.

In particular, students from lower-income and less educated households are less likely to research these options, the article stated.

A 2014 study in the Journal of Student Financial Aid demonstrated just how little students at Iowa State University knew about their debt. The New York Times wrote that about 13 percent of the students had outstanding loans but didn’t know it, and another 9 percent underestimated their debt by more than $10,000.

Furthermore, College Ave Student Loans, a student loan marketplace lender, conducted a report titled Financing Your Education and found that 80 percent of the students surveyed say they lack knowledge on how to pay for college and don’t have a plan to pay off their loan debt upon graduating. Also, only 25 percent are comfortable understanding interest rates and payment plans.

Remember, we’re talking about one of the most costly investments of a person’s life here!

In my opinion, this lack of financial knowledge is a big part of the problem as to why many students are not benefiting from a more affordable college experience, are dropping out at alarming rates or are not enrolling in college at all.

At the Give Something Back Foundation, we are helping to expose students to the realities of taking out a loan and getting them familiar with the financial aid process. And we’re doing it before they even start looking at colleges.

We offer a college loan calculator to all of the students we are considering for scholarships, and the kids and their families can continue to use it even if they are not accepted into our program. We have partnered with financial literacy organizations to offer resources on how to best budget for college and provide an understanding of the financial obstacles upfront.

Our goal is to tailor information about a specific college’s costs, its graduation rates, the salaries and careers of graduates, and what it would cost to repay the college loan so that students can make more informed decisions. We want students who engage in our resources to be able to answer the question, what kind of education can I afford?

It is this sort of practical information that not only helps a student get that degree—but minimize the debt. More importantly, we want as many kids as possible to realize that there are ways to get into college even though their family financial situation paints a different picture.

And to that school we visited in Gloucester County? Keep up the good work—and consider sharing your model on Post Secondary Planning and its success with other schools in the state. Students will greatly benefit from it.