RIVER FALLS -- The college application process and the looming responsibility of financially navigating student costs can be overwhelming for families with high school students.

To help area families tackle the collegiate process with ease and discernment, a national college expert is partnering with River Falls Community Education School District to host an informational event.

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The class titled “7 College Planning Tips You Don’t Know About But Should” will take place 7-8 p.m. Oct. 16 at the River Falls High School Library and will feature a presentation by Susan Westerholm, an educator with College Inside Track.

This is the second time a class has been offered in River Falls, according to College Inside Track’s president Chris Wills, and was well-received in the past.

“If they (families) have a high school student who is thinking about going to college, to me it’s a must-see because we’re going to teach families all sorts of things that they’ve probably not heard of before with the college process,” Wills said.

The foundations of wise decisions regarding college choices can be summed up in a triangle-like diagram, Wills said. Prospective students and families must focus on the academic, financial and social fit of colleges before choosing one.

Wills said in his experience, families should spend more time finding a financial fit for their budget.

“Families don’t usually do a very good job with that because they find a college they fall in love with and then they just say, well if you get in we’ll find a way to pay for it to the student. That’s why students sometimes have too much loan debt. They’re not taking into account that financial fit piece,” Wills said.

Families from the Hudson School District have found college advising to be helpful. Cathy Jensen, mother to 2019 Hudson graduate Len Jensen, said she was surprised to realize how much college has changed since she attended.

Online applications streamlined the process for Len, Cathy said, but she found value in being advised on how to fill out financial application forms and even appeal to Len’s college, DePaul University, for more scholarship money.

Both Cathy and Len agreed families and students should start exploring colleges as early as junior year in high school.

“If you’re a prospective college student, starting as early as possible can maximize that time and preparation to have that best chance to get in the college that best fits you,” Len said.

Becky Scofield said her son Riley Scofield, who is a Hudson High School senior, is already taking advantage of college advising. The Scofields found a college for Riley thanks to Westerholm’s efforts.

“It (the college) is a perfect fit for him and his learning style. Suzy (Westerholm) helped take the fear out of the financial piece by helping us understand scholarships, ACT test scores and their importance as well as communicating with Riley about high school grades and what that can mean to his acceptance at his preferred colleges and tuition costs,” Becky said.

Those interested in attending the community class on college preparation information may register for free on the School District of River Falls Community Education website.