Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Apply to College *and* Financial Aid in the Same Month?

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

School counselors throughout the land were really stoked when the US Department of Education first announced a change in the filing date for the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  By moving the date to October 1 of the senior year (it used to be January 1), the government was giving students an extra four months to apply to college with at least some idea of how much aid they would receive from the federal government, and how much they would have to pay.  When a decision is as important and costly as college, there’s nothing like having some extra time.

Now that it’s spring, counselors are putting their fall activity schedules together, and it’s starting to dawn on them that they’ll have to move their FAFSA completion activities to September—which, of course, is the same month they’re helping students apply to college.  Throw in a couple of weeks of schedule changes, and the new FAFSA deadline now seems less about giving students more time, and more about trying to drive counselors over the edge.  All we need now is to have administration move the Awards Assembly and AP week to September, and our journey to insanity will be complete.

It would be great if we could delay applying to college or filling out the FAFSA for a month, but the two are now linked in the minds of students, so delaying one could unintentionally derail the college plans of the very students the new deadline was meant to enhance.  If you’re trying to figure out how to manage this 1-2 Septemberpunch, consider these options:

Build FAFSA into your College Application Week plans.  Many high schools are already devoting a full week to raising awareness of college options through College Application week.  Designed to be a Spirit Week for college, this is a week many counselors help students apply to college—so why not build some FAFSA time into this event?  The whole school is already focusing on college this week, so this is a perfect add-on, making a rich week much richer, and only a little crazier (if College Application Week is a new idea to you, go here for some CAW ideas.)

Seek outside partners to help students and families with FAFSA.  Some high schools take a different approach, working with students on college applications, but focusing on parents for FAFSA completion.  If that’s the case, it’s wise to consider working with community partners to create a separate set of activities for parents to complete in September that may, or may not, have something to do with College Application Week.  Some schools partner with local accountants and tax preparers to host a series of FAFSA completion workshops in the school computer lab on September nights and weekends, while others call on college financial aid officers to offer introductory workshops during these same time periods.  Financial aid guidelines change quickly, so it’s wise to make sure you have a college cash partner who stays on top of the trends—and that doesn’t always have to be you.

Build an Early September/Late September model.  If the idea of doing both these important activities at once is just too much, consider splitting September in half.  If you start with the FAFSA activities, you can lean on your college cash partners to lead the way in early September, when counselors are usually inundated with schedule changes.  This means you can focus on college applications in late September, with some students having their FAFSA information in hand by then. Now there’s a winning combination!

1 comment:

  1. These were my thoughts exactly last fall. I get the addition of a 2 month old at home this year too!