Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Financial Aid is Due When?

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Counselors often describe their work as exciting, and that can go both ways. The changes in financial aid are supposed to fall under the good kind of exciting, but as we come back to offices , we’re slowly discovering the FAFSA changes might not seem so great after all, since the FAFSA can be filed onOctober 1.
You know—right after schedule changes, right before Homecoming, right in the middle of applying to college?

The approach still makes sense in theory—b what better time to get kids to apply for money to pay for college than right after they’ve applied to college?  Still, the changes have raised anxieties among both students and counselors. Since our job is to ease anxiety, let’s meet this head on.

Issues for Students

·         I’m not even sure where I’m going to college, and you want me to fill out the FAFSA.  This one is pretty easy.  No matter where you’re going to go to college, it’s going to cost money to do that.  FAFSA is the first step to allow the government and the colleges to help you do that.  You want that help, no matter where you go—so filling out the FAFSA makes sense.

·         I’m too busy getting good grades and filling out college apps to fill out the FAFSA.  This is actually a pretty good point.  The good news here is that filling out the FAFSA is more of a Mom and Dad job than a student job.  Chances are, the student can share their FAFSA information over a pizza dinner, while a parent works on a laptop.  Plus, with Mom and Dad focused on the FAFSA, they’ll be spending less time, um, “helping” you complete your college application.

·         I have no idea what “Prior Prior Year” means.  Yeah, the government really blew it when they gave the new FAFSA this title—if you’re filing the FAFSA in Fall of 2016, that means they want your 2014 taxes, right?  You’ll be working with your 2015 taxes.  Think of it that way.

Issues for Counselors

·         I don’t have time to sleep in the fall, let alone run financial aid workshops, Part I.  Believe it or not, you probably do.  If you’re running a College Application Month (it’s like a Spirit Week for college—here’s some information), you already have the support of your teachers and administrators to get college things done, and you probably have a ton of volunteers coming in to help out.  Adding a FAFSA program, and bringing in a few more financial aid experts, is easiest to do right there—and it keeps the college ball rolling.

·         I don’t have time to sleep in the fall, let alone run financial aid workshops, Part II. Another option (not my idea, but wow, what a brilliant one) is to run your financial aid programs in spring of thejunior year.  They may not be going to college in the fall, but by filling out the Spring FAFSA, they can actually walk in to high school as seniors, open the fall FAFSA, check the box that says “I already applied, and my information hasn’t changed”, and you’re done.  Boom.

·         I don’t have time to sleep in the fall…Part III.  OK—don’t.  Most colleges and state funding agencies don’t have their financial aid budgets ready anyway, so in most cases—that’s in most cases—FAFSAs filed in October won’t get processed by colleges until February anyway.  It’s wise to call colleges to double-check, but if you really think this can’t work, it might be able to put it on a brief hold.

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