Wednesday, April 17, 2024

FAFSA Foul-Ups? Apply Anyway (For Your Students)

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

Students, I get it.

I used to work for the US Department of Education, and they’re supposed to be helping you get an education—but it sure doesn’t seem that way, if you’ve applied for financial aid for life after high school. They changed the FAFSA form—the one used to apply for aid—and it was supposed to make applying easier.

It didn’t work. The new version had flaws, and more flaws are discovered nearly every week. Those students who did manage to apply have now been told there weren’t one, but two, incorrect formulas used to calculate eligibility—and this means many colleges won’t be sending out financial aid awards until May. This isn’t the fault of the colleges—and it isn’t your fault, either.

Colleges understand this, and they are doing everything they can to let students know two things:

  1. We want you to apply to our college.
  2. We want to do everything we can to help pay for it.

Students and families applying for aid are understandably frustrated with everything that’s happening. Given that, here’s my advice:


It’s never great when the people who are supposed to help you actually get in the way of you achieving a goal, but that doesn’t mean the goal is less important—it just means it’s a little harder to achieve. Some of you didn’t pass your driver’s test on the first try, but you still got your license, because it mattered. Some of you weren’t exactly LeBron James when you first picked up a basketball, or played the guitar like Prince when you first picked up your musical instrument. But you stayed with it, and you got better.

Applying for financial aid, at least this year, is kind of the same thing. It’s only supposed to take one try, but for some reason, this year it’s going to take more than that. If you’re completing a FAFSA to go to college, college is still cool, and you still deserve to go. Persist.

If you’re using your FAFSA for technical training, that training is still cool, and that job is still going to pay way more than the local sandwich shop now, and will pay way, way more over 30 years. Persist.

No matter why you’re completing your FAFSA, you’re likely going to end up making more money, living a better life, and understanding more about yourself if it helps pay for the experience you’re looking for. That’s still cool. Persist.

Help is here if you need it. Start with your high school counselor—and yes, I know they see a zillion students, so getting to see them might be a challenge. You’re worth putting in the time—persist.

If that doesn’t work, call the financial aid office of the college or program you’re applying to, or thinking about applying to. They want you to apply, and if FAFSA is getting in your way, they will likely have some advice on how to overcome that hurdle.

This FAFSA nightmare was never supposed to happen, and many of the adults involved with helping students go to college are asking for big changes to make sure it never happens again. It’s hard to say how long that will take—but then again, that kind of doesn’t matter. For now, we’re going to focus on you, and what we need to do to help you reach your goal for life after high school.

For better or worse, the next step is yours to take, but we’re here, with real help, when you take it. Persi—well, you get it.

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