Teachers: If Your Students Think They Can’t Afford College…

Secretary Arne Duncan watches a student in Denver, Colorado complete her FAFSA form online.

Secretary Arne Duncan watches a student in Denver, Colorado complete her FAFSA form online.

Point them to these FAFSA Resources!

As a high school English teacher in a rural section of North Carolina, I often found that my students avoided college preparatory classes because they believed, erroneously, that a college education was out of the question for them financially.

It didn’t help when I brought out pie charts demonstrating that of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in America, half require a bachelor’s degree or more. For them, the expense of tuition, fees, books, and board made college seem like a pipe dream.

If I could change one thing for these students, after working at the U.S. Department of Education since July 2010, it would be to let them know that even if they are the first person in their family to seek higher learning, there is money to finance their college dreams.

The federal government awards $150 billion annually in financial aid to students who might not otherwise be able to afford college. This aid takes the form of federal grants (like the Pell Grant, which doesn’t have to be paid back), federal work-study programs, and low-interest federal student loans. For students who have the desire to attend and the skills to succeed, college is absolutely possible, regardless of race, gender or income.

During class, I would also want to point my students to the following resources that can help them to make a plan to pay for college.

Current high school seniors should, if they haven’t already, go to the Federal Student Aid FAFSA site and apply for aid. The federal government has a very generous 18-month timeframe to submit the FAFSA (from January 1 of every year through June 30 of the following year) but many states and postsecondary institutions have earlier deadlines, so it is critical that high school students apply as soon as possible after Jan. 1 of their senior year. The FAFSA application form as been recently redesigned so that it is easier to complete.

Students in grades 6-11 can go to the FAFSA Forecaster, which enables them to predict what kinds of financial aid they may qualify for so that they can begin college planning.

All students may also be interested in the College Preparation Checklist, which is a “to do” list, starting with elementary school, to help students prepare academically and financially for education beyond high school. Each section is split into subsections for students and parents, explaining what to do and which publications or websites might be useful to them.

The College Board also houses a College Matchmaker that enables students to enter in characteristics of schools that interest them—such as size, location, majors available, etc.—and be matched with schools that meet their needs.

Teachers wanting to help motivate students to think about college may want to direct students to “I’m Going to College” on Federal Student Aid’s site. This site includes testimonials and a motivational video.

Students having questions or needing assistance completing the FAFSA can call toll-free: 1-800-433-3243.

At the end of their time with us, all teachers want our students to learn more, to go to a college, university, or community college. We want them to have satisfying work and financially secure futures. Pointing them to these resources is one step in the right direction.

Laurie Calvert
Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Buncombe County, N.C.


  1. You can afford college IF you are a minority or intellectually gifted. If you are average, come from a hard working, middle class (tax-paying) family, you will most likely have to take out loans to afford tuition at $15,000 – $30,000 yearly (not to mention living expenses). And since it is uncertain as to whether or not you will become gainfully employed, your parents will most likely be saddled with the debt. The universities and banks who disperse federal loans have no incentive to deny them – they know the money is secured by the federal government. They encourage students to borrow, borrow, borrow for education which is grossly over-priced – and of questionable value.

  2. My daughter is a college sophmore 2011-2012 and all the (financial aid) has been posted on her account which doesn’t even come close to half of the tuition needed. We have spoken to the financial aid counselors and the only thing they advise is to get student loans to cover the tuition. We already have a student loan that runs us more than what we can afford. Please advise how do we go by obtaining more financial aid or just extra money for my daughter to go to school. Thank you

  3. My FAFSA nightmare: I am upside down in a CA house that I have owned for 7 1/2 years. I got the bank to refinance my loan three months ago but the payments are still too high because I haven’t been able to replace the income I made for almost 30 years after being laid off in the banking field. I have cut back all my living expenses to the bare minimum. My moral or ethical beliefs will not allow me to walk away from the home. The bank won’t approve a short sale. So – In order to preserve my credit history, and to continue to support myself and my son, I withdrew money from my IRA, paid the penalties which are severe. Declaring the IRA income on the FAFSA is mandatory. Yet the FAFSA does want the IRA assets disclosed. But it takes my hard earned-penalized savings in my EFC calculation. It’s still income, no matter where it came from. I think in these hard economic times, the FAFSA discriminates against this category of savings. It is MY only pension, which I cannot withdraw until age 59 1/2 without penalty. If the FAFSA counts the income, they should at least allow me to declare the expense of early withdrawal penalties to offset part of the EFC. I don’t qualify for a student loan because my mortgage debt is too high relative to my current income, and the lenders won’t count my IRA income as recurring. I’m stuck. My top priority is to get my son to attend the university which accepted him. His GPA is pretty low, and therefore doesn’t qualify for any grants or scholarships. What a mess.

  4. Some of the so-called grants the federal government gives out were canceled this year, no more ACG or SMART. Epic Fail Department of Education.

  5. Cindy, I totally agree with you. I work am an aid for a high school within a juvenile correctional facility, and my guys have been having a tough time getting through the site correctly. It is so frustrating that these kids who are trying to turn their lives around but can’t file their FAFSAs in order to do that!

  6. FASFA would be great if the web site was working properly. We entered info and need to get back in to submit and cannot do so because they have a web problem. Now we are up against a cut off date of 5/1 for our state.

    This web problem has been ongoing for almost 2 weeks now and the paperwork takes forever to get here. So my daughter won’t go to college because FASFA has failed and cannot come up with an alternate for us.

    PS. I heard from customer service there were hundreds of us.

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