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