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seanna-85FAFSA.

Ferocious-Anxiety-Financial-Stimulating-Atrocity.

My senior chemistry teacher belabored the fact that graduate and medical schools will look at grades in Organic Chemistry to weed out the strong from the weak.  She told us that OrgChem isn’t grotesquely hard, but instead, it highlights your ability (or lack of ability) to memorize and compartmentalize gigantic chunks of information into a comprehensive learning style.

In my mind, Organic Chemistry and graduate school admission is analogous to the FAFSA and undergraduate admission.  Separates the strong from the weak.  So you’ve chosen the schools you want to apply to, written the essays, gained acceptance, and narrowed it down…now it’s time to TALK MONEY.  And contrary to what the financial college pamphlets may lead you to believe from the smiling faces on happy high school students, this time can be just as stressful, if not more, than the actual admissions process.  Just depends on several factors.

A. Parental and Mentor Knowledge of FAFSA process

B. Your access to parental and mentor knowledge of FAFSA process

C. Parental Aptitude at Organizing Past Financial Records from Tax Season

*KEEP EVERYTHING!

D.   College’s Level of Helpfulness in Providing Financial Support

*Private or State public school?  Large or small endowment?  Need-blind admission?    No-Loan Policy?

E.    High school’s Knowledge of College Financial Process

F.    Personal Knowledge of College Financial Process

So, if you are lucky enough to have parents that have conquered this process a few times before and have great organizational skills (know where last year’s W-2 forms are at)…you’re on the right track.  If your high school has a great counselor program that is actively in touch and “in-the-know” about the financial aid process, you’re zipping right along.  And finally, if your college is miraculously helpful and easy to reach during this money-crazed period, you are IN THE END ZONE! BINGO! WAY TO GO!

But…in the off-chance that your parents aren’t exactly sure of what they’re doing, or perhaps…know next to nothing…

And your high school counselor vaguely knows the process…

And your college can only be reached during the hours that you are attending class…and do not return calls after many urgent voicemails, and cannot be contacted by email, Skype, Facebook, or text…

Then you are closer to my experience of FAFSA and the financial aid process.  I still get goose bumps thinking about some of it.  Personally, my family didn’t know that much…my high school counselors knew mainly about in-state assistance, and a few of my schools seemed impossible to get in contact with.  I sat down with my mom one night, and three hours later, we’d battled through FAFSA.  I still had to make three corrections later on, in fear that the IRS or some similar tax-service would consider my accidental errors an attempt to harbor money from the country.  However, after the FAFSA, it was time to sit around and wait until I received initial offers.

This next statement is not an attempt to sell my school…just an acknowledgment of the truth.  Pomona was AMAZINGLY helpful with financial assistance.  I was able to reach them during office hours (2-hour time change might have made a difference), and often, they knew what I was referring to before I did.  After receiving the first offer, I was able to repeal the amount after explaining that my family’s situation was not correctly represented on the FAFSA.  Cutting to the end of the story, I accepted an amount that alleviated all stress from my family’s end, allowing me to attend a school that would have been completely out of my league.

For high school students, I’d recommend that you talk to high school counselors and do your best to get in touch with the financial aid counselors at your top colleges.  Sit down with your parents in plenty of time to complete the FAFSA, and try to have all of the necessary materials beforehand.  Keep financial aid a top priority until after you receive an offer that works for you.  Try not to get discouraged…and keep your goals in mind.

It’s one of those—“Keep your eye on the prize”—sort of things.  It’s easy to get caught up in the stress and frustration of finding the money you need…but at the end of swimming upstream in search of it, you’ll find that it was well worth it!

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3 Responses to “College on a Dollar-Menu Budget”

  1. Francine Francine says:

    I agree! FAFSA can be quite frustrating and exhausting even. I’m glad you were able to address all of the things you needed. My only advice is to make sure you stay on top of financial aid, because sometimes grants and scholarships change from year to year. I would say check in before the end of every semester to make sure that the balance on your account is accurate.

  2. Mary Fallon Mary Fallon says:

    Seanna, There’s a new development for prospective college students that will let them “talk money” before applying to any colleges. The old way of thinking is apply to colleges, prepare a federal financial aid application (FAFSA) and once accepted find out how much aid each college will award. The old way doesn’t let you plan how to pay for college because until you get that letter you don’t know your true out-of-pocket costs.

    The new thinking is – find out your out-of-pocket costs (net price) of any college you’re considering BEFORE you apply.

    How can you do that today? Most colleges don’t offer a net price calculator yet – but they all will have to by federal law come October 2011. Students will start to see colleges install net price calculators on the Web sites starting this winter. Only a handful of colleges today provide one so you can get an insight into how much different your price and the college’s sticker price will be thanks to aid like loans, grants, and work-study.

    Students don’t have to wait for colleges to come up to speed on net price calculators. A new college planning service by StudentAid.com offers a personalized side-by-side aid eligibility and net price comparison with lots of details about each college you choose.

    For low-income students, this service is FREE.

    As for the FAFSA, there are 2 options – doing the form yourself (or with a parent or college counselor). And now the federal government authorizes getting advice and preparation from a fee-based service. If you go this route, make sure the service has great customer ratings and a focus on accuracy by not only reviewing your aid application with a computer program (like the Dept. of Ed does) but also having a professional aid advisor read each of your answers. You can make errors on your FAFSA that even the Dept. of Ed’s computer review can’t detect. So whichever way you go, carefully review every one of your answers to maximize your aid award. Simple stuff like transposing numbers and letters is a very common mistake. Nearly everyone (ok probably not Bill Gates) qualifies for some aid so apply. This year there is about $168 Billion in aid for college students.

  3. Lysa Vola Lysa Vola says:

    Hey Seanna! I loved how you called FAFSA: Ferocious-Anxiety-Financial-Stimulating-Atrocity. That is so very true at times. I’m getting ready to renew my application very soon, so I’m definately feeling that way right about now. Great Post!

What do you think?