FAFSA Delays and Tips on Paying for College
Everyone has heard by now that the new FAFSA rollout has been less than ideal. Many families are left wondering if they qualify for aid and colleges are left trying to figure out how they’re going to process awards letters in a timely manner. It is frustrating for everyone and has added to much uncertainty about choosing a college.
First, I want to encourage families and students to focus on the things you can control when it comes to deciding on the best fit college. Yes, you may not know exactly what each college is going to cost you right now but we can’t spend our energy focusing on that. If you’ve read my previous blog posts, I have shared the phrase “what I attend to grows.” This essentially means that what we choose to pay attention to just gets bigger and sometimes (a lot of the time) our thoughts become too overwhelming and college just becomes more of a burden than a goal.
So, let’s focus on the tasks we can control. We can devise a plan (if our Plan A doesn’t work out) and a Plan B while we wait for FAFSAs to process. We need to recognize that patience is an important part of the college selection process. Many students are still waiting for decisions from their colleges and as I’ve just mentioned, many are waiting for their FAFSAs to be processed. Deep breaths… As we consider what to do in the waiting period, I have a few action items to consider.
First, determine what your top choice college is and discuss if it fits your budget. Hopefully, you’ve had conversations before now about the cost of college and have made some preliminary plans about how to pay for your college education. But this is the time to come up with a Plan B just in case the FAFSA doesn’t come back with the response you’re hoping for. I’ve provided below a few things to consider while we’re waiting in limbo for FAFSA and colleges to notify students.
Steps to consider when thinking about a Plan B:
Step 1 - Consider all the options you have right now and order them from least to most expensive.
Step 2 - Decide if the most affordable option fits the student’s needs/desires/criteria. (Does it offer my major? Is it affordable to travel to the campus? Can I be happy and get a quality education here?)
Step 3 - Determine if a visit to this affordable option school is in order to make sure the school is in deed, a good fit and affordable. Get comfortable with the Plan B and accept this could be the best option for your student and family. I realize sometimes it’s hard for students to “settle” for their second choice but I’m also a firm believer that a student can have a successful college experience anywhere as long as they take advantage of every opportunity given to them while on campus. It comes down to the mindset we decide for ourselves. It’s also important to consider if a student wants to pursue an advanced degree beyond a bachelor's degree which could lead to additional expenses down the road. Don’t be afraid to create your own path.
Beyond coming up with a Plan B, there are also scholarships to look into. I am finding more and more families asking me about scholarships these days. So, I have included my go-to recommendations below when searching for scholarships (in order of importance).
#1 - Research all the scholarship options (including departmental) at the college.
#2 - Look into local scholarships in your area. Check with your school counselor to see where the school keeps its list of scholarships. It could be in Naviance, Scoir, or whatever system your school might use to track their college information.
#3 - Check for employer sponsored scholarships.
#4 - Check national scholarships. These are usually a lot of work with little payout but.....one can try! From my experience, these scholarships are awarded to those students who have the greatest financial need. Here are the websites I recommend:
I want to wrap up with a word of encouragement to all families navigating this journey. The “right” path to college is unique to each family. There is not one path that fits all. Do not compare your college journey to anyone else’s. I realize this is not always easy to do and our egos get in the way sometimes and skew our perception of what is the best for our unique family.
While we all still wait for decisions to roll out in the next 60-90 days, remember to focus on the things you can control and enJOY the journey.