12th Graders Get A Three-Month Head Start On Financial Aid
High school seniors started applying for financial aid three months early this year, thanks to changes introduced by the Department of Education to give families more time weigh their options.
At G. Holmes Braddock High School in Kendall, college advisor Maria Mendoza is walking a group of 12th graders through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. “If you don’t have a FAFSA ID, you’re going to request two: one for you and one for your parents,” she says, making the rounds as students input information on laptops.
The application is based partly on parents’ tax information. “What was difficult in the past,” Mendoza says, “is that the application opened on Jan. 1, but nobody has their taxes done by Jan. 1.” That meant the whole financial aid process had to be squeezed in between college application deadlines and high school graduation.
Now, not only is FAFSA open three months earlier, on Oct. 1, but families can use the previous year’s tax returns to fill it out. That lets students get a jump on grants and loans that are often first-come first-serve, and, admissions experts advise, gives them better odds of getting attractive aid packages from their preferred schools.
In another change geared towards giving families more leverage, schools will no longer be able to see who else is on the list of up to 10 colleges and universities where each student is applying for financial aid. That, Mendoza says, sometimes seemed to work against students considering a large number of schools.
“What happens if my parents are married, but I only live with my mom?” asked 12th grader Osato Onaghinor as she filled out the form, momentarily preoccupied by the thought of writing “separated or divorced."
She says there is a lot of “growing up” baked into the college application process—not just the thought of leaving home—but in thinking about home in the first place. “This is the first time I see what my parents make,” she says. “There’s all this stuff about your home or about your family, about how much they spend on food and all this, and it’s exciting, but at the same time it is nerve-wracking.”
Her classmate Regina Monteavaro will be the first person in her family to go to college, and even though that’s been her parents’ plan for a long time, she says, “We hadn’t really discussed what that entails.” “I might have to move, I might have to pay rent: Am I expected to provide for myself, or is my family going to provide money for me to sustain myself?” Monteavaro described questions like that as being part of a slow, ongoing conversation, one where she’s grateful to have the extra time.