A Circle of (College Financial Aid) Hell?
Round about the end of January, I went around muttering about the tenth circle of hell, the one that Dante left out of his Inferno, the one reserved for those parents and students who need to fill out college financial aid forms. “I’m in financial aid hell,” I wailed in a desperate email to a friend.
The dining room table was awash in papers – tax returns, bank statements, PIN numbers, financial aid forms, financial aid pamphlets – and the family was consigned to eat dinner on their knees, huddled in the living room for the foreseeable future. The computer was on overdrive, with tabs open to FAFSA, Turbo Tax, the PROFILE and the college financial aid offices of all the colleges to which our daughter was applying. And in the midst of all of this, there I was, muttering darkly while piloting the Richardson financial dinghy through the tsunami of taxes, W-2’s, questions, estimates, “click here for information” tabs, deadlines and more.
Fortunately there were a couple of life-belts thrown my way by friends and colleagues. Fill out your taxes first, advised the physics teacher at Kents Hill – his third child is finishing college soon and he can do the FAFSA with his eyes shut (and his taxes done). He was right; it is much easier to do your taxes BEFORE filling out financial aid forms – it saves going back and doing corrections. Have your paperwork in order for the last year and know where it is, urged the financial aid guru from the Finance Authority of Maine at our last parent information session. She knew what she was talking about; they really do want all of that information. Don’t apply to more than ten colleges, moaned another parent, whose daughter applied to fourteen. The FAFSA only allows you to add ten schools before demanding that you start another form. And, finally, know what forms you need to fill out. Everyone requires the FAFSA, but two of our daughter’s schools had extra institutional forms, and four of our daughter’s schools required the College Board’s PROFILE as well. And, if anyone from the College Board is reading this, does it really seem right to charge a fee for the PROFILE when it is a financial aid form?
But the most important life-saver of all is this: fill out the FAFSA, even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid. Not only might you qualify for some aid, but often colleges use a FAFSA application to qualify students for merit aid and scholarships. Fill it out! You might receive some money!!
Now it’s the end of March. The forms were submitted by the deadlines, our daughter stepped up and did her part, we are back to family dining around the table and the financial aid letters are arriving. And, if the truth be told, while there may be a tenth circle of financial aid hell, it is strictly reserved for January of the senior year for first-timers like me. The forms work, if you have all the information you should. The FAFSA is easier than it has ever been. Financial aid personnel are good people, and they really want to help you make this process easier. If they had limitless funds, believe you me, they would give them to you. In short, the process works.
About Anne Richardson:
Anne Richardson joined Kents Hill School in July of 1998, and currently serves as the Director of College Counseling and the Director of the International and ESL Programs. In addition to working as the Director of College Counseling, she was also the Academic Dean for 6 years and the Director of Communications for 5 years. Anne is also active in the New England Association of College Admissions Counseling (NEACAC), serving on the faculty and as chair (2006) of the Summer Institute from 2002-6, as Vice-President in 2007-8, and is currently serving as President-Elect of the association. Anne teaches ESL and serves as the faculty advisor to Kents Hill’s Amnesty International program.
Prior to 1998 she was Dean of Middle School Students at Hamden Hall Country Day School in Hamden, Ct. In addition to teaching English there, she also served as Director of Community Service and Director of the Summer School. Ms. Richardson earned her A.B. in English from Oberlin College and her M.A. in Liberal Studies from Wesleyan University.