Helping students plan how to pay for college is more important than ever: Schools can help

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Bright, low-income students can increasingly lose the chance to go to college due to the uncertainty and confusion over how to pay for it.

A little over 53% of the 2021 class applied for college financial aid before the start of the fall this fall, a drop of 5% from the share that filled the Free Federal Student Aid Application in the Class of 2020, which in itself was a significant drop from the pre-pandemic class of 2019. The National College Attainment Network non-profit Profit, which tracks student financial aid, estimates that nationally more than a quarter of a million fewer students than expected have applied for federal financial aid in both high school leaving classes since start of the pandemic.

In schools that serve mainly low-income students, 6.5% fewer students requested financial aid in the class of 2021, almost double the drop in wealthier schools. And schools where at least 2 in 5 students are black or Latino had 8.1% fewer 2021 graduates applying for FAFSA, a drop more than three and a half times greater than that of schools serving more white students. and Asian.

When the EdWeek Research Center asked recent 2021 graduates how they sought college financial aid in August and September, their responses were even more concerning compared to students who graduated from high school in 2020. The share of recent graduates who have applied for and received private student loans – who on average charge higher interest rates than federal and state loans and are less likely to provide fixed interest rates and repayment based on income – have doubled. In 2020, 10 percent of new graduates applied for student loans and 8 percent received them. Today, 21 percent have applied and 15 percent have received these private student loans.

Additionally, 27% of low-income 2021 graduates who need financial aid to attend college said they haven’t taken any steps to get it yet. This is more than double the percentage of their higher income peers.

Only 38% of graduates of the class of 2021 told Education Week that their school helped them apply for college financial aid or write their college essays to enter college. “With some things on financial aid, like CSS [the College Scholarship Service Profile] and FAFSA, sometimes people have special circumstances and they don’t really know how to do it. … I kind of landed in this boat, ”said Logan Balfantz, a 2020 graduate and first-generation student who is now in his second year of marketing at the University of Notre Dame. “I had spent hours on the phone with FAFSA representatives and [the CSS]. I was trying to ask certain questions and a bunch of my classmates also had special circumstances, so I tried to be a resource.

Bridget Terry Long, dean and professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who has overseen a series of landmark studies on ways to improve student participation in financial aid, said ongoing school closures and economic concerns had “just regained a lot of energy so that students and families could not plan [to pay for college]. To keep students on track, she recommended that schools partner with trusted groups in the community to continue to reinforce the importance and steps of college financial planning.

“Help is important,” she said. “I think the important part here is that the audience doesn’t have to be face-to-face, but it has to be a relationship of trust established.”

“The traditional financial aid system was built on a family with two married parents, where the child may be working in the summer, but not that much, and they go to college straight after high school, to full time, ”she said. This profile may not match a significant portion of graduating classes for several years after the pandemic, who have adjusted their college plans to secure employment to help supplement family income, or who are caring for other people who are in need of help. recovering from COVID-19.

“Your income also may not be entirely straightforward with the W-2s. All of a sudden you have all these different complexities. … What do you do under these circumstances when the form doesn’t quite tell you what to do and threatens you that if you don’t do everything right there are all these potential penalties?

“If you think of low-income first-generation students,” Long continued, “having this assistance is quite important for these complicated matters, but also for managing a foreign process.”

Daniela Andrade, now in her first semester of pre-med at Harvard University, ran a club at her high-poverty, high-minority high school in the Queens section of New York City to help students help each other out. university applications, especially around financial aid.

“You know, a lot of times it all falls to one counselor and one person can’t help 200 students,” Andrade said. “Particularly for low-income, minority-dominated school districts, really having dedicated people for every aspect of the university application process – for example, a high school counselor, a school counselor, financial aid – would really help students. Being able to attend university in a more peaceful and peaceful environment, knowing that your finances are checked, is a great way for students to enter university with less stress.


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