Financial Aid Planning Amidst Uncertainty

COVID-19 Resources and Updates, Parent & Family Newsletter | 06/25/2020

Natalie Hester
Former State Organizing Director, Stand for Children Washington

PARENTS & FAMILIES NEWSLETTER 

Below is the ninth edition of our Parents & Families newsletter for the 2019-20 school year. If you'd like to receive this monthly in your email inbox, sign up here.

You can read our past newsletters here.

One minute I’m feeling relieved that the school year is over, but then the next I’m wondering what’s going to happen when school starts in the fall. Some days I’m energized by the work that our team and others are doing to actually make a difference in education policy, and other days I feel defeated by how far we have to go before our babies feel safe in this world.

Those feelings of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety are real, but I also have to remind myself that my feelings of joy, hope, and excitement are just as important to pay attention to right now. I’m reminded of the adage that what we pay attention to grows, and I’m determined to keep returning my focus to what’s keeping me going: my excitement for what is possible.

As you and your child(ren) take a collective breath and look ahead, I want to use this third newsletter in our Financial Aid series to talk about how you can make a plan even when plans are changing. The arrival of COVID-19 flipped our world on its head, and now our country is grappling with critical conversations about how to finally listen to community concerns about safety that have been largely ignored for years. 

If you have a student graduating with the Class of 2020, congratulations!! If your student still has a few years to go, we’ll be with you every step of the way. For every family thinking about financial aid and your student’s next steps in education right now, you’re probably not surprised to know that the majority of parents - especially Black and Hispanic parents - still see college as “absolutely essential” for their children. However, in light of COVID-19, many students are making changes to their plans and attending a college closer to home, shifting from a 4-year to a 2-year, or even taking a ‘gap year’. This shift is even more prevalent among students from low-income families.

As your you and your children consider their future education plans, here are the top three pieces of advice I’ve gathered from Washington financial aid experts:

  1. Review all your options
  2. Make a plan
  3. Ask questions

Read on for more detail on each, with links to information and other incredible organizations in Washington that are here to help you and your student on their journey.

Review all your options

Before making any decisions about next steps or changing plans, make sure you and your student review all the available options. If they were accepted to attend school in the fall and applied for financial aid, they should receive a financial aid award letter that explains how much financial aid they’ve been offered. The good folks over at the Washington 12th Year Campaign included this helpful explanation of financial aid award letters in their Guide for Navigating College Admissions and Financial Aid

“Every college’s award letter is a little different. After you submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA), you will receive a financial aid award letter from each school at which you were accepted. Each letter will summarize the cost of full-time enrollment for one year plus your financial aid package. Find award letter worksheets to compare your costs, available aid and resources for paying for college at https://readysetgrad. wa.gov/12th-Year-Resource

(image from the College Knowledge Workbook)

GEAR UP Washington also has helpful advice for what to do once you’ve identified how much tuition you and your student are responsible for after financial aid is applied:

“Most colleges and universities have payment plans that can help spread any remaining cost after financial aid out over time. Contact the school to make a plan for payment; they will work with you.”

Also, remember that even if you haven’t applied yet, it’s not too late to apply for financial aid! You and your student can get started today.

Make a plan

If your student is changing their school choice from a 2-year to a 4-year or from a 4-year to a certification program - or even if nothing has changed - they should make a plan for their long-term education. Planning ahead will increase their options and reduce everyone’s stress. By keeping their career goals front and center, they can maximize multiple pathways to achieve their goals and be more likely to stay on track if things change. The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) has excellent resources to help you and your student make a plan. For students with disabilities, they’ve created a specific list of tasks for each year of high school they can use as a guide to prepare for college and career.

If their path includes transferring from one institution to another, they should make sure to include that in their plan and talk to their advisors and financial aid officers about it as soon as possible. WSAC also has details about what options are available in Washington state. Fortunately, “colleges in Washington State have degrees and agreements to make transfer easier for students. Schools offer a variety of pathways for students who wish to transfer from one school to another.”

(image from the WSAC Graduate Handbook)

If your student is considering taking a break from education, but intend to start school after a year off (often called a ’gap year’), make sure they talk with any programs and schools they’ve applied to about deferring admission. You both should make sure there is a clear plan in place for continuing their education and do your best to stick to it. Unfortunately the research shows that students who take gap years are less likely to complete their degree than their peers. Make sure you know the options!

Ask questions

With all of the “official” deadlines and requirements that can seem to pile up around financial aid, it’s critical to remember that you and your students have a right to ask questions. If you’re confused about program requirements, call the admissions office. If your student hasn’t applied anywhere yet, but wants to now, reach out to their high school counselor or to WSAC. If your financial situation has changed, ask their college’s financial aid office for an appeal. You can push back on deadlines and ask for an extension, or find scholarships you didn’t know existed by asking for other financial aid options and explaining your situation. 

You and your student have thousands of people in education organizations like ours across the state standing behind you, ready to help you find what you need so that they can stay on the path to their dreams. At Stand for Children, we’re here to help you figure out what questions you need to ask and who you need to get in touch with. I’m happy to connect with you and help direct you to the right person who can answer your questions - you can email me and my team directly at wainfo@stand.org to get in touch. 

I hope this series on Financial Aid has helped you feel more prepared to move forward and support your student in their education pathway (you can find all of our past newsletters here). 

No matter how I’m feeling these days, I’m always proud to work with parents like you who are the very best advocates our students could ask for. 

Thank you for all you do in your community and for this state. I’ll be back in your inbox again next month with more resources and relevant information. If you have ideas or suggestions about what education information you’re desperate for right now, let me know. I look forward to talking again soon.

All my best, 

Natalie

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