The Agony of Unfulfilled Financial Aid Dreams

The Agony of Unfulfilled Financial Aid Dreams

Some high school seniors are efficient and apply for early decision or early action on their college admissions applications by the end of December, while others might take longer to narrow their choices and don’t apply until January, February or even later. They both sit by their mailbox or computer, nervously waiting to hear from the admissions offices of their selected colleges. When they get a notification that says they have been accepted, they feel the ecstasy of victory. But then they look at the financial aid package, and some feel the agony of unfulfilled financial aid dreams.

In one fell swoop, students can feel defeated when they look at the offers made by their selected colleges and realize they simply cannot afford to attend their most highly-favored school. It can be a devastating feeling, especially if there has been a significant attachment to a particular college. What went wrong, and what can be done about it?

• The reach was too high: Perhaps your student applied to colleges which are out of his or her academic or financial capabilities. It’s time for the parents to gently talk to their child about the choices which were made, and decide together on the next steps to take.

• The FAFSA was submitted too late: College financial aid counselors always advise clients to complete the FAFSA as early as possible because some programs are available only on a first-come, first-serve basis. When the funds run out for the academic year, they are gone. It is possible that students who received those grants or scholarships decide not to attend this college, and the funds might be released to other students. If that doesn’t happen, though, the student has some tough choices. He or she can choose to attend another college on the list with a better financial aid package, or the student may defer attending this college until next year while taking classes at a local community college or working full-time to earn additional money. Or the student can have a long talk with his or her parents about maximizing federal and private student loan borrowing in the first year, with a firm commitment to file the FAFSA extra early next year.

• Errors were made: Mistakes can be made in the rush to file the FAFSA, and even colleges can make mistakes in their financial aid calculations. Check over the FAFSA on your end to make sure the information you provided is accurate. If one college has a substantially different offer than the others, ask them to review it to determine if there was a miscalculation on their end.

A financial aid package below expectations does not have to spell the end of the college dream completely. Many students have received great educations from their second-choice college, and were even happy in the end that they had changed their mind. The important point is to keep pursuing the college dream, and to find a way to achieve it.