Financial aid offers play a big role in the college decision for admitted students.
But these offers are often confusing and award letters vary wildly, leaving students to make one of their first major life decisions without access to clear information.
“I think anyone who’s worked with students is just like, ‘No, no, no, no, no. What a mess,’ ” Rachel Fishman, a researcher with New America, told NPR. “It’s really the Wild West when it comes to how these letters look.”
“Free college” programs eliminate one of the biggest barriers to a college degree, but for adults returning to school, tuition isn’t the only stressor.
About 13,000 adults enrolled last fall in Tennessee Reconnect, a state program that gives free community college tuition to people over age 25 who haven’t yet earned a college degree.
Mike Krause, head of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission that oversees Tennessee Reconnect, told NPR they need to do more to prevent students from dropping out because their reasons for leaving school aren’t always financial.
Many college fairs are held during the fall. They provide a great opportunity for high school students and their parents or guardians to talk with college admission representatives. At two annual college fairs I am familiar with, financial aid representatives have a booth and talk about local scholarship options. Unfortunately, their booths are not very busy while admission representatives have many students waiting to discuss admission requirements. Usually the reps whose colleges are the most competitive and have the most well-known names have the longest lines.
In many instances, top students wait in long lines for well-known colleges because they have been encouraged to apply. Student GPAs and test scores can assist with the admission process, but there is a catch. Because most of the students applying to these colleges will also have impressive academic backgrounds, the colleges may not offer a generous financial award package to each student. Every college does things differently.
Editor’s note: A version of this post was originally published on Admitted in March 2016. It’s being republished as part of NACAC’s Best of the Blog series.
Getting into college is only half the battle for teens living in poverty.
To prove eligibility for financial aid, many colleges ask low-income students to submit a mountain of paperwork — going beyond what is required of their middle- and upper-income peers, NACAC member Joshua Steckel wrote in a 2016 opinion column published by The Boston Globe.
The process is burdensome, he noted. Worst of all, it can discourage talented students from accessing the financial support they need to attend college.