This afternoon I participated in a lengthy conference call with some 35 school counselors and financial aid advisors, and was I ever surprised. These counselors from all across Pennsylvania told the same story: they have not heard from their students and parents nearly as much as they believe is necessary to complete college applications and to properly fill out FAFSA forms. (The FAFSA is the Free Application For Federal Student Aid form required to be eligible for any college financial aid.) Your school counselor wants to help.

It seems that one of the effects of remote/hybrid learning that we have all been experiencing is that students and parents have not been reaching out for the assistance that is available to them. Perhaps the stresses of the pandemic, working from home and, perhaps, lost income have made everyone want to simply avoid these tasks. And certainly applying to college and applying for financial aid are difficult tasks in even the best of times.

A primary concern the counselors expressed is that as deadlines to submit college applications and financial aid requests come closer, students and parents will hurry to get the forms completed and, in the process, will not complete them properly. A hurried application to college could result in a denial instead of an acceptance, and a FAFSA form that contains errors or is incomplete might be returned for corrections. Lost time in submitting the FAFSA form risks losing the financial aid needed to attend a college.

Applications to college are down across the country for a variety of reasons, all related to the pandemic, and how this will impact college admissions and financial aid offers is unknown. For parents and students who have questions about whether they should apply to college this year and questions about other alternatives, it is imperative that you contact your school counselor to help you think through these questions and make a plan to proceed.

Perhaps the right answer for you is to begin college locally at a community college. But that raises questions of transferring credit to a four-year college. It’s a complicated question your school counselor can help you with. Perhaps the right answer for you is to postpone attending college for a year. If so, you’ll need counseling to figure out how best to spend the year. Remember, if you plan to start college one year after high school graduation, you’ll be filling out applications and FAFSA forms just 3 to 4 months later. You’ll want to use that time well, both for yourself and for the story you will tell in your college application.

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