Last year the Words of Faith blog was launched and a May Day post denounced the arbitrary but growing trend of declaring it “Decision Day”.
On “Decision Day”, high schools, government agencies, college access organizations, and parents post glowing photos of seniors in collegiate sweatshirts. Alumni step forward to reminisce about their own college admission years ago and to encourage the next generation of loyal team boosters.
We’d like this practice to stop. There are many students who can’t responsibly decide at this point, and many others who, knowingly or not, pretend as though their decision is solid in the face of pressure to declare. For many, a decision by May 1 would be dangerous.
All financial aid hinges upon the results of filing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This is true for federal and state programs, for need-based scholarships awarded by colleges/universities, and for organizations like ours. Our advising staff hosts FAFSA clinics and helps students complete the forms. This process begins October 1.
Between the filing of the FAFSA and the awarding of aid, a process of “verification” may be triggered by the U.S. Department of Education or by the colleges to which a student has applied. Verification, put simply, requires students to prove again, sometimes by resubmission of the same information and sometimes by finding new information, that they are truly as poor as they appear. The process can take months to resolve, and it has a very damaging impact on the number of students who are certified for financial aid in a timely fashion. That’s why Decision Day is a misnomer.
As recently reported by National College Access Network on their blog:
Approximately one-third of all FAFSA completers are selected for verification, but astoundingly, about 98 percent of those flagged come from a low-income household. Moreover, the data show that half of all Pell-eligible filers are picked. So not only do underrepresented students comprise virtually the entire verification pool, but one in two low-income students is affected.
As of this writing, 67% of the 700 students who have completed application to The Scholarship Foundation for the coming academic year have NOT yet received financial aid award letters. Since 80% of the Foundation’s students are Pell-eligible, the chances that they will have been flagged for verification, are still in the midst of proving again their financial condition, and can not and should not “decide” at this point are very high.
What’s our answer?
- Further simplify FAFSA and eliminate verification
- Disband “Decision Day”
- Offer intensive individual assistance to students in the months of June and July (when their high schools are closed and counselors on break) as they wage battle against verification, assess financial aid awards, and make decisions.
Our new offices at 6825 Clayton Avenue will be offering appointments and advisors will be available for students to drop-in for help navigating this difficult process. The biggest barrier to addressing the phenomenon of “summer melt” (high school seniors who graduate with the stated intention of attending college but do not actually show up on campus the following fall) is the financial aid process. Please help us get the word out to St. Louis area high school graduates that The Scholarship Foundation stands ready to assist and accompany them as they make their way through verification, deciphering financial aid offers, and getting to campus.
“Decision Day” can and must wait.
– Faith Sandler