Waiting is Not a Game

Faith SandlerFinancial Aid, Words of Faith

One of the many skills our students must develop is to be good at waiting. This characteristic is required of them by a higher education system designed to serve a multitude of purposes, the least of which is to facilitate their ability to prepare well in advance and arrive on their campuses rested, fed, and ready to learn.

It is already mid-June, and fully 40% of new and renewing applicants to The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis are still awaiting their financial aid awards from their schools. Scholarship Foundation interest-free loans and grants are “last dollar”, meaning we don’t award until we can be sure that our funds will fill their remaining unmet need and limit their borrowing. So, we must wait with them, but we are not nearly as skilled as they are.

I’m terrible at waiting. I can’t wait for it to get dark so I can go to sleep, nor do I wait for dawn before I get up in the morning (in fact, I began drafting this blogpost at 5:08 a.m.). I plan in advance, whether I have the facts to do so or not. I struggle to be kind waiting in line, make reservations at restaurants so there’s little doubt about when we’ll eat, and I mentally redesign every queue for greater efficiency.

Nationally, “Decision Day” is generally May 1. On this day, high schools, nonprofits, and state agencies celebrate the students who have declared where they will attend college the following fall. Would you wear a college sweatshirt to your high school assembly or be happy to see that school name beneath yours in the high school graduation program if you had no money and no idea if the math was going to work out?

First-time freshmen are invited to on-campus orientations in July and early August. Often, there are expenses involved in registering, finding accommodations, travelling. At orientation, they may be walked through registration for classes, meet roommates, and become acquainted with essential student services. Would you sign up for orientation and buy your train ticket if you still did not know whether you’d have the funds to attend?

Would you scramble for the funds to make a housing deposit for a school you don’t know if you can afford? Or might you risk having nowhere to live when you finally get word of your financial aid?

Students from families with wealth have no reason to know about this excruciating wait. With purchasing power, decisions can be made months and months in advance. Further, college admissions offers with merit aid attached are often made first to those with capacity to pay the cost of attendance, fully or partially. Those without such capacity may have to wait until all the rest have accepted or declined to know what funds remain.

Thank you to Scholarship Foundation applicants who must wait. In our advising and our awards we stress the importance of not making a commitment to a school until you know that you have the funds (from any and all sources) to cover the cost and that those funds can be renewed in future years.

Thank you to our staff, who would like to be able to produce the statistics, reports, and student profiles our generous donors are waiting to receive, but who can’t do so until the process has concluded (often not until late July).

Thank you to our donors, from individuals to family foundations to corporate contributors. You are not only waiting, but you are learning a system the hard way, seeing inequity in action. Your gifts have and will make all the difference to the students with whom we wait.

This waiting is not a game. The stakes are too high, for our students and for the promise of educational opportunity in a land struggling to remember what is essential to democracy.

– Faith Sandler