The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a long, complicated, mandatory form in the higher education journey, and many young people still remember struggling to complete it long after graduation. Young Invincibles advocates for a simpler, shorter application, and we believe capturing the real experiences of young people who muscled through it moves us closer to achieving that mission. Check out a these microstories from Millennials who remember the first time they filled out the FAFSA.
Christina Ostmeyer, 22
I sat down with my mom my senior year of high school to fill out the FAFSA, and she did most of the work that time. To me, it was just another step I needed to take before heading to college, just as common as buying dorm gear or signing up for orientation. I didn’t realize that application would mean thousands of dollars toward my tuition and housing my freshman year. I also didn’t realize how lucky I was to have a family who was familiar with the process and had readily available tax information to make filling it out pretty simple. I continued to fill it out each year, but without as much help from my mom, I found myself taking days to fill out the application. I knew what was on the line because I had been awarded federal financial aid, but I also know many of my friends and peers either didn’t know how important the application was or missed out because the process intimidated them.
Nina Smith, 35
It was winter of sophomore year when I had my first encounter with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). My dad had just lost his job, forcing him to look for work for the first time in several years. Left without any options, but scared to take on private loans, I showed up at the financial aid office in tears and without hope. Even as a young black woman with immigrant parents from Ghana, my family was solidly middle class and I attended private schools in suburban Washington, D.C. I knew nothing of the form or what it meant. But that day it became my salvation. It was complicated, the form itself made my head spin and it asked questions about taxes that I had no idea how to answer as a spoiled 20-year-old kid. Facing a form like that forced me to grow up quickly. Looking back though, I know there is no way I could have ever filled out a form like that on my own or without my mother’s assistance. There has to be a better way to prepare students for these options.
Krieg Rajaram, 26
I first filled out the FAFSA in the second semester of my senior year of high school in June 2008. I had so much anxiety in filling out the 100 plus question document that would determine how I would go to college. I was mainly nervous because at the time I was using my parent’s tax information from the two years ago and I would have to log back on to the FAFSA website again to update the tax information section. I dreaded the idea of doing that, but I had no choice. I waited for my parent’s new tax information to arrive and updated the FAFSA as soon as I could. I was so relieved when it was over because I no longer had to worry about filling out the FAFSA for that year and I no longer had to pressure my parents for their tax information. I’m grateful now that it’s over.
Jemima Osei-Hwedie, 23
The first time I had to fill out the FAFSA form, I was pretty overwhelmed. At the time I was still in high school and was already anxious about what I was going to do after graduating. Months before, I had applied to go to a local community college because I found four-year universities too intimidating to even apply for. I didn’t know what direction I wanted to take but all of the sudden there was all this jargon and form-filling that I had to do and most of what I was hearing sounded like gibberish to me. Years later, the FAFSA isn’t as daunting as I once thought it to be. What I failed to realize at the time was that the FAFSA could be easy to get through, if you’re surrounded by people willing to give you a helping hand through the process.