By Chris Altieri
Have you applied for college financial aid? Did the process seem confusing? Did you feel like you understood the implications for your future? If you had any problems along the way, you’re not alone.
Young Invincibles and NERA Economic Consulting just released a survey of high-debt students and recent graduates about their experiences navigating the financial aid process. The results were striking. A full 40% of participants with federal loans said that they did not remember receiving counseling even though the federal government requires it. That means colleges aren’t doing their part to make sure students understand their loans.
But it’s not just the loans. We also asked students to describe the FAFSA for us in a few words. You can see the result in the word cloud below. Though some people had no trouble applying for financial aid, many of them feel the process is “confusing”, “long”, and “complicated.”
The survey also found that the financial aid award letters frequently perplex students. Over 90% want all colleges to send a standardized letter where schools must explain their offers in ‘plain English’ using the same terms and format.
As a student who went through this application process just a few years ago I experienced these challenges firsthand. At a time when I was preoccupied with my senior year of high school and applying to colleges I also had to fill out complicated and unfamiliar financial forms. Then, I had to sift through dense award letters as I tried to decide where I would attend school and how to pay for it.
The decision had huge implications for my future finances, yet I had to make it at the age of 17 with little perspective or understanding of the road ahead. I’m still not sure what repaying loans will require or how I’ll be able to do it after graduation.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to improve the process for young people like you and me:
- Strengthening counseling requirements for colleges would go a long way towards helping borrowers understand their loans.
- More involvement from high school counselors can help students early on in the process.
- Simplifying FAFSA and financial aid award letters would make it easier for students to get financial aid and understand the choices before them.