Filing paperwork for financial aid is one of the most complex processes college students have to go through. Oftentimes, students must figure these processes out by themselves with no prior knowledge or experience. Many first-generation college students have more trouble getting through this process, as their families are unable to guide them. High schools are not helpful either because they do not prepare their students for what is to come in college. Since many students depend on financial aid to complete their education, this serious issue must be addressed. Applying for financial aid should not be complicated and there should be equipped college staff willing to help students.
Every single time October comes around, my anxiety starts to build up because I know it is time to fill out the FAFSA. I constantly try to put off this process, causing me significant stress because I understand my education is dependent on its results . More stress is then added when I know I have no support and have to figure this out by myself. Although I attend John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where financial aid counselors are there to aid you through those processes, sadly, my experience with them has not been the most positive.
Prior to the start of this semester, I filled out my application for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). Because this was my first time applying and I had a lack of support, my application was filled incorrectly, and was sent back to me in order to make changes. During this process, I was given little to no explanation on what was wrong with my application — I was only told that I would not receive any aid. This was an alarming situation for me because the federal aid would not cover my whole tuition and I could not afford to pay out of pocket. When I reached out to the financial aid office, I did not get any answers. Later, I found out that , on campus, there are staff specializing in navigating students through TAP. This was alleviating for me — someone would be able to guide me. I reached out to someone in this department, and after a month waiting for a reply to many follow-up emails, I finally got a response.
Unfortunately, my experience with financial aid is not unique. Having talked with many fellow students and friends, we found similarities in our stories. The reality is that financial aid processes are extremely difficult, and colleges are not investing enough money in ensuring students get the support we need. It took three months for me to finally receive help and aid from TAP, which should not be happening to any student. In order to provide support, our leadership and elected officials need to act proactively in finding ways to make financial aid processes easier. In addition, colleges need more funding for trainings and workshops that will teach students about these processes, and make sure more counselors are available and well-equipped to help students with financial aid.
Lia Guzman Genao is a junior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY and a member of YI-New York’s Fall 2021 Young Advocates Program.