Financial Aid Season – Just Do it!

You may recall from my previous blog posts that I am a crier.

I am also a world-class worrier.

It should come as no surprise that, almost immediately after my son started getting into colleges, I shifted my worry gears into how we would pay for him to go to college. Like many families, my husband and I had given this some attention (along with some thought and, yes, worry) since the day our son was born. But now it was REAL.

Before I go on, there are some personal factors I should share so that I might adequately set the stage for my level of angst:

Education is highly valued in my family – always has been, always will be. Somehow, my parents (both educated, but living a very middle income life) successfully sent 6 kids off to liberal arts colleges. I don’t remember a single conversation that started with “we can’t afford this school.” (So this was new territory for us.) Both my husband and I work in the field of education (a noble profession, I like to think, but not one that lends itself to large bank accounts). The schools to which my son was admitted cost—on average—more for one year than the nicest car I would have ever dreamed of owning. The cost for 4 years would be… well, let’s not go there. My son was heading off to college at the height of this country’s recent recession. To make myself feel better, I tried very hard to listen to the advice I had been giving families over my 30 financial aid seasons:

You’ll never know the true cost of a college until you submit all appropriate paperwork to your schools. Every school handles scholarship and financial aid dollars differently. The same student may look very different in different colleges’ applicant pools. Scholarship decisions are not equivalent to the worth of a child in their mother’s eyes (if only!!!!) Financial aid officers are human beings. Many are parents themselves. Most tend to have a pretty high level of compassion to go along with their expertise. They know that families are anxious about this process AND they know that each family’s financial situation is unique. They will answer your questions. They are (along with admissions officers) your best source of information. This means that the well-meaning, “been there, done that” parent in the line at the grocery checkout is probably not your best source of information about this.

When late February rolled around, we arrived at the moment where we had to stop worrying and get to work. It started by NOT waiting until April 15 to file our tax return. We got that thing done earlier than we ever had done it. (I wish I could tell you that the process and paperwork was pleasurable, but it wasn’t so awful that we didn’t get it done – we did. We even got it done on time.)

If you have been avoiding the heavy lifting involved in this part of your child’s college search process, I would encourage you to follow a certain athletic company’s advice and “Just Do It.” Only when you do will you learn the real numbers and real costs at individual schools.

Here are some important resources to help get you through this:

– The official FAFSA website is: (Not fafsa. com… run away from that one.)
– The official CSS profile website is:
– provides information about federal student aid programs, eligibility, how to fill out the FAFSA, and what to expect after submitting the FAFSA, as well as guidance on repaying student loans.
– gets into the real nitty-gritty about the FAFSA: find details about dependency status, who counts as a parent, how to figure out when the IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be available for an individual applicant, or how to report same-sex marriages on the FAFSA.

I’ll say it again (recognizing my own professional bias): admissions and financial aid officers on college campuses everywhere are terrific sources of information, expertise, and worry abatement.

And really… worrying is overrated.

Take it from a world-class worrier.

Carin Smith, Lawrence University Regional Admissions Director

3 thoughts on “Financial Aid Season – Just Do it!”

  1. Thanks for the great blog, Carin. As an overseas American we have the added complexity of different filing deadlines (here in Spain, the 2014 tax campaign has not even started) and different forms reporting different numbers that don’t coincide with the ones on 1040. Filling out FAFSA and CSS Profile was probably the hardest thing I have ever done, and if I hadn’t hired a tax accountant to help, we wouldn’t have made the deadline. More assistance tailored to overseas applicants would be much appreciated – although I have to say that all the desperate emails I sent to Lawrence were replied to immediately and thoroughly. Thanks to all you guys at LU admissions for your help through this new and challenging process.

  2. Hi Carin, Thank you for posting this blog. It couldn’t have come at a better time! My youngest daughter and last child at home is going off to college this fall (hopefully Lawrence) and even though I’ve been through this process before I am continually worrying about that one question – how to pay for it all. I truly appreciate the reminder that worrying is overrated, it is and I too am a world-class worrier!

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