To-do lists, anxiety, the FAFSA and preparing for college

FAFSA to-doThere may be twelve years of schooling between kindergarten and the senior year, but it all quickly culminates in the 5 months prior to high school graduation. Now that March has arrived, (who stole the month of February? I don’t recall it!) the last leg of the journey requires shifting into overdrive.

These last months are exciting and stressful. Parents often are confronted with the stark financial realities of the fast-approaching college years, and scurry to find information and resources to help ease the burden. (Ding ding – we’re there!) And if that’s not enough, our well-intended coaching, reminding, and nagging frequently fails to reach our teen who, coincidentally, is now experiencing full-blown attacks of senioritis and independence! There is immense irony here … At a time when a parent should be giving their teen more independence in preparation for college life, our fear of things not getting done by deadlines or the anxiety over college financing can serve as deterrents to these increased freedoms. At least that’s what my friend (a.k.a. me) has found these past few months!

The “to do” list resulting from our weekly graduation discussions help to remind Jake of things he is responsible to take care of, and it keeps me from feeling the need to holler, “don’t forget…” as he is walking out the door for school in the morning. Towards the end of the week, I ask him how he’s doing with his list, and if there’s a problem he lets me know (or if the list got shoved into the bottom of his backpack and forgotten about, he still has time to dig it out). So far, the system has worked for both of us.

Jake is continuing to apply for scholarships to offset the $10,000 needed for room and board next year. Having his tuition paid (as a result of exceeding requirements on the state graduation test) certainly is a big plus. Applying for scholarships is not a favorite pastime for most seniors, and Jake is no different. There doesn’t appear to be a payoff for their work and time invested, and therefore, it can be discouraging. About a month ago, Jake received a response from a local scholarship he had applied for in December. Although he was selected as an alternate (versus a confirmed recipient), the letter verified for him that his application was worthy and didn’t go unnoticed. Applying for scholarships is quite similar to job hunting – it’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you receive encouragement or positive feedback from the person(s) on the other side.

This week we completed the FAFSA application and submitted it. Having our taxes and the FAFSA worksheet (available at in front of us made the process both simple and quick. Obtaining the required FAFSA pin beforehand also was beneficial. The three of us (my husband, Jake, and me) sat down together to walk through the respective sections for parents and student. It gave us an opportunity to work as team and for all of us to be on the same page. (Note: The FAFSA is strictly numbers taken from your recent taxes; there is no narrative portion. If there are extenuating circumstances that have caused a difference in income – job loss, etc. – that will not be reflected in your tax information, The Department of Education suggests that you contact the selected college’s financial aid office to make them aware of these changes.)

I hear myself uttering the same words that most parents say as they go through the FAFSA process – “We probably won’t qualify for any assistance.” But then again, I also know that if we do not apply, we are certain to not qualify! It took us an hour to fill out the FAFSA worksheet and an additional 30 minutes for me to transfer the information to the online application. I figure 90 minutes of our time is a minimal investment for what could be. In the interim, we’ll continue to explore other financial assistance avenues – scholarships, potential student loans, and of course, winning the lottery!

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