Applying for student financial aid is a challenge

I recently had the honor of helping a group of students complete their Free Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, application.

These students are part of the Lansing Community College High School Diploma Completion Initiative. They have each struggled to graduate from high school so far. Some of them will graduate in December and the rest in the spring – perhaps a little later than their peers, but graduating nonetheless.

For those of you who sat down with your kids to complete the FAFSA, you’re probably wondering what makes it such an honor for me. For me, it’s that during the two hours I spend with these students, they kind of entrust to me what I consider to be one of their most important possessions: their dignity.

Each one had to reveal to me a bit of their personal journey, so that I could give them advice on how to complete their FAFSA.

A young woman told me that she was evicted from her home in June and that she had been homeless for most of the summer. While no longer homeless, she would not be able to get her parents’ information to complete the FAFSA, nor could she depend on her parents to help pay for her education.

A young man told me that his family had been homeless during the summer, but he was glad he had never been an unaccompanied minor.

Another young man told me that his grandparents were his legal guardians. He needed to know how this was going to affect his financial aid, and we talked about helping his grandmother figure out how to fill out an FSA ID so that his tax information could be linked to his.

These young people are worried about the future and they see that college is the only way to change course. I told them to speak to the financial aid advisors at LCC, where they will continue to work to find more help understanding the situation and their options.

Orta: High school year goes by fast, don’t miss opportunities like FAFSA

As I was overwhelmed by the challenges and obstacles these students faced, I was invigorated by their courage.

It fills me with hope and optimism that our society’s investment in financial support for these young people will be the opportunity and the foundation they need to help them pursue post-secondary education and future careers.

Hopefully their experiences in college will bring stability to future generations in their own families. This way FAFSA can be life changing.

If high school students need help completing the FAFSA, they should contact their high school or college counselor, or call the Capital Area College Access Network. For more information, follow CapCAN on Facebook or Twitter, or call (517) 203-5011.

Michele Strasz is the Executive Director of the Capital Area College Access Network, a community collaboration dedicated to improving college preparation, participation and completion in Ingham and Eaton counties.