Skip to main content

The Spring of senior year of high school has its own unique stressors built in but with additional challenges created by recent federal financial aid changes, stress levels are even higher for many parents and college-bound students.

Here are ten tips to keep a level head at this time of uncertainty while awaiting final admissions decisions and offers of financial aid.

  1. Be certain to file the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Don’t let the news about FAFSA roll-out delays and technical challenges associated with it discourage you from filing. If you find you need assistance, reach out for help at the Federal Student Aid Office, your child’s college advisor, financial aid offices at schools to which your child has applied, and/or your state’s higher education agency.
  2. Acknowledge the stress. Take a moment to recognize the stress and anxiety you and your child may be feeling about current financial uncertainties. Whether you’ve had difficulty understanding the recent FASFA changes, completing, and/or submitting financial data, or determining when you’ll hear back from various institutions about what level of aid will be offered, know that you are not alone and that many families, in addition to your own, are experiencing the same challenges and feelings.
  3. Stay Informed and in touch. Keep up to date with the latest available information from the U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid office, state financial aid agencies, and the schools to which your child has submitted applications and from whom admissions decisions and financial aid offers are expected. Understanding timelines and any expected delays in rendering financial aid packages can help manage your and your child’s expectations. Be proactive in reaching out to schools if you feel your family’s information for financial aid may be delayed in submission or requires revision.
  4. Embrace the uncertainty. While it may be hard to do, recognizing what you can and can’t control and thereby, embracing the lack of certainty with which you are faced may go a long way in keeping you as calm as possible and focused on what you can control at this time.
  5. Revisit the list. With some extra time on your hands before admissions and financial aid decisions are rendered and commitments need to be made, use this time to take a fresh look at remaining schools to re-examine aspects that may have been previously overlooked in the rush to apply or during prior campus visits, if any.
  6. Be honest about available resources. If you haven’t already done so, be candid with your child about your family’s available resources and how much you are prepared to cover in college costs. With your child, explore any funding sources you may have overlooked such as education support through your job or theirs, and private scholarships from corporations, community organizations, or non-profit foundations.
  7. Get ready for various outcomes. While you can’t predict how everything will ultimately play out, you can certainly list out possible outcomes and begin to prepare for them. For instance, if you haven’t already, you can think through various ways to lower overall costs — such as living at home for the first year or attending a lesser-cost school initially. You might also think about whether taking a gap year might make sense to obtain valuable experience to bolster an application for a school to which admissions were denied and/or to save extra money.
  8. Prepare for an appeal. If there are special financial circumstances that will impact your child’s potential ability to attend a desired institution, be prepared to share that information. Now is a good time to begin gathering documentation, including evidence of loss of employment or reduction in earnings, increases in expenses due to the health of a family member, or anything that may not be apparent from the information you provided for financial aid purposes. Once all financial aid packages have been received and reviewed by you and your child, you may also consider letting a preferred school know if a comparable school has offered a more generous aid package.
  9. Take a careful look and time to reflect. When acceptances and financial aid information are finally received after such a long wait, your inclination may be to make an immediate decision. Don’t be rash. Instead, take a careful look at the details of the financial aid packages and be sure to distinguish between the different types of aid that are being offered for each year of study, not just year one. Ensure your child understands the difference between grants and scholarships, for instance, which won’t need to be repaid but may have qualifications tied to them (such as maintaining a minimum grade point average) and loans that need to be repaid. Make sure your child also understands who will be responsible for the repayment of student loans. Estimating monthly payments over the life of repayment can help them to understand the financial impact after graduation.
  10. Confirm deadlines for decisions and deposits. Check with colleges to make certain you understand whether there is any flexibility concerning their deadlines for decisions and deposits.



Patricia A. Roberts is a motivational speaker, writer, and veteran of the college savings industry. She has led college savings initiatives at premier financial services organizations like Merrill Lynch and AllianceBernstein, and has authored Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. In her current role as COO at Gift of College, she promotes 529 plans as a financial wellness benefit in the workplace.