The Center for New York City Affairs’ Understanding FAFSA website and guide demystifies the application process for high school students
How are you increasing access to college for first-generation students? This question preoccupied Kim Nauer, program director at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs (CNYCA), several years ago when she was working on an education policy report for New York City. .. She realized that the way she could answer that question was to create a resource that would guide students through an extremely important part of the college application process: completing the free federal aid application form. to students (FAFSA). Nauer wrote: FAFSA: The practical guide for high school students (and the adults who help them), a step-by-step guide to this complex application process.
The importance of the FAFSA cannot be overstated, as it is used by the federal government and many states and colleges to determine which students will receive financial aid and how much they will receive. Grants, educational opportunities, and low-interest loans are all affected by the FAFSA. “I wanted to create something that would be useful and practical for students,” says Nauer. “The first version of the booklet was short, only eight or ten pages, and basically explained what the FAFSA is and why it asks you all these personal questions. It has evolved into its current form, which is more comprehensive and a resource which can help students through the college application process. The book guides students through the weather in the fall when they fill out the FAFSA; in the winter when colleges and the FAFSA follow them. to verify information; and spring, when they compare university offers and decide which is the best place for them.
The guide was born from a strategic report, Create college-ready communities, which Nauer worked on years ago, near the end of Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s administration. In this article, there were three pages that presented the experiences of many students with the FAFSA in their own words. “One of the fascinating things I remember from the report is that the students’ discussions with their families brought up so many emotional questions. Some students would discover for the first time that they were undocumented; others had to beg their parents to see their tax return. After creating this piece, I wanted to try to create something directly for the students rather than the makers. Although the book was produced by the CNYCA with support from New York-based funders, it truly is a resource for any student anywhere who needs help.
“In many places it is often the students who try to fill in the form on their own. Although they have university access counselors in their schools, these workers are often overstretched. Also, many parents are convinced that their children can figure it out for themselves,” says Nauer. Although the guide is aimed primarily at students, it also targets parents and guardians, as well as high school and college staff who can provide advice on student financial aid.
The guide is now in its tenth edition, and Nauer recently launched a companion website, UnderstandingFAFSA.org. It has been translated and is now available in ten languages with the help of the New York City Department of Education. The department printed and distributed the guide to all high school students and their family members before COVID-19, and continues to translate the guide and promote the new website.
“In the past, we have received requests for printed copies from cities in the South, Colorado and Texas. The website now makes it easier to expand our reach across the country. The website is just one of the tools Nauer uses to increase the impact of this resource. “I started talking with some Parsons professors about participatory design, where we were creating something with the help of students. I am also trying to increase the information we have for students who have very complex cases, such as homeless students, homestay students, and undocumented students.
“College and college funding is something every student can do,” Nauer adds. “It’s just a matter of figuring out how to get through the hoops, and there are adults at the high school and college level who are there to help them. They just have to try and they’ll find it’s easier than they think.