For high-school students preparing for college, the world of financial aid and scholarships can be a daunting, confusing place. The sheer number of advice books, blog posts, calculators, forms and deadline are overwhelming at the best of times. Coupled with the stress of admissions, tests and moving away from home, they can seem even more impossible to grasp -- especially for students who may be the first in their family to go to college.
These students can use all the help they can get. And, so, if you’ve been through the process yourself, consider volunteering to help local students with their financial aid and scholarship forms. It’s a crucial, but often overlooked, way for current college students, recent graduates or anyone with financial expertise to give back to their community -- and to give students knowledge they can pay forward.
If you’re looking for a formal way to help, check out the nationwide College Goal Sunday events in February and March each year. College Goal Sunday, which started with a single event in Indiana in 1989, has since expanded into around 40 states and the District of Columbia. Volunteers at these events focus on helping students fill out and file their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); depending on the location, students can also bring questions about state and institutional aid, scholarship forms and financial planning as well.
If you visit your local College Goal Sunday site, you’ll notice that the events tend to feature expert advice from volunteers with real-world financial aid administration experience. But even if you’re not a professional, they can use your help; as a volunteer, you’ll get training about FAFSA definitions, deadlines and basics, and you can also help with setup, logistics, event publicity and more.
While College Goal Sunday happens in the spring, it’s also not the only way to help students with financial aid and scholarship forms. During the fall, high schools and community organizations across the nation host Financial Aid Nights, inviting alumni, counselors, admissions and financial aid advisers to make presentations and answer student questions. If you’d like to plan or contribute to one of these events in your district, excellent materials abound. The Federal Student Aid website offers a partial toolkit here, and many states provide detailed presentations and handouts, like these from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Authority.
If your community is a Scholarship America Dollars for Scholars affiliate, your volunteers can access a full Financial Aid Night toolkit through our Chapter Portal as well. And Dollars for Scholars volunteers also have a unique opportunity to guide potential applicants through their scholarship forms. By volunteering to help students fill out their free student profile, you’ll ensure that they match to your local scholarships as well as those from partners like Fastweb.
Last but not least, don’t forget that your volunteer efforts can help more than just high school seniors struggling with scholarship forms and college-cost calculators. Financial aid, support and advice are often harder to access after students start college, especially for nontraditional and transfer students. Even if your last memory of a college financial aid office involves standing in line for a check, consider connecting with local two-year or four-year schools for back-to-school or end-of-year events.
Whether you’re a college student looking to give back, a retired financial expert who’s seen it all or a high school counselor looking to help, your volunteer hours will be well spent by focusing on financial aid and scholarship forms for students. In the rush to figure out high school, college and “the real world,” your advice can (literally) pay off for kids who need help paying for school!