After living independently since I was fifteen, my biggest worry was not only paying for college, but learning how. After filing for financial aid by myself, my senior year, I never imagined the stress, confusion, and paperwork that was to come.
I discovered I was randomly selected to send in extra requirements, including W2 forms, IRS statements, appeal essays, notarized paperwork, and more. I not only had no idea what these forms were, but I had to learn how to send a fax, to contact the IRS, to request tax reports etc. Although I believe these are important tasks to learn, it was exhausting to figure it out on my own. Every other day I would get an email from financial aid, asking for a new form or telling me the last one I sent in was incorrect. Every little thing went wrong, the IRS was unavailable for a whole month, one person wanted everything over email, the next wanted everything faxed, my W2 form was missing; I quickly felt frustrated and defeated. I had put so much focus into getting my financial aid completed that my grades struggled and I quickly fell behind.
I visited my school counselor almost daily, asking how to get certain forms or what they meant. I asked friends and peers if they had to do the same requirements or if they knew how and every time I got the same answer, I don't know, my parents did it. I reached out to financial aid but often didn't get much help or was spoken to poorly. I persisted by asking questions and for support. I tried my best to get every form filled out correctly, and sent in as soon as I could. After six months of emailing about six different people, it wasn't until August, a month before college started, I finally got my award package.
I still have a million questions about how to pay for college, and I am now planning to meet with someone from my school to help after I move in. I am aware my experience with financial aid was more stressful than most students, and I hope to bring awareness to independent students like me.
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