At this time of year, a high school senior might feel pressure akin to an adult preparing for tax returns.
Students across the Teche Area are getting a lesson in financial responsibilities while many of them are learn how to apply for state and federal aid to attend college for the first time.
The FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is required now to be filled out by all students, and if seniors don’t plan to attend college, there’s a form for that, too.
“Either they have to apply for the FAFSA and have it successfully submitted or the parents have to sign a non participation form saying that at this time they are not going to apply for the FAFSA,” New Iberia Senior High counselor David Moore said. “That doesn’t stop them from changing their mind at a later date. For graduation requirements you have to have one or the other.”
Moore and Westgate High School department head and senior counselor Donna Francis said the push to get more students to do paperwork is a result of money being left on the table by many college bound students.
“Students aren’t utilizing the opportunity to get a scholarship and because money is just left untouched they had to implement something,” Francis said.
“According to the state of Louisiana, students are missing out on federal monies because they are not applying for scholarships, grants and loans,” Moore said.
“FAFSA is not just for TOPS but loans and grants as well and by not applying you may be missing out on something you qualify for,” he said.
Moore also said the state’s political climate and rumors circulating about the uncertain future of TOPS may be discouraging for students who need to apply, using their parents’ tax information.
Now that FAFSA is becoming mandatory University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Director of the Educational Talent Search Program Donald Doffoney said the university has experienced an increase in students applying earlier.
“They’re applying earlier but they really don’t know what to do after that they have a lot of questions,” Doffoney said.
“Once they file, the FAFSA is going to assign them a family contribution number and that number determines how much aid the school is eligible to give them,” he said.
The pressure to get their financial house in order affects different students in different ways.
Eighteen-year-old Jonathan Aphaiyarath, a senior at Westgate High School, has a bring-it-on attitude when it comes to the college application and financial aid process.
His adrenaline towards getting things done is as high as his list of achievements and future goals. “Once LSU released their application, I applied two weeks after that and when they started releasing acceptance letters I received mine the second day,” the motivated senior said.
Aphaiyarath also filled out his FAFSA early because he needed it to apply for a national scholarship. He is now a semifinalist among 2,000 students across the country who are waiting to here about advancing to the next round of the process that includes an interview.
The WHS Student of the Year has plans to attend LSU and major in biological sciences with a concentration in premedicine and then go on to LSU Medical school to become a neurologist. “What drives me is that I want my first four years of college paid for so I don’t have to worry about that, and I’ll take out loans for medical school and pay that off,” the senior said with confidence.
He will be the first person in his family to attend college.
NISH senior Kelsey Charpentier is interested in the medical field but is choosing a different route to get there.
Charpentier is a part of the JUMPSTART pathway available to seniors who are not headed for a four-year university but would rather go straight to work or attend the technical or community colleges available.
“It’s last-minute (applying for FAFSA) for people in JUMPSTART. I have completely different things to reach for with my goals, so it’s very hectic right now,” Charpentier said.
Among the things the NISH senior is reaching for are certifications that will give her a leg up in starting work immediately after high school in her field of physical therapy.
“I’m going straight to work. I’m a bit ahead right now with my CPR class and my sports medicine certifications,” she said.
Charpentier also said she does plan on taking classes at the community college after she begins work and she would rather fill out the FAFSA now than wait until later.
“It’s overwhelming but I’m sure a lot of people say that,” she said.
Whether or not seniors fill out the FAFSA or sign the waiver declaring they won’t be applying for aid at this time. The consequence of not declaring your intent towards financial assistance can come with harsh consequences.
“I’m probably going to give them the deadline of a week before graduation. (If students don’t comply) you’ll get your diploma but you won’t walk,” Moore said.