Navigating the Financial Aid Process

Greg Johnson from Bottom Line makes sense of the complicated financial aid process, and tells you about programs specific to New York-based students.

Supporting students through the financial aid process has always been an integral part of Bottom Line’s services.

Each January and February, counselors are busy meeting with students to help submit FAFSAs (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and CSS Profiles, and sometimes additional verification materials to make sure that they secure financial aid awards from schools.

Many states also have specialized programs and financial aid forms which complicate the process of finding the resources needed to pay for college. In New York, for example, there is a statewide college access program in which all public colleges and many private colleges participate, collectively referred to as “Opportunity Programs.”

The program was developed by the state legislature in the 1960s to provide access to higher education for the “educationally and economically disadvantaged” students in New York State. The great news is that this gives many low income, first generation students (like the ones in Bottom Line’s program), the chance to be admitted to colleges where they otherwise might not get accepted to because of grades and test scores.

The other part of this process, however, is that before students can officially be admitted to one of these Opportunity Programs, they must provide financial verification to prove that they are, in fact, “economically disadvantaged.” For some students, this process is pretty straightforward. They get their parents’ tax forms, fill out some paperwork, and send the documents off.

However, for those students who have more complicated family situation or whose parents receive public benefits, verifying family income becomes a much more complex process. Students must compile a whole host of financial documents that they have never heard of before, including 1099s and W-2s. Time is of the essence, as Opportunity Programs fill up on a first-come, first-served basis.

Financial aid can often be a frustrating and time-consuming process. More importantly, financial aid is a critical piece of students’ future success. When all the puzzle pieces come together after a lot of hard work, it is fulfilling to see students get accepted to great colleges and receive the financial aid they qualify for.

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