Alyssa Nicoly, an Animas High School senior, would like to become an elementary education teacher, but first she has to get through an 85-question application to register for federal financial aid.
In a normal year, Nicoly would simply go to a free financial aid night at Fort Lewis College, where she and her parents could get help and advice about filling out the form from TRIO, a nonprofit based at the college.
TRIO helps high school students not only apply for financial aid but also aids them with tutoring, academic skill-building, budgeting for college and finding other scholarships outside federal assistance.
But 2020 is not a normal year, and like most aspects of life, the application process for students looking to attend college has been affected by COVID-19.
“It’s like 85 questions, and it’s pretty involved, but I need to get through this to apply for college,” Nicoly said Monday evening.
She was at a special drive-in help session AHS organized for students and their parents to get through filling out the form, called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
“Fort Lewis College does an amazing financial-aid night, and normally students would just attend those, but with COVID-19 we can’t hold them, and we had to bring the help to them. Someone at Big Picture High School first came up with the idea of holding a drive-in session to help people with FAFSA,” said Jess Morrison, director of college counseling at AHS.
Popcorn and hot chocolate were provided, and a public address system was set up so counselors could amplify their guidance as parents and students plowed through their online FAFSA forms in their cars.
“Sometimes parents and students fill out the form just fine, but often they can become overwhelmed, and we want to make this process as easy as possible for them,” Morrison said.
Wendy Javier, TRIO director of talent search, said federal officials have worked to streamline the FAFSA form over the past several years, and it’s easier to complete than it was a few years ago.
“But filling out the application can definitely be difficult,” Javier said.
AHS Head of School Sean Woytek said the process of helping seniors apply for financial aid has been tweaked like most activities at school to minimize the chance of spreading COVID-19.
“We’ve brought in some tents. We’re spending more time outside. In some ways, being a project-based school is helpful. We have to be creative and flexible,” he said. “As a student, you learn to ask questions, you learn to adapt as your project evolves, so being flexible is part of our ethos.”
For Nicoly, the assistance she received Monday night dealing with the drudgery of completing a governmental form was important to achieving her goal of becoming a school teacher.
“I have an internship at Rivendell (Early Education Center), and I really like working with the kids,” she said. “I think elementary ed would be perfect for me.”