Sitting across the table from anyone in a position of power can be intimidating. One of those tables may come as a surprise: it’s the table between a college student and a financial aid officer.
No one knows about this gulf better than Elizabeth Clews. Elizabeth spent years appealing her school’s decision to cut off her financial aid due to Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements – a situation that should see improvement after the passing of AB 789, which JBAY co-sponsored. Still, the vast distance between student and financial aid remains.
When she reflects on her experience, Elizabeth recalls “…it always seemed like they knew everything [about financial aid] and expected me to know the same, which I definitely did not. I felt like I was starting from zero and they were starting from ten.”
For millions of college students, their first interaction with financial aid is through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act Application (CADAA). For youth in foster care or who are homeless, their experience is complicated as they often don’t have any adult in their lives that helps explain either of these applications. In other words, like Elizabeth, they’re expected to have a “10” when it comes to knowledge but often start at a “0” with little assistance.
Luckily, JBAY is stepping in to help. On Wednesday, December 6th, JBAY is hosting a webinar to train youth advocates on updates to the financial aid application processes and the unique challenges faced by youth in foster care or those experiencing homelessness. With just a week to go, over 900 people have registered for the webinar, demonstrating the level of demand for this important information.
Having a support system is crucial to ensuring youth are awarded the funds they need. Elizabeth echoes this requirement. “What I really needed at the time were adults in my life that were willing to put in the effort. Even if they sent text or emails that I missed, if they kept showing up and letting me know that they were there and that they cared, it would have meant everything to me, and it really would have given me the confidence to keep going, even when I was making mistakes,” she says.
According to JBAY Education Project Manager Sarah Pauter, having someone that youth can go to who is an expert is a big step forward. “Through training supporters and advocates, we can help thousands of young people who are in foster care or homeless to see that higher education is an option and begin to realize that it is well within reach once they apply for financial aid. Having someone to walk them through the process and answer questions is crucial to that,” she said.
When asked what advice she would give others like herself, Elizabeth says that asking for help is just as important as receiving it. “…even if it’s not a close contact, maybe it’s an adult, a mentor, or a teacher. [Anyone] that would be willing to answer questions or be there with you and guide you. I think it’s so powerful.”
To register for JBAY’s December 6th FAFSA/CADAA training webinar for adult supporters of youth, click here.