Last spring, the pandemic stole Maddie Harvey's job on campus in the Dean of Students office. She was finishing up her senior year at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and without the income from her job, she wasn't going to have enough money to pay her upcoming tuition bill.
"It was definitely a very vulnerable situation that I was in," says Harvey, "it's not easy to talk about when you're struggling, especially knowing that so many people were struggling at one time."
Through some Internet research, she discovered a tool called SwiftStudent that would help her craft a financial aid appeal letter to her college. In it, Harvey requested money for her studies, and outlined all her expenses. It was nerve-wracking to air her personal financial situation. And the stakes were high: If she didn't receive more money, she was afraid she wouldn't be able to pay her tuition bill. Finally, she heard a response: Her appeal had worked. Her college offered her about $2,000 more for the semester. She says that money "made a big difference and allowed me to graduate on time."
Millions of students may find themselves in the same boat as Harvey — saddled with unexpected expenses or pandemic related job losses that impact their ability to pay for college. And a student's financial aid package might not be enough to cover their costs because of the way the federal aid system is set up: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA — the form which determines a student's eligibility for financial aid for college — uses tax data from 2019. Unfortunately, the world looked very different back then, pre-pandemic.
It's a concern that's come up with many of the high school students that Danny Tejada, a college advisor at a private school in St. Louis, works with.