What’s More Stressful Than Applying to College? Filling Out Financial Aid Forms

Posted By Terri Williams on December 6, 2016 at 2:55 pm
What’s More Stressful Than Applying to College? Filling Out Financial Aid Forms

Applying to college is an exciting but stressful part of the educational process. But apparently, it doesn’t cause as much anxiety as the student loan process. A recent survey by Citizens Bank reveals respondents’ attitudes regarding filling out financial aid forms:

71% Thought the student loan process was more stressful than the actual college application process
52% Do not fully understand the student loan process
77% Wish they had someone to help them navigate the process
75% Worry about their ability to repay their student loans


Why the student loan application process is so stressful

For many applicants, there are a lot of unknowns to filling out financial aid forms, and this contributes to the stress levels.

Christine Roberts, head of Student Lending at Citizens Financial Group, tells GoodCall that the entire financial aid process often produces anxiety. “For many, it is the first time they are doing this, and they often don’t know where to begin or what options they have.” And it’s not a decision to be taken lightly, considering the average college student has over $30,000 in student loan debt.

“Further, while many families have talked about college with their children since they were young, most did not start having conversations about what they can afford and how to pay for school until it was time to go,” Roberts explains.

However, by having this conversation while students are still in high school, she believes that everyone will be on the same page in terms of understanding how much money is available and how much will need to come from other sources – which should cut down on some of the anxiety. “We also advise borrowers to exhaust free money options first, whether that be scholarships or grants,” explains Roberts. “We then tell students to fill out a FAFSA form, and, finally, bridge the gap with federal or private loans.”

Finding help for financial aid forms

There are numerous sites that provide tools to help students and their families complete the paperwork.  Roberts believes that these tools help, but admits they may not be the best option for everyone, and she says some people may need to speak with someone in person.  

In addition, Roberts explains that some websites may do a better job of providing a variety of different tools designed to meet the best learning styles of a wide range of applicants. “For example, Citizens offers a Student Loan Awareness that goes through the steps on how to apply for loans and includes videos, articles, and infographics,” Roberts says.

However, she thinks there are still way to make the process of filling out financial aid forms easier. One example? “More interactive online resources, videos, games, etcetera,” Roberts says. “Increasing the opportunities for applicants to speak with someone in person is another great way to help borrowers navigate the process,” she adds.

Beyond the paperwork

While some students may receive free aid or assistance, many students may need to consider other options, such as student loans. Joe DePaulo, CEO and co-founder of College Ave Student Loans, an online marketplace lender, recommends that students have a ballpark figure of how much they plan to earn after graduation. “It’s a general rule of thumb not to borrow more for school than you expect to make in the first year of your professional career,” DePaulo says. In fact, a recent study reveals that how students feel about their student loans may depend on their college major

If students prefer to get private versus federal loans, it’s important to shop around to find the best deal. “Make sure you’re considering the total cost of each private loan option and look for a provider who gives you ways to minimize that cost from the start,” DePaulo says.

Students can also utilize such tools as College Ave Student Loans’ simple calculator at http://www.collegeavestudentloans.com to help understand their loan and learn additional ways to save. “No one wants to pay more than they have to for student loans, so students need to understand the total cost of the loan, which is the amount borrowed plus any interest charges that are applied over the life of the loan.”

Lastly, DePaulo advises students to look for a provider that offers flexible repayment options and rewards them for paying what they can while they’re still in school.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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