Making College Dreams a Reality: Maximizing Financial Aid

Financial Aid workshop

A recent U.S. Department of Education report shows that only 67% of New York City high school seniors completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in 2017, leaving an estimated $50 million in federal college grants on the table. The low completion rate is not surprising–applying for financial aid is a complicated and daunting process, especially for low-income students. At Breakthrough New York, we help our students overcome the challenges of applying for financial aid to help make their college dreams a reality.

Students from low-income backgrounds face many barriers to applying for financial aid. Many of our students are the first in their family to pursue higher education, so they have limited knowledge of their financial aid options. The challenges of completing the complex financial documents are compounded for families who do not speak or read English fluently, who are juggling multiple jobs, or who are facing unemployment or inconsistent employment. Securing the required tax and financial materials is difficult, especially if students have limited documentation due to poor record keeping or their parents' immigration status.

To help students overcome these obstacles, we hold information sessions and intensive workshops with trained volunteers who work one-on-one with families to complete the FAFSA, as well as New York State's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) application and the CSS Profile. While the FAFSA determines whether students are eligible for federal aid, the TAP application is necessary for students who will be attending an in-state public or private college, and the complex CSS Profile is a requirement by many private colleges and universities in order to qualify for institutional aid. Private grants and aid are especially important for undocumented students, who do not qualify for government grants. We also help students locate scholarships and re-negotiate aid awards from colleges when needed.  

Completing the FAFSA, TAP and CSS Profile maximizes opportunities for aid, and we find that students can often attend elite private colleges and graduate with less debt than they would in the State system. Financial aid support is a key reason why 100% of Breakthrough New York students go to college. If you are interested in volunteering to help students and families complete financial aid applications, please visit http://www.btny.org/volunteer-sign-up/ or email us to learn more.