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College Access Blog


Most of the students I work with are low-income or middle-class. These students represent the majority of the students applying to college. I’m worried about the FAFSA rollout because students don’t have enough time to weigh their financial options and visit schools by May 1st, “the National Enrollment Deadline.” In the best interest of students and their families, I urge colleges to push their enrollment deadline to at least May 15th for all students. 

During this month, in a normal year, I would break down financial aid packages for the schools my students have been accepted to so far so they could see how financial aid works in real-time and have more (and hopefully better) packages to look forward to. I would also start meeting with juniors and their families. In a normal year, students typically have two months to consider their financial options for college. With the FAFSA processing delayed until “mid-March,” I currently can’t give my students an accurate picture of the debt they will accrue after graduating in four years. I also have not met with juniors and their families one-on-one to start their college application journey.

All I can do now is provide an “educated” guess based on merit scholarships, predicted Pell, max Federal Student Loan, and if they are accepted into a New York school, New York State TAP grants. I can’t account for need-based aid from colleges, work-study, and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant since these things vary at every school. So, my guesses can be off. In addition, due to my caseload size, this guesswork can’t be done for every student, especially since my students have applied to over 28 colleges (thanks to our state’s two public college systems accounting for about half of that number). These financial aid lessons only occur in chance encounters when I’m trying to convince a student to complete a task for a college that could greatly benefit them, such as completing the application process for a school’s Higher Education Opportunity Program.

One of my biggest worries with the processing delay is for the students who applied to more than 20 colleges (as the FAFSA only allows for 20 colleges at a time to be listed), which is easy to do in my state and other states like California. Not every student puts their most important/favorite 20 colleges first on the FAFSA. I’ve had some students list their colleges alphabetically on the FAFSA to avoid confusion with the following list they submit. I expect further delays with aid packages from colleges that didn’t make a student’s initial list of 20. This worries me because I might not be able to break down all of my students’ financial aid packages in a timely manner.

When the processing delay was announced, and I saw colleges changing their enrollment deadline that day, I decided to keep track of these changes on an open-source Google Sheet that I clean up occasionally. Alongside the University of California, California State and CUNY systems, almost 200 colleges and universities have changed their enrollment deadline. While there isn’t any benefit to colleges that use College Board’s CSS Profile to change their enrollment date, since they can predict federal and state aid with the form, Williams College became the first CSS school to change its enrollment date. Amherst College followed recently.

Colleges are supposed to be a public good. They are supposed to produce a new generation of responsible, active, tax-paying citizens. With that said, all colleges, even the ones that use the CSS Profile, should feel a duty to push back their enrollment deadline.

It’s crucial that we give students and families a chance to fully consider all of their college options in a reasonable timeframe. For most students, this is their first substantial financial decision. It can have ever-lasting effects on their life. Colleges should let the quality of their programs, campus, and financial aid fill their first-year class, not an early deadline.

Our Founder, Danny Tejada, gives a speech entitled "Progress is Scary" at Skidmore College's 2023 Stoles & Cords Ceremony for BIPOC and LGBTQ graduates. This is a special ceremony where BIPOC and LGBTQ students are celebrated for graduating from Skidmore. They are given stoles and cords that represent their identity to wear at the larger graduation. Below are his prepared remarks.

Progress Can Be Scary

How many of you were scared coming to Skidmore?

How many of you experienced culture shock here?

How many of you were counting the days until graduation?

How many of you had meaningful experiences here?

All of us experienced Skidmore in different ways. This is what I say to my students about any college. I tell them that you have to take risks in life to achieve greatness. What I haven’t told them is that progress can be scary.

Growing up in “humble” beginnings can make progress scary. Racist experiences can make progress scary. I grew up in a bubble called New York City. It’s a bubble because you can see the same people on the train every day and never interact with them. It’s a bubble because you are racially segregated by neighborhood and school. It’s a bubble because everyone doesn’t have equal access to information.

College wasn’t talked about in my home. I didn’t know college existed until ninth grade when two people from Pace University’s Upward Bound program presented their program in my English class. That moment is when my life changed forever. I had the time of my life in the program. I learned a lot about college admissions from it. It was here where I could point to the first time I felt scared of progress.

I was excited about the idea of going away to college. But I was afraid of what would happen to my family. I was the oldest who protected my siblings and mother from my alcoholic father in our public housing unit, barely getting by on public assistance. I was afraid because my father’s side of the family didn’t support my decision to go away to college. They thought it was too expensive and that I wouldn’t be able to handle it socially. They weren’t interested in hearing about how financial aid worked or what HEOP was.

I was afraid when my college counselor asked me if I was applying Early Decision to Skidmore. But I pushed through all of that fear, even though I felt alone. I came to HEOP Summer alone. I mostly kept to myself the whole time. I didn’t call home. No one from home checked on me. I wish someone prepared me for the fact that progress can be lonely.

When the school year started, I still felt alone. I was on WSPN, a mixtape DJ, Hip Hop journalist, founded Hip Hop Alliance, and was in a relationship. Despite all of that, I was still lonely. Mentors such as Professor Grady-Willis helped give me some purpose in life. From there, I discovered that I wanted to be a college counselor. But I hit a roadblock. I wasn’t hired in the field for four years after I graduated.

While I had no debt, progress led me back to the projects with my father. The progress I made still made me scared of my father. That progress made his target on me bigger. That were parts of me that regretted the progress I made. This was a feeling I was going to have a few times in my life. Sometimes, I felt that life on public assistance in the projects was better than what I was experiencing.

Then, I got my first full-time job doing Medicaid enrollment. I finally had the chance to move out of my parents’ house. I was blessed to find a $750-a-month studio apartment near the L train. This was the first time that progress started to feel good. I was making some money that my parents couldn’t imagine, no matter how little it actually was. I was helping my community. I was happy with everything I had.

Things got even better when I became a college counselor. I was now just like the man I considered a hero. I even got to work alongside him in my first role. I got into another serious relationship that lasted a couple of years. I had a habit of fully investing myself in my woman’s progress. But just like the one from college, they were gone once they achieved a certain goal. The feeling of being underappreciated by partners made me want to dig deeper into my career.

The progress I made in my career has been fulfilling: from where students get into to the connections I was making. I was happy to be appreciated. This was progress I loved. But it came at a price. My personal life was nonexistent because I was answering student emails, reading about college admissions, and engaging with people online about it during my off time. Being a college counselor was my identity, and I wanted to be the best one by any means.

Then came along my fiancée. It was another situation where I was fully invested. But this time, I got the same energy back. I finally left NYC because of her. It was something I always talked about. I worked at a private high school because of her. I created my consulting business because of her. I started to focus on my personal life because of her. For the first time, I actually felt like I had a partner. I finally felt like I could have the family I always wanted.

But with all of those changes, progress became scary again. I was achieving much more quickly than I could sit and enjoy. I was also taking on more responsibilities at home. Society doesn’t prepare you for these things. Growing up, I was used to keeping my feelings inside. So I continued that old habit, which I’m still working on.

Moving back to NYC was something I didn’t think I would do. Trying to settle down was something I didn’t think I would do. Making six figures was never a thought in my mind. Progress is scary. These are the things people don’t prepare you for. They also don’t prepare you for when things don’t work out.

Traveling on three transit systems to get to work is tough. Being in meetings all day is tough. Having your partner start working full-time again after three years of graduate school is tough. Going home to do more work is tough. Progress is scary. At least this time, I wasn’t alone. She created a safe space for me to slow down and readjust. She made it okay for us to work things out.

Her encouragement of me to develop my private life was scary. It’s hard to hear constructive criticism when you have lived the life I had. But I know she means well. Progress can be scary. But it’s a great thing. It doesn’t have to be done alone. Slowing down and making time for the things and people you love is also okay. Enjoy your progress.

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