Financial Aid

My Time in Schools Helping with the FAFSA

Hear Communications Associate Shaun Connolly share his experience helping high school seniors in Worcester, MA with their FAFSA, how he used to work in high schools, and how now that he is back how rewarding it is to work with this population again.
A student and counselor working on the FAFSA

This article was originally published in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

If you've spoken to a high school senior, guidance counselor, or college administrator, you have heard about it. Or maybe you noticed a headline in the news.

The rollout of the new, simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has seen significant delays and glitches. In the long run, the new FAFSA will be easier and more helpful, but right now, it's a source of frustration and stress.

As someone who counsels parents and students on college finances, I urge patience, persistence, and perspective. When I was a Worcester high school teacher and then a counselor for GEAR UP at North High School, I helped students answer the old, 108-question FAFSA. (The new one has less than half as many questions.)

There were always lots of fits and starts because of all the moving pieces. I had a long checklist of the bits of information students would need to complete the form. There were many phone calls with working parents struggling just to remember the passwords to new email accounts created just to fill out the FAFSA.

I also remember the satisfaction of finally finishing the form. The smile on the students' faces as they realized they had cleared one of the many big hurdles and were one step closer to college.

Many of these students were first-generation college students. They were the first in their families to pursue higher education. They were the first representatives of their families to go and start a new level of education and professional life.

For me, there was something rewarding about being one, small stop on their journey to higher education. Which is why, this year, I leapt at the opportunity to work with MassEdCO and their Talent Search counselors to help their students with the FAFSA and CSS Profile applications.

The same feelings I had nearly a decade ago are back. I am a communications associate for MEFA, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority. I answer the calls and emails from parents and students with a whole range of questions about paying for college, so I know the satisfaction of helping someone plan for college. 

But volunteering for MassEdCO gives me the face-to-face interaction I used to have with high school students. To get that one-on-one time with students again is fantastic. I get to know them and their educational aspirations. I get to learn what got them to this point. And I get to help them in one of the many steps toward their future.

I will be back in Worcester high schools in the coming weeks, and I promise you those days are circled on my calendar. I'm looking forward to meeting with students one on one and helping make their lives just a little bit easier.

The world of financial aid and college applications is frustrating and confusing for many today. If you're feeling that way, find a MassEdCO location near you or reach out to me or one of my colleagues at MEFA ( who can help. Together, we'll all get through it, students will head off to college, and next year, we'll be here to help a new class of high school seniors figure it out.