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Fewer students apply for college financial aid amid pandemic: 'It's like walking in blind'

Posted at 11:36 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 10:34:31-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As the number of students filling out financial aid applications dropped in Virginia, organizations across the state came together for an initiative to help students with the process.

Tomika Brown, Director of ECMC's The College Place Richmond said on average Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion was down nearly 10% across the state, but for students who needed it most in low-income areas, they were seeing dips of more than 30%.

"The FAFSA is the free application for Federal Student Aid, and it is the gatekeeper for all financial aid. A student cannot be awarded any merit or need-based financial aid without a school having a completed FAFSA on file," said Brown. "Because of the pandemic, students aren't able to access help in the ways that they have been able to do so historically."

In response to that need, the Virginia College Access Network partnered with several of the state's college access providers to give students one-on-one support.

Students needing help completing their FAFSA can schedule an online appointment at VirginiaCan.org, Monday through Sunday, and an advisor will walk them through.

"By clicking this link, anyone in the state can get support in completing their FAFSA," said Brown.

17-year-old Brunswick High School senior, Dulce Ruby Trejo, said preparing for college amid the pandemic had been challenging.

"It's a scary thing being first generation, because it's really like walking in blind," said Trejo. "I really have no idea where to start, or what to fill out first."

Trejo said her guidance counselor helped her get in touch with Tomika Brown -- and Brown's support had made all the difference.

"She's really helped me," said Trejo.

Together, they completed Trejo's FAFSA in October. Trejo expects to hear back on financial relief she qualifies for soon.

"I don't really like asking my parents for money or for helping out with something," said Trejo. "Giving them a lift off of their financial burden, it would, it really means a lot."