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How mentors can help with the FAFSA

Filing out the FAFSA can be daunting for students, and mentors can find it difficult to know exactly how to support their mentee through the process. This article will help you understand your role in this critical step in the college process.

  1. Learn about the FAFSA
  2. Talk to your mentee
  3. Take action
  4. Following up

1. Learn about the FAFSA 

The most important thing you can do is understand the process yourself.

2. Talk to your mentee

As a mentor, you are uniquely positioned to meet your mentee exactly where they are in the process and support them to move forward. Every mentee will need a slightly different type of support, so your first step is to talk to your mentee and assess the type of support that would be most beneficial. For example, should you play the role of project manager, friend, counselor, or cheerleader?

Consider asking the following questions:

  • Do they understand the purpose and importance of the FAFSA?
  • What questions do they have about the process?
  • Do they know the information required within the FAFSA application? If not, do they have a plan to gather that information?
  • Are they comfortable discussing the FAFSA with their parents? If not, can you help coach or role play with them?
  • Are they aware of their school deadlines for completing the FAFSA?
  • Are they aware of deadlines specific to colleges they may be interested in?

Always talk to your staff person if you are ever unsure of the type of support that your mentee needs.

In some cases, your mentee might have submitted financial aid information the previous year, leading them to believe they do not need to complete the FAFSA, but they will need to update that information this year.

3. Take action

  • Carve out time to help your mentee find the answers to their questions.
  • Remind your mentee they can check in with their guidance counselor if they have additional questions.
  • Remind mentees to tell parents to look out for 2015 W-2s in the mail, which they will need to file their taxes. Note: Families who are unable to complete their federal income tax returns early can estimate their financial info from last pay stub(s) of the year and/or W-2 and 1099 statements.
  • Help your mentee articulate a "to do" list to complete the FAFSA. 
  • Be a project manager/reminder of the steps to help them stay on track.
  • Contact your staff support person if you are concerned about your mentee's ability to fill out the FAFSA.
Remember that filling out the FAFSA can be a sensitive topic for students. Students might not be moving forward for reasons they don't disclose. These might include immigration status, their parents don't have taxable wages, their parents don't file taxes regularly or on time, or they are wary of sharing sensitive information. Your staff person is always available to talk you through potentially sensitive issues and you should reach out for assistance if you need it.

4. Following up

Once they have completed the FAFSA there are still a few more steps of which you should be aware.

Thanks for supporting your mentee through this crucial process.