Don’t leave money on the table!

In this guest blog post, Mercer University Student Body President Elizabeth McKay talks about her experience meeting with U.S. Secretary of Education John King.

Elizabeth McKay at U.S. Department of Education

Seven students from all across the nation traveled to Washington D.C. on September 21st, 2016 to talk about the number one thing prohibiting students from accessing education: money. Conversations surrounding college access should include the students that it primarily affects. We met at the U.S. Department of Education for the Student Voices Session on Early FAFSA and College Affordability with U.S. Secretary of Education John King. Through the meeting, discussed new changes to the 2017-2018 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and how to reach more students so they know what financial options are available to them.

As students, we told Secretary King about the own obstacles we faced while charting our finances to obtain an education. These obstacles included documentation status, first generation, loans, affordability, and educational resources on FAFSA that were made available to us. Secretary King listened to our stories and the feedback we gathered from our peers. We then brainstormed how to better improve the FAFSA system and awareness of financial resources for students.

Why it matters

Even though we talked about potential improvements, there are already some changes to the FAFSA this year. Here are a couple that I’m most excited about:

  1. The FAFSA is now available on October 1st, three months earlier than in the past. The earlier submission gives students more time to weigh their financial options when applying to college.
  2. FAFSA will earlier tax and financial information. In the past, the Department of Education would have to wait until your (or your family’s) most recent tax returns came in, which made it difficult to get ahead of the game on planning your college finances. This change means you can apply earlier and get your finance aid eligibility sooner.

Those improvements make a huge difference for someone like me. I didn’t apply for FAFSA until February of my senior year of high school. That gave me a little under three months to receive a financial package and figure out where I would be attending in fall. Having no clue where I wanted to go to college, I submitted applications to thirteen different schools located in my state and across the country. I was accepted to all thirteen schools, but only three of those options became viable for me to attend due to the total cost.

By filling out the FAFSA, I was awarded loans to help me attend the school that I’ve been at for the past three years. I can’t imagine myself anywhere else but Mercer University. I’ve been able to receive an education aligned with my interests and learning style. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t filled out the FAFSA and had the opportunity to weigh my financial options.

What you can do

Something that has not changed: you must fill out the FAFSA every year, so current students need this info just as much as prospective students.

Here are some things you can do as a student leader to ensure the students on your campus are filling out FAFSA and getting the financial help that they’re eligible for so they can stay in school:

  1. Partner with your institution’s financial aid office to see how you can expand their reach to students.
  2. Create a marketing push through your student government’s social media channels. Check out some language from the Department of Education that you can use here.
  3. Work with your school newspaper to write an op-ed about the opportunity and importance of completing the FAFSA.

College students have a voice. We are being invited to the national table to give our input and get involved with the strenuous issues affecting our college education. The number one reason that students don’t go to college is for financial reasons. Everyone should have access to weigh what loans, grants, and scholarships are available to them before ruling out a higher education. Let’s take step forward in alleviating the burden of finances in college.


Elizabeth McKay

Student Body President, 2016-17

Mercer University


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