For students underrepresented in higher education like Christopher, whose story appears below, every dollar counts when piecing together a financial aid package. NCAN calls on policymakers to simplify the FAFSA and strengthen Pell Grants and the Federal Work-Study program. For more information, check out our complete federal policy recommendations.
Growing up in St. Louis, where you go to high school is pivotal to your future education path.
Fortunately, Christopher Walter was able to attend Metro Academic and Classical High School in St. Louis, one of the best high schools in Missouri. The college-going environment Christopher found there greatly influenced his decision to pursue a postsecondary education.
Unfortunately, Christopher also found the support system for students unfamiliar with the logistics of applying to college to be insufficient. Despite having access to a college admissions counselor, Christopher said he was undermatched and felt alone throughout the application process; he needed more assistance as a first-generation student.
Navigating it alone, the most dreadful portion of the application process was completing the FAFSA, Christopher said. He recalled the apprehension he felt having to ask his parents for the multitude of information required to fill out the application. Christopher was flagged for the audit-like verification process each time he submitted the FAFSA – every single year. That required him to return to his parents for additional documents required to complete the application.
"Every year there was an added process, added paperwork, added stress,” Christopher said. “It was a compounding traumatic experience since I was a full-time student going to class while working part-time."
After completing the FAFSA for the first time, Christopher enrolled at Saint Louis University, a private, Catholic four-year institution. Shortly after enrolling he lost one of his main sources of financial aid. Without those funds, Christopher could no longer afford college.
Thankfully, Christopher found The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, which helped support his education through both an interest-free loan and a grant. Beyond the financial support, the foundation also provided Christopher with an adviser who was available to answer all the questions he had regarding financial aid, the college experience, or life in general.
Despite his many successes in getting to Saint Louis University, Christopher was not out of the woods yet. The annual increases in the price of tuition and room and board became too costly by his junior year, and Christopher made the decision to transfer to the University of Missouri – St. Louis, a public institution.
“The financial aid gap became so large that I no longer could afford to attend Saint Louis University, so I had to transfer,” he said.
The transition to his new school was a difficult process for Christopher. He wants institutions to know how important it is to create an inviting environment for transfer students and how common his scenario is.
Christopher mentioned the “psychological and emotional strain” of transferring, stating that he had to “face an entirely different culture and entirely different experiences” after switching schools. Transferring was far from easy for Christopher, as he had to make new friends, familiarize himself with the new campus, and try to get involved.
Even after facing all these obstacles, Christopher graduated from the University of Missouri – St. Louis with a degree in business administration. Christopher now serves as manager of policy and community engagement with Alive and Well Communities, where he works to activate communities to heal by addressing the impact of trauma and toxic stress.