By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)
First lady Michelle Obama swung by T.C. Williams High School on Wednesday morning to help seniors with their federal financial aid applications. She also offered a few words of encouragement.
“Too many people just don’t think they can afford it, so they don’t bother,” Obama said. “The federal government provides $140 billion in low-interest loans or in grants that you don’t have to pay back. And then there are work-study programs.”
Federal officials said T.C. is a model school when it comes to ensuring students fill out their federal aid forms — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Doing so lets students explore their options and pick the best path ahead for them.
“We want to make sure more and more students apply for college and, in turn, that they can pay for college,” Obama told students and parents. “[It] is the single most important thing you can do for your career and your future.”
And the first lady stressed that everyone needs to fill out the paperwork, not just those who believe they’re eligible for merit- or needs-based scholarships.
“You don’t have to be the valedictorian, major in a certain subject or be at the bottom of the income ladder,” she said. “Almost everyone is eligible for some form of financial aid.”
Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, used statistics to make the case for filing for federal aid. He said that only about 50 percent of seniors complete their FAFSA. And 88 percent of students who got accepted into college but didn’t attend because of financial issues failed to fill out a FAFSA.
T.C. senior Edom Tesfa said her parents emigrated from Ethiopia to the United States before she was born. For her family, making sure she was ready for college — she’s been accepted at the University of Virginia and Georgetown University — was filing for federal aid on the first day of the eligibility period.
“I knew I had to go to college, but I didn’t know how much it would cost,” she said. “I like Georgetown a little more, but my wallet prefers UVA. And that’s why the FAFSA is so important.”
Fellow senior Collin Bendinelli had debated whether to attend college or enter the military after high school. He said that talking with the first lady convinced him to stay in school.
“She said the pay grade [for officers with a college degree] is like night and day,” he said. “[I] had been thinking of going straight into the military, but now I think I’ll get my degree first.”
The deadline for filing for financial aid in Virginia is February 15.