In an effort to improve access to higher education, Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to make completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, a requirement for all high school seniors in the state.

“The process, it can be overwhelming," said Aydin O’Hearn.

As a high school guidance counselor at Cambridge Central School, part of O’Hearn’s job is to make the transition to college a little less overwhelming for students and their families.

“It’s kind of paced out at different points between junior and senior year,” she explained.

O’Hearn said figuring out the financial details is a critical point of the process.

“That is definitely a learning curve every single year,” she said. “FAFSA, specifically, has changed every year since I’ve been here.”

FAFSA is the form students eying college can complete to determine what sort of financial assistance is available to them.

“If you don’t apply, it is what it is,” O’Hearn said. “If you apply, you might get some money.”

The response from her students is typically good but looking beyond Cambridge Central School, New Yorkers leave more than $200 million in federal financial aid on the table by not completing the FAFSA, the fourth most of any other state, according to National College Attainment Network.

“Yeah,” O’Hearn said, when asked whether those numbers surprised her. “Because I’m like, 'give all to my students.'”

O’Hearn said a requirement is doable as it falls in line with her normal practice, but she believes there is another hurdle impacting the rate of applications.

“Part of the problem is working against reputation,” she said. “I think a lot of people have experienced sending kids to school and it being like, 'we filed and we got nothing.'”

It’s unclear whether the Legislature will act on the governor’s vision in regards to FAFSA, but O’Hearn says she’ll continue to encourage her students and families no matter what.

“It’s hard to commit to the bill when you’re 18,” she said.