I know I’ve said in the past that I like April, despite all the things that go on during that month. And I still do. But what I like least about April is filling out the college financial aid forms that are always due some time this month. (Well, except for the first time, when they were due on the 1st of February, before I’d even finished doing the taxes.)
Filling out financial aid forms is a little bit like doing a faculty annual performance review: it offers the opportunity to look back at the year just past, and to make some projections about the future. However, it does so without the pleasures of narrative. Turning everything into a number is hard for someone like me, even when most of the numbers are actually right in front of me: adjusted gross income, total value of checking and savings accounts, current market value of home, etc. Numbers that we want to be high, however, in our real lives—of course we’d rather have more income and assets—we would prefer to lowball on the financial aid form. In this perhaps the financial aid form is the reverse of the faculty performance review, since we’d like to see the latter skewing as positively as possible at the end of each year, no matter how things have gone up until that point. But in either case, there are certain measures that are simply given—for the performance review, student evaluation data, conference papers delivered, articles published, etc., may correlate to the AGI, etc., of the financial aid forms—and then a way of looking at those measures that may or may not apply some “spin” to the data. I find myself wondering if I can note, in my financial aid application, that both of our cars are almost in need of replacement? Or, in my annual review, that I was ill for part of the year and taking medications that had, as one doctor put it, a negative effect on cognition? (Thankfully, those days seem to be past, but there was a period when all I wanted to do was sleep, and when my already-compromised memory seemed to be failing ever more rapidly.) Or could I report on the cars in my annual performance review—after all, I was one car breakdown away from missing class a few times this semester—and on the medical situation (surely a financial as well as a cognitive hardship) in the financial aid application? When does reporting the facts turn into special pleading? When does interpretation start to look and sound like spin? As always, I decide again this year that the best policy is "just the facts," despite my suspicion that even putative "facts" are often "spun" before they reach me.
My annual performance review will be due in a little over a month, so I’ll be thinking about the discipline of reviewing with the benefit of narrative when I get there. Right now, though, the numbers rule, and I find myself muttering to myself a tag line from The Hunger Games: “may the odds be ever in your favor.” In mine, and in yours as well, as we all race to the finish line of the semester.