FAFSA Isn’t Always Fair

Guest post by Erica the Intern

Being a senior in college is bittersweet, and this week it got a lot more bitter thanks to FAFSA.

In December, I will have completed a degree in public relations in 3.5 years. Throughout the last three years, I have managed to attend school debt free. My goal, which I set back in high school, was to graduate college without taking out student loans so that I could do missionary work after I graduated, and I was well on my way there.

This semester my family and I reapplied for financial aid because my parents’ financial situation hit an all-time low. With career changes and a slowly growing business, my parents’ incomes dropped even more than they had the year before. Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend school without paying  for tuition because of a 4-year scholarship (that gives me half-priced tuition) and Pell Grants. I expected the same governmental funding, and it looked like I would receive another Pell Grant for my last semester. My potential grant was supposed to cover around $1,800 of the $2,300 I would owe for tuition and fees. That was doable. I would have been able to pay the $500 difference because I had been faithful to save a portion of each paycheck this summer. I was going to graduate debt-free and I was pumped.

When I logged onto my school’s financial aid website to accept my award, my jaw dropped. All the “awards” listed were loans. I called the Financial Aid office and to my dismay, all they could offer me were the loans. This was because I made $10,236 in 2011, which is $236 more than students are allowed to make and still receive federal financial aid. I was penalized for working; for getting two paid internships and bartending to pay my rent and living expenses. The fact that my parents have four kids and are trying to keep their heads afloat didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I had made $236 more than what was allowed.

I’ll be honest and say as soon as I hung up the phone, I started bawling. I was so close to graduating, and the financial stability rug was ripped right from underneath my feet. It’s too late to apply for scholarships and loans are still not an option. I’ve talked to my parents and our only option is to take money from my younger brothers’ college funds and pay my $2,300 in tuition. Though this isn’t my preferred method of handling the situation, it’s the only way for me to graduate debt free.

If I had more time to come up with the money (since I start classes on August 20), I would have tried some of these ideas to close the money gap:

  1. Start a fundraising website: I got the idea from Katie Dwyer, who set up a website to help her pay for her last year at Huntington University. Katie has a lot more money to raise than I do (and you can donate a dollar to help her here), so I thought I would put my own personal twist on her website idea. My idea was to raise money for tuition, and then give any excess money away in the form of a charity donation or as a scholarship for college seniors trying to pay for their last year of school.
  2. Start a small business: If I had known a few months ago that my financial aid would be revoked, I would have endeavored to start a small business. I liked the ideas of refurbishing old furniture, or designing and selling fun t-shirts. It’s easy to turn an interest or hobby into a profit if you have the right resources.
  3. Organize a 5K race: I love running and 5K races are great fundraisers. By partnering with a larger organization and helping put together a 5K race, getting them on board with helping you (and others) pay for college could be really easy and fun.
  4. Work odd weekend jobs: Working odd jobs is a quick way to earn extra money. Whether you’re cleaning foreclosed homes or babysitting, odd jobs allow you to add more money to your tuition fund. (See more Flexible Ways to Earn Money in College here)
  5. Find “extra money” by asking: By this time in the year, all of the “extra” funds for students have been passed out, but it is possible to attain extra money from your school. One semester, I lost a grant because I had achieved “junior” status during my sophomore year. I had come from high school with AP credits and was a semester ahead. I was counting on that grant to pay for school. I went to my school’s Honors College (which I’m apart of) and asked if there was anything they could do. They told me they would honor the grant the following semester. I was able to get $600 by simply asking for help.

FAFSA isn’t always fair, so sometimes you have to get creative or ask for help. Whatever you decide, don’t just give up and quit school, or resort to taking out more loans. Asking for donations or working for extra tuition money will pay off more in the long run than racking up more debt or quitting school altogether.

6 thoughts on “FAFSA Isn’t Always Fair

  1. The situation really sucks ( I couldn’t think of a more elegant description), but at the end of the day a little perspectice should be kept, it is only 2,300. I don’t think a loan of that amount wouldbe a hinderance of doing a year of mission work. Most loans have a deferrment option for after graduation, and even without one your payments in the first year) assuming 4 percent interest and 20 year amortization is on 14 dollars a month. The interest you would then accumulate in a year is only 92 dollars.

    Would graduating debt free be better. Absolutely, but this is a really really low amt of debt compared to the 40 to 100k so many people come out of school owing. It also isn’t credit card debt at crazy interest rates. It is something you should be able to pay off in your first year of work after your year of missionary work.

    You may be on to a better solution. If your brother’s school is a few years off you could probably pay back the money with some interest for your brother and this way it all stays in the family.

  2. I agree that this situation sucks. I hate that when it comes to FAFSA there is no room for circumstances. It is all black and white.

    When I was a junior my father passed away and I was forced to use my mother and stepfathers income on my FAFSA which was 3x’s what my father made. My mother was never finacial responsible for me and did not pay child support. Because of this I ended up with huge loan balances that I still struggle with paying.

    But at least it is only $2,300 and hopefully you can repay the money to your parents prior to your sibling starting college.

  3. David: The reason I cannot take out any loans is because the missionary program I’m applying to requires applicants to be debt-free. That, plus my own personal goals, have cut loans out of the equation. I do agree that $2,300 is minor compared to what most of my friends will owe after graduation.

  4. Wow only 2.3K?? I came out of school 70K in debt – I cant believe you are worried about 2.3K! Put your missionary work off for a year and you’ll have it paid off in that time AND maybe you’ll have some money saved up so you dont have to reach out to people to help raise support. Cheer up – you’re ahead of the curve.

  5. I suggest contacting the financial aid office if you and/or your parents are going to make less in 2012 than you did in 2011–they may do an adjustment to your FAFSA given your circumstances. It’s called a professional judgment appeal.

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