Whenever there are economic problems, the first thought is usually to get a better job. That is easier said than done, especially given the difficult economic situation in the country. The next statement you’ll probably hear is that “you should go back to school”. Already got a degree? Then you should get another one, or some sort of professional certification that will allow you to get a better job, and thus; a better job. But who can afford to take time off of work to go to school?
People told me that for years. From the day I announced that I was getting a divorce, everyone told me I should go to college. I took a few college classes when my oldest was an infant, but quit and never really thought I could finish college. Maybe I could do some sort of nine month class to work in an office somewhere, but even that was difficult to imagine. Because where would I get the time to go to school? If I took a day off of work, something wasn’t getting paid on time. How could I commit to college, and how on Earth would I pay for it, plus books and daycare, while working LESS?
Then a woman who lived in my apartment complex went to school. She was a single mom, who got no child support, and only worked part time. I knew our complex offered section 8 housing, so I kinda assumed she was on that. As we became friendlier, I discovered the enormous amount of financial aid that was out there. Some were grants, some were loans., some were work-study. Then, of course, I had to figure out what I wanted, so off to the financial aid office I went, never really thinking I would do this.
The FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the basis of government provided financial aid for college. You can fill this out online, at www.fafsa.ed.gov, or you can get the paper form from most public libraries and the financial aid office at any college or university. To fill this out, you will need your basic information like date of birth and social security number, as well as recent tax records. The amount of aid that you receive will vary, based on your specific situation and family size.
Different schools will have different deadlines for aid to be processed in time for the beginning of classes, but you typically have to have your application completed by June 30, for the Fall semester.
Pell Grants and SEOG
The Pell Grant and SEOG, are literally free money. Designed to help you pay for school, books, and occasionally some living expenses they are almost always only available to undergraduates. So, if you have not yet received a Bachelor’s Degree, this is something you might be eligible for.
Both are needs based, but the SEOG (or Supplemental Opportunity Education Grant) is only for people with a very low income. The SEOG funds are very limited, and for consideration, you have to apply as early as possible. Filling out your FAFSA the same day you do your taxes is not too early.
If you qualify for a student loan from your bank, you can always get a loan from them. That is not the kind of loan I’m talking about. I’m talking about federally guaranteed student loans. Although this is not free money and you will usually have to pay it back, it’s a “good” kind of debt. You do not have to submit to a credit check, and the amount that you can get is based on the information from your FAFSA. These loans have a very low, but variable, interest rate. Schools participate with Perkins or Stafford student loans, or both. Some student loans do not accumulate interest while you are in school, and some students receive extra money after their schools fees are paid. This needs to be used for expenses related to your education, and in my case, I used it to pay for gas and child-care expenses since I was in school two nights a week and on Saturday.
Work-study provides you employment on campus. I looked into this, but it almost always pays minimum wage, and I couldn’t see losing money to work on campus. If you don’t have a job, this might be a great idea for you; but you will still have to apply and interview for these jobs as you will with any other job. The FAFSA asks if you are interested in work-study, and if you say no, it may take away from other forms of financial aid, usually student loans.
To be eligible for federal financial aid, you will have to meet certain standards. Generally, this includes having your high school diploma or G.E.D., being in good standing on any existing financial aid, maintaining a 2.0 GPA, and being in school at least six credit hours a semester. Your school may have additional guidelines.
Financial aid is an important part of your education. The first step, and for further information, should be contacting the financial aid at the school you want to attend. They can help you with the process, and discuss the details with you. You can go to college! It took me eight years of being in school part time, but I walked across that stage and accepted my degree, with my kids sitting in the audience.