The End of a Dream?

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College

My husband and I have worked our butts off to provide our three daughters with the finest primary through high school education available. We have sacrificed every personal luxury - cars, vacations, etc. - in order for our kids to have the best educational opportunities in life. When the economy went bad, so did our income, but we've persevered and used our lives' savings to continue our children's schooling.

Work hard and achieve your dreams, that's what we always stressed to the girls. Well, now our oldest is about to graduate with High Honors and an IB diploma from the most rigorous and competitive high school in the state. After twelve years of fierce dedication and persistence, she's been accepted to some of the country's top universities . You would think that this is the fulfillment of a dream, cause for a celebration, but no. We have all worked so hard, for so long, and sacrificed so much but it seems her dream may end here because according to FAFSA we do not qualify for financial aid.


Our income has declined by 75% from last year, and that was a decline of 50% from the year before that. We've exhausted all our savings, lost all our investments plus our home to foreclosure, and the debts keep mounting. But according to FAFSA we can afford the $58,000 tuition plus room and board costs. Really?! That would be 60% of our after tax dollars. We would be left with $40,000 for the rest of us to live on plus continue paying private school tuition for our other two children.

The moral of my story is two-fold: 1). if you want to give your children the best education possible, don't earn any money. The more destitute you are, the more cash the Federal Government throws at you. The harder you work, the more responsible you are in repaying debts, the less consideration and support they give you. 2). If you choose to be foolish and work anyway, hide the money. Be an illegal alien who pays no taxes, and make sure to collect every government give-away you come across.

I am heartbroken and desperate to get my daughter over the finish line and into the college of her dreams, which is why I'm writing this ridiculous, last ditch effort of an essay, to win a contest to help her get there.

Thank you for listening to me rant.

Comment from your friendly team at College Financial Aid Advice
Thank you for sharing your story. Too many families thought they would be financially prepared for college, but their plans were derailed by the great recession. I can feel your pain. One of my children started out at a top private national university – the college of his dreams, but due to a change in family financial circumstances, he had to switch to a local community college after his first year. After getting over his disappointment, he ended up switching majors, and transferring to an excellent public state university for his last 2 years of college.

I did want to clarify a couple of points about financial aid and FAFSA.

1. The FAFSA formulas for financial aid are based primarily on the income from the prior year. If your income for this year has dropped 75%, you should discuss your situation with the financial aid office. They do have some discretion to use their professional judgment to consider a change in circumstances, such as loss of a job or reduction in earnings. They will require documentation, such as a letter from your employer or a statement from the unemployment office.

2. The FAFSA does not take into account some expenses and debts, such as whether a family has children enrolled in private school, or large credit card debts. Depending on the situation, the Expected Family Contribution can appear reasonable, or impossible.

3. When applying for colleges, be sure to have backup plans. For example, I had my high school senior apply to our local state university, in case she didn’t get accepted at one of her top choice colleges, or if I am unable to afford it after we see the financial aid offers.

4. If you are attending a top university, you will probably need to complete the CSS Profile . Their criteria is different, and many top universities have some great financial aid packages. Some are merit based, and some are need based.

5. If you qualify to submit a FAFSA, at a minimum you are also eligible for $5,500 in federal student loans . These loans need to be repaid, so are not as favorable as grants and scholarships, but they can make a difference.

6. Some colleges and universities do offer some great merit-based scholarships . One of my children was just offered a $15,000 scholarship, renewable for 4 years, that is merit-based not financial need-based.

7. To qualify for federal financial aid, a student must be a U.S. citizen. Illegal aliens do not qualify for federal financial aid, or for most state aid and most scholarships.

8. There are many scholarships that do not depend on FAFSA, so search and apply for as many scholarships and grants for college as possible.

Financial Aid for One and All

(Rachael, Michigan)

Financial Aid: For One and All - Financial aid is one of the only ways some kids can pay for school in today’s economy. Unfortunately even students who still need help don’t get it. Personally I know this all too well. I come from an upper-middle class family, both of my parents work full-time and I also work part-time to pay for my car and phone bill and save up for my future. Even though my parents are well-to-do, college is still expensive. I chose to stay home for my first year of college and go to our community college. I am saving on room and board by living at home and the tuition at a community college is significantly less than that of Michigan State University, where I plan on transferring next year.

I am fine with my decision to stay home but if I had been fortunate enough to receive financial aid I would be off to East Lansing right now. Studies show that students who live on campus all four years do better than students who stay at home and then transfer to a big university. Therefore by not granting every student regardless of their financial background at least a small amount can prevent them from getting the kind of grades they need for the programs they want to get into.

The financial aid system should be reevaluated and consider even students who come from families more fortunate than some. Financial aid also does not cover the price of things for dorms and other school supplies; this should also be taken into consideration being the prices of these products today. No matter how much your parents make, college is still a strain. It even causes mental hardship trying to sort everything out and transition from sheltered high school to a huge school with over 20,000 kids attending it. The financial aid system is so relied upon that it should be reevaluated to include all students in at least some aspect.

Read more FAFSA Help from other students and parents who have been through the FAFSA process.

Comment from your friendly team at College Financial Aid Advice

Thank you Rachel for sharing your essay about Financial Aid for One and All. Families of all income levels struggle to pay for college. Attending a community college for 1 or 2 years is a great way to help pay for college and get a good education. Best of luck to you.

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