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FASFA Questions


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Here is my situation. I am a mom hoping to head off to grad school. I am working on my FASFA, which I must finish within a few days to meet the financial aid application deadlines of one of the schools to which I am applying.

Possibly important info:

  • I work full time currently and support a family as such. I do not have other sources of income.
  • I am unsure of how much I will work while going to school. My job is definitely my current career, and it will be hard to leave, but I worry a great deal about juggling family, school, and my work all at once. I am well aware that with my return to school, things are changing. Whether and how much I work will be almost entirely dependent on funding. If I do work, I'd like to stay in my current job, even though I'll have to negotiate going to part time. I have a great deal of unfinished business in this job, and I may even get a small but helpful amount of assistance with my schooling costs.
  • In terms of the IRS, I can claim two dependent children and one adult dependent on my taxes.
  • As a result of a poor decision a couple years ago, I am "house poor." My housing costs are very low for my area but still way too high even with my full time income.
  • It is highly unlikely we could sell the house at this time and re-coup the costs we paid a couple years ago. We'd definitely lose money, which will throw away a great deal of previous investment that got us here.
  • It is somewhat unlikely, but not entirely out of the question, that we could rent out the house for most of what we owe monthly in the mortgage. We definitely couldn't include maintenance costs in all that.
  • In accordance with many of the above factors, I have applied only to four schools that are all within a commuting distance. Two are an hour-and-a-half away. One is two and a half hours away (would take the train and use the time to do school work most likely). One is several states away but in a modified residency program in which I would go to intensive lectures through all of January, but the rest of the year I could stay at home while doing my reading and writing.
  • I absolutely can't take loans out for school. If I have to put this off a number of years as a result, than so be it (though I may be crushed). I am entering a field that does not promise jobs and doesn't pay well. Yet it is my call. If I was young and had no children, or at least wasn't tied to a house that was bleeding me dry each month, I might think differently about loans. For now, I have to get full non-loan funding or drop the whole matter.

So two questions have me stumped on the FASFA, and I want to know what would be the most advantageous responses...

1. Am I interested in work-study, loans, and TEACH? Okay, TEACH seems easy to rule out because I am not studying in the field of education. Loans are out because I simply can't go there with my situation. Work-study is trickier. I have read online that it is best to check that I AM interested in work-study because I can always turn down work-study offers but if I say "no" now and change my mind later, they might not be available. However, if I do continue working in my current job, I don't want to get offers from schools that are constructing their financial aid package for me *around* work-study that I very well may end up having to turn down (and then what?). It seems that if the school wants me, wouldn't they construct a package based on what I can do? And if I say I can't do work-study, and they really want me, wouldn't they offer more of the other types of assistance? I'd like to get the best first offers possible.

2. Then there is the question, for each school, on where I will live...on or off campus. Well, again, it depends on so much about which I currently have no information. When I am filling out the FASFA, it seems like saying on-campus might result in a better package offer from each schools. But when I am filling out the university specific financial aid application, I am actually needing to ask them to take into consideration-- about my needs-- the way we are being bled by this mortgage, you know, and the fact that I've got this whole little family situation here where I can't necessarily just "up and move." So now what?

Edited by NervousNellie
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I had a pretty rough situation when applying to undergrad (my parents abandoned me and my sister and we were in the custody of someone else, etc.) and I found that most universities were harsh and not very understanding. I was classified as an independent student with an EFC (estimated financial contribution) of $0. Despite financial hardships, they were not willing to increase financial aid packages or anything despite the fact that I had a 4.0 GPA, excellent SAT scores, clear financial need etc. Repeatedly, I heard "If you can't afford to attend, we suggest you look elsewhere." I hope universities are more understanding in your situation, but please mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of utilizing loans and/or work study to fund your graduate degree. Perhaps things are different for grad vs. undergrad, but that was generally my experience.

As for whether to mark yes to loans/work study, when I filled out the FAFSA before entering undergrad I clearly marked that I was not interested in loans or work study since I had already been awarded a full ride to one university. However, sure enough when financial aid packages started coming in from other universities I'd applied to, work study and loan amounts were on there. I think that no matter what, you will be considered for those types of aid. Universities are struggling right now too and it's much, much more feasible for them to offer you loans or work study positions (as they get $ or free labor) than it is for them to increase your financial aid package and essentially lose money themselves.

Not sure if any of that was helpful or not, and I'm sorry to sound cynical. I hope somewhere gives you a lovely full ride and stipend! :)

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I should clarify that I made sure to apply for at least one school/program that is known for extremely generous funding including stipends.

One more school/program is just second to that.

The other two schools are not well known for funding that includes stipends, but they are more working-student friendly. I know I am a good candidate at both schools for generous financial aid.

Edited to add:

P.S. From one student to another whose family situation was unique when they went off to undergrad (I was emancipated at 16), here's to the fellowship of perserverance!

Edited by NervousNellie
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