Your parents may be in debt themselves, and are unable to assist with your education. They may not have saved for college , or they may not support you financially at all.
What do you do in this situation? You don’t qualify for Pell Grants. Needs-based assistance is likely not going to be available to you, and aside from work-study, the only other option the Department of Education gave you was student loans.
Luckily, there are still ways to get funding for school. It’s going to be more difficult to secure funding than if you had an EFC of zero on the FAFSA, but it is still possible.
Scholarships are going to be the meat and potatoes of your financial assistance plan. While some scholarships set income as an eligibility criterion, many other scholarships are merit-based.
To be clear, many needs-based scholarships do require good grades and community leadership, but merit-based scholarships tend to require these things without mandating a low income.
Finding scholarships that are a great match is crucial when you’re looking for college funding. Before you begin your search, create a scholarship resume. This isn’t your typical resume, and you won’t be presenting it to your school. This resume is just for you.
To begin composing this resume, brainstorm all the things that make you unique. Religion, race, ethnic identity, and gender are all valid things to include on your resume, as there are many scholarships administered based on these qualifiers.
But you’ll also want to include things like the clubs you participated in during high school, hobbies you’ve picked up over the years, and anything else that makes you unique.
Don’t judge yourself as you write down your ideas; there are scholarships out there for everyone—there’s even one for being left-handed!
Searching for Scholarships
Googling scholarships will be a whole lot easier when you’ve narrowed things down to specifics with your scholarship resume. However, if you’re still struggling to find scholarship opportunities, try a more structured approach.
First, look for opportunities with your city or municipality. Once you’ve exhausted this option, you can look at colleges or universities close to your place of permanent residence. While some institutional scholarships are only given out to students, some can be granted to community members who are pursuing their education at other institutions of higher learning.
Then, look for opportunities at your county level, moving on to the state level after you’ve completed your county-level search. If you’re still coming up dry, be sure to check out the scholarships we share here on Road2College or use your scholarship resume to input data into larger scholarship search engines.
Becoming an Independent Student
For most dependent students who do not qualify for aid via the FAFSA, scholarships are the way to go. However, under extreme circumstances you may be able to get your status changed from dependent to independent student. If you are successful, your FAFSA aid will be based on your income rather than your parents’.
This method is rarely successful, and you must have a supportive staff member at your school in order to make it happen. However, if your family dynamics fall well outside the norm of your peers, it’s a path that’s worth pursuing.
Talk to Your Financial Aid Office
Let’s say you’re estranged from your parents, ran away from home due to an unsafe environment, or are living in otherwise extreme circumstances. You may be able to get your dependency status on your FAFSA changed, potentially opening up the door to grants, institutional scholarships, and other types of aid.
In order to do so, you’re going to have to set up an appointment with your financial aid administrator or counselor. When you talk to them, explain your situation. Come prepared with any documentation you may have to back up your story.
Many students consider themselves financially independent, so you need to prove that you have an extreme circumstance rather than just a serious grievance with the laws surrounding FAFSA as they currently stand.
If your administrator thinks your case is dire enough, they do have the ability to complete a dependency override.
While funding your college education through scholarships is preferable, some individuals may need to take out student loans if they want to finish college traditionally with their peers. As you’re taking out loans, bear in mind that the best option is almost always a loan issued by the federal government.
Here, interest rates tend to be lower than what you’ll find on the private market, and you’ll be eligible for advantaged payment plans like income-based repayment or even Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
However you end up funding school, it’s important to go. Even if you end up never using your degree, college grads make an average of $17,500 more per year than their non-college-educated peers.
It’s unfortunate that the FAFSA is blind to the gravity of your financial situation as it stands today, but don’t let that deter you from making good decisions about your education as it will impact your financial situation in perpetuity.
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Written by Brynne Conroy, owner and creator of Femme Frugality–an award-nominated Women’s Finance site. She is also the author of The Feminist Financial Handbook, in which she tackles the concept of going to college for free with grants, scholarships, smart financial planning and zero student loans.