How FAFSA challenged us to find alternative college funding

alternatives to FAFSAAround this time of year, there looms one financial aid form that all parents of college-bound children need to fill out: the Free Application for Student Financial Aid, better known as FAFSA. I have to be honest, as I have filled this form out for the last 3 years, I have become somewhat of a skeptic. With 3 children in college already and another to enter in the fall of 2008, the only “free” money that we have qualified for is one semester of work-study for my sophomore student. Since jobs were at a premium, he was unable to find employment on campus and consequently lost the “need-based” money.

As I sit down and await the response back from the FAFSA form this year, I don’t expect to receive any “free” money, so we’ve begun to explore my other options.

As freshmen, these students do not qualify for much – only the scholarships they may receive when they originally apply to college. What I have learned is that as they ascend the college ladder, they can begin to explore other means of money to pay for college. Living off-campus is one of them.

My junior student lived in a dorm for 2 years, between her sophomore and junior years. She found four other roommates, a large house near campus, and signed a lease for one year. Living off-campus saved $5000 on her overall college costs. Although it may bring other headaches, this has been a great option for her.

My sophomore student chose to become a Resident Assistant. After a lengthy interview process, he now has the benefit of his own room, free room and board and 16 freshman boys. Although being an RA is a large responsibility, it will save us about $10,000 per year off of his college costs. He plans to do it next year and we are hopeful that he will.

My freshman child has an interesting arrangement. Although he works on campus, it is not called “work-study”, but rather “college-work.” The difference in the two is that the college-work money is not federally based. It’s a little spending money in his pocket and allows him to make contact with new students in the Admissions office. Next year he is hoping to keep his job, but, like his brother, is on track to become a Resident Assistant.

As my rising college freshman tries to help with tuition as best she can, she is aggressively looking for other scholarships that she may qualify for, such as religious affiliations, sports connections and even ones that have an ethnic heritage base.

Filling out the FAFSA form is tedious and invasive, but it helped us decide which financial road to take. Although we needed to assume parent and student loans, our children have become creative in searching for different means to save on college costs. Exploring all options was difficult, but ended with a positive, manageable result.

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