During the majority of my time as a graduate student I worked in the financial aid office at the University of Washington Tacoma as a student assistant. What allowed me this opportunity to work in this position was the fact that I received work study as part of my financial aid package. In fact, every respectable and beneficial job I had held from community college through graduate school was made possible by financial aid. As a work study recipient I was able to seek employment as a college student and avoid questions about my criminal history. I never even had to fill out an application that would ask about such things. I simply turned in a resume and interviewed like all other students on my campus would be required to do. Working on campus made me feel like I was no longer a complete outsider but rather part of the campus community.
Without financial aid I would have never earned a college degree. My family background didn’t allow for a college savings plan. The way I grew up I never even really considered college as an option anyway. I feel very fortunate to be so unfortunate to be dirt poor throughout my time in college because it made it where I was eligible for the maximum amount of funding for my education.
My first year of college I messed up and received far less money than I would have normally been eligible for. As a first-generation college student I was completely unaware of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid process. I didn’t know anything about the priority deadlines by which the school should have received my application for aid. Despite my mistake, I still received enough money to cover my tuition and books my first year. Also, I got a pleasant surprise when more funding came available at the end of the year and I was given a nice-sized check to make up for some of the funds that I might have been eligible for but didn’t receive due to my late application.
Loans can be a gift and a curse. It is definitely nice to be able to receive funds regardless of your financial situation to help with un-met need but at the same time I know far too many people who are paying back loans who never earned a degree. Once you make it to graduate school you get almost all loans and the amount you owe can skyrocket very quickly. I ended up taking out over $100,000 in student loans. I could have earned my Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees without taking out any loans; however, I decided that I would prefer to take out loans and not have to work full time to support my family. While many college students work full-time jobs I decided to sacrifice for the sake of putting the majority of my focus into school.
Money from financial aid has helped me tremendously. Grants and loans that I received through the FAFSA process have helped me with critical needs such as housing costs, clothing costs, food costs, transportation costs, and more. On top of financial aid there are also scholarships that help with these things. Tuition and books are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of receiving financial aid.
Make sure that you fill out the FAFSA every year right when it becomes available and make sure you include any school codes that you could possibly need a financial aid award from. It is up to you to determine your needs and to decide if student loans are right for you. Grants and Scholarships are free money that do not need to be paid back so make sure you get that FAFSA in on time to receive as much grant money as possible and make sure you are pro-active in searching for and applying for scholarships.