February means one thing to college students: FAFSA. What I’ve noticed about this delightful occasion is it is apparent: a parent will get the joy of completing the U.S. government’s requirements for requesting financial aid. In case you don’t know (or don’t care, which is idk or idc, respectively, in text language), filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is required. Well, only if you want to get scholarships or student loans to assist with carrying the financial burden of paying for your college education. I have completed this form every year since 2009 (okay, that’s only three times, but the first time it took two hours).
I’m uncertain why this word is included at the beginning of this acronym. Seriously, do they think anyone would fill out this multi-screened questionnaire about money and taxes and residence if they had to pay a fee? Of course, in today’s crazy economic climate, a fee for the “privilege” (since it is hardly a pleasure) of completing this form could be forthcoming.
What did I actually apply for?
One thing I noticed right away is that the FAFSA is just the first application that must be completed. It doesn’t actually mean you have requested any funding. I guess the purpose of the form is to let the financial aid office at the college know if they should expect you to hand over tuition payment in full at the beginning of the term, of if they should offer you some payment plans.
My question every year when I see the EFC (Expected Family Contribution) amount: “Where do they think I’m getting this $13,714?” They’ve learned that the total of all my “liquid” accounts is around $10,000. Apparently, they think we should drain the retirement account dry. Or maybe we’re expected to sit in the dark, under a bridge or in a free shelter, forego eating and just use that entire amount to pay college tuition.
More paperwork will follow if you decide to take their student loan offerings. A master promissory note will be signed (which makes me somewhat uneasy. It’s the exact opposite of a blank check; instead, I’m signing for the current loan and all future loan amounts all at once!) and a cheesy “counseling” session must be completed before Uncle Sam will send the money to the school.
Aid or Axe?
Last year, I completed the form when my youngest son was only 17. This year after I entered that he was a male and gave his birth date (1993), the standard question: “Are you registered with the Selective Service?” appeared on screen. Of course, I selected “yes” assuming that he had indeed done this after his 18th birthday. It is one of the requirements at our house. You turn 18 and you a) register for the draft and b) register to vote. Apparently, the whole draft thing got overlooked in the excitement of getting him off to college two days after he turned 18. How could we forget such an important thing?
I kid you not, two days after I filled out the FAFSA this year, we got a letter from the Selective Service System. Their records indicate he had not registered. Did he realize that he could be fined or imprisoned? Furthermore, he could be denied “certain Federal benefits, such as…student financial aid.” Immediately, I sent a text message to my son and he was rather blasé about getting the deed done. Should I let him be prosecuted? That would never happen; they just wouldn’t give him any student loans and I’d have to rob the retirement account to pay his $40,000 annual tuition.
Who Should Pay?
This brings me to the real axe I have to grind. Who is paying for my college education? That would be me, myself and I, working full-time at a thankless job that barely pays enough to cover the books, tuition and monthly pedicures (required for relieving stress. Check back on Thursday for more ideas on that subject).
Here’s the deal we worked out with our kids. (I think it’s a pretty good one, considering I was lucky my mother forked over the $50 application fee when I was 19 and trying to go to college.) We had saved a small amount and agreed to pay for their first year of college, wherever they wanted to attend. After that, it was up to them to figure out how to get the funds.
Our oldest son went to his dad’s alma mater, a state school. It cost us about $15,000 for room & board, tuition, books and other fees. Now, he lives in an apartment that is about one-third the cost of the dorm room, and his student loan and summer job pays for everything.
Baby boy, on the other hand, chose a prominent private college where it’s required that students live on campus until they’re seniors. Sure, it only cost us about $17,000, but he had to take out a small student loan, got several scholarships ($7,500) and even a need grant from the college in question. How will he pay for next year? Is this my problem? I think not. After all, I completed his FAFSA before the deadline. I’ve done my part!