My wife and I are looking for help in getting our son into
college. He is a junior in high school. His mother and I are on
disability. My wife is fighting stage four breast cancer. I was hurt
at work two years ago. We would like to see our son go to college but
there is no way we would be able to pay for it. My wife's education
is 11 years and mine is 7 years. We are hoping we can get some help. I
was told because of our situation there would be lots of help
available to us, but being uneducated ourselves it's very difficult
for us to even know how to look. My wife was given two to four years
to live by her doctor at Dana-Farber in Boston. That was two years ago
and we are praying for her to live to see him graduate high school and
longer. Any help or advice you can give us would mean a lot to us.
$1,000 April Scholarship
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— Jim R.
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Fastweb is your connection to scholarships, financial aid & more.
Planning and paying for college is difficult even for parents who have
been to college. It is complicated. The alphabet soup of acronyms like
FAFSA and EFC can discourage and intimidate some families. Most
families worry about missing something important. They often worry
more about what they don't know than about what they do know.
Do not panic. There only a few things you really need to do to get
financial aid for college.
First, find yourself a "mentor" who can help you understand the steps
you need to take. This should be someone who has recent knowledge and
experience helping students pay for college, such as a high school
guidance counselor or the financial aid administrator at a local
college. It could also be a family friend, a teacher or someone you
know from church. Beware of anybody who is trying to sell you a
product or service, as their advice may be self-serving. It is also
important that your mentor's knowledge is based on recent
experience. Friends who went to college many years ago may mean well,
but financial aid changes a lot every year.
FinAid's College Power Bulletin
is a short four-page guide that discusses in simple terms why a
student should go to college and how to pay for college.
(See also the Fastweb article
Unique Concerns of First-Generation College Students
for practical tips on making the most of the freshman year in college.)
Your son will be considered a first generation college student
A first generation college student is a student whose parents and
siblings have never gone to college. In some cases a student will be
considered a first generation college student if neither parent has
obtained a Bachelor's degree, even if one of the parents has an
Associate's degree or Certificate.
There are many scholarships available for first generation college
students. Sometimes these are called "first in family"
scholarships. The Coca Cola Scholars Foundation sponsors one of the
largest scholarship programs for first generation college students
through about 400 colleges. So ask each college whether they have
scholarships and other special assistance for first generation college
students. Also ask your church if they offer any college
scholarships. Other scholarships are listed in the Fastweb article
Scholarships for First Generation Students
Additional scholarships for first generation college students are
included in the Fastweb scholarship database. Create a personal
background profile for your son to find scholarships for which he is
eligible. This is a free service. To see scholarships for first
generation college students, edit your son's scholarship search
profile by clicking on the "My Profile" link in the upper right hand
corner of the Fastweb web site. Then click on "Parent
Activities". Check the box for "Didn't Attend/Graduate College" in the
list of Parent Attributes. While editing the profile, look for other
relevant student and parent attributes. Students who answer the
optional questions tend to match twice as many scholarships as
students who answer only the required questions. For example, there's
a parent attribute for "Cancer, Survivor/Living With". (Several
scholarships for children of parents who have had cancer can be found
but more scholarships are listed in the Fastweb scholarship database.)
Beware of scholarship scams. If you have to pay money to get money, it
is probably a scam. Never invest more than a postage stamp to find
out information about scholarships or to apply for scholarships.
Nobody can guarantee you’ll win a scholarship. Do not give out your
bank account number, credit card number or social security number to
apply for a scholarship.
When choosing where your son should apply to college, don't skip any
particular college because of a high sticker price. Look on the
college's web site for a net price calculator. This tool will ask a few
questions to give you a personalized estimate of the net price after
subtracting grants from the government and the college from the total
cost. Usually the local public college will have the lowest net
price. Community colleges offer a variety of Certificate programs that
take less than a year to complete, as well as 2-year Associate's
degree programs. Public 4-year colleges offer 4-year Bachelor's degree
programs. There are also several dozen higher-cost non-profit 4-year
colleges with generous no
loans financial aid policies
that may also have a very low net
price for low income and first generation college students.
In January of your son's senior year in high school you should submit
the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at
www.fafsa.ed.gov. This form is used to apply for federal and state
aid, as well as for financial aid from most colleges. For example, the
FAFSA is used to apply for the federal Pell Grant for low-income
students. (A grant is a gift of money that does not need to be
repaid.) Some colleges have additional forms. You will have to file
the FAFSA form each year your son is in college. If you have questions
about completing the FAFSA, call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). The
YMCA sponsors a program called
College Goal Sunday
where high school guidance counselors and college financial aid
administrators help families complete the FAFSA in January, February
The FAFSA form doesn't have any place where you can mention your
family's unusual financial circumstances, such as the disability and
cancer. After you file the FAFSA, ask the colleges for a "professional
judgment review". They will want a copy of any documentation of the
unusual circumstances. The college financial aid administrator can choose to
make adjustments to compensate for the unusual circumstances.
There is also money that you can obtain by filing a federal income tax
return. The Hope Scholarship tax credit provides up to $2,500 a year
based on amounts you paid for your son's college education. It may be
worthwhile to file a federal income return to claim this tax credit
even if you aren't required to file a federal income tax return, since
up to $1,000 of the tax credit is refundable. There may also be other
refundable tax credits for which you are eligible.