A Poor Mama's Guide to Paying for College
By Rowdy Rebecca
Congrats! Deciding to go to school is a big decision, especially with a little tyke in tow. I think its important for Girlmoms to gain all the advantages we can in society to make the world a better place for our kids. Continuing our education can change our lives, change our family’s future, and change the world. You can meet new people, learn new ideas and skills, and build yourself a level of credibility in the “straight” world. One of the hurdles in gaining access to college for many of us is money.
Think of going to college as an investment in your future. Overall, the level of education attainment achieved by a mama will directly impact her ability to build her autonomy and to make strong decisions for her family. Maybe, for you, this will mean that you won’t have to depend on your sleazy babydaddy as much. Maybe you’ll be able to leave a shitty housing situation. You’ll have a higher chance of getting a good job with health care. These are some of the reasons that I decided to back to college after dropping out of high school.
Before we start, we gotta break it down a bit. You’ll be able to get three kinds of money.
1.)Grants or scholarships = free money you get for being oh-so-cool. You want these.
2.)Loans = money you get now, but have to pay back later. Mostly, you’ll have to pay back what you get, plus interest (a percent of the total you borrowed that you have left to payback.) The interest rate is around 6 percent over a certain period of years. This works out to be a lot, lot more then simply 6 percent of your total debt…math, its weird. Be careful with loans, because you must pay them back eventually! Read the fine print. Sometimes, you don’t have to pay back your loans for a while, or at all if you do certain good deeds.
3.)Workstudy = a federally funded program that gives your school money to employ you. This is like a student friendly job. Sometimes you can get jobs doing very little besides your homework while sitting as a receptionist. Some schools have awesome community service programs that will pay you to work at a non-profit in your area. Sometimes workstudy seems really dumb if you’re making $6/hr at a dumb job and have to pay $6/hr to the babysitter. If the latter is the case, fight against getting workstudy “help.”
But how do you GET this money? Here's some tips!
Tip #1: Start Early. When you are applying to schools figure out what kind of support a school offers. There are at least two particular routes that I’ve seen work. One is going to a community and public colleges that have a lot of support for parenting students. Costs of community colleges vary by location but generally are the lowest priced in the area. The other route is to go to a well-endowed private school. These schools tend to advertise a need-blind admissions policy. This means that the school has enough funds to garrantee that they will accept any student based on merit, not ability to pay tuition. Once accepted, students will receive financial aid from the school to meet their needs. I am wary of private colleges that don’t offer this kind of scholarship because it seems to be a classist scam.
Tip #2: Think of all of your needs. Do you need daycare? Food? Housing? Money for books? Think of everything, not just tuition. Make a budget and write a list. Think of the absolute minium that you could survive on. Then figure out what the most likely cost of everything is, and work for that. But settle for the minimum if you have to.
Tip #3: Research all of your options of places and people to get financial (and nonfinancial aid.) Be organized!
Start with your family and friends. Can gramma babysit while you do homework? Will your estranged father kick in partial tuition if you kiss his ass? Sometimes your parent’s workplace will offer scholarships for you to go to school, look into this. Sometimes its kind of weird. Like if you are the daugher of a dairy farmer, then you’ll get $500 to go to school or whatever.
Fill out the FAFSA (available on-line, at your public library, or at your college.) It is available on Jan. 1st of the school year that you are applying for, and should be returned ASAP. This is the federal financial aid form that most schools use. You’ll need things like your tax returns, social security number. If you have a kid, you’re considered an independent meaning you don’t have to enter any information about your parent’s income. You’ll be able to get federal grants and loans…I think around $6000 or so in total.
Go to your school. There will be someone in charge of financial aid. Maybe, if you're lucky, your school will have an entire office dedicated to helping students pay for school. Talk to them often. Write down the names of people you talk with. Show them your budget and ask for financial aid to cover it.
Discover outside sources of funding. There are organizations with the sole purpose of helping students connect with money. Some cool groups give money to students just like you to go to school. Look on-line for free services. Don’t pay for this service! Try to have your shit together enough to know what you’re doing and why. Like, are you studying gender studies so that you can work on issues of domestic abuse? If so, women’s organizations will be there to help you work on your degree. Maybe even your current or future employer. Also there are hip organizations like the third wave foundation that gives scholarships to women activists. Hint hint.
Ask people who have gone before you. Find another mama at the school who could take you around, find the woman’s center, the good clinics, (maybe hints on some free food,) and a mama to exchange babysitting with.
Tip #4: Don’t take “no” for an answer. Here’s my story. I went to a very expensive elite school. The school was also very rich. Although I was considered an independent by federal standards, the school thought that my parents should pay for my tuition. My parents were NOT involved with my finances at all. My folks were like, “Rowdy, you have a kid now. You made your own decisions. We’re not responsible for you now.” My school’s financial aid office would not listen to me. Despite a number of meetings, I kept at it. Leading to…
Tip #5 :Organize! If you have to, kick ass. I found all the other moms at my school and talked money with them. I asked how they made ends meet and found out that many of them were in the same situation as I. But I also found out that some mamas had a schweet financial aid deal. “I” started becoming “We.” We investigated and learned that the graduate students were given dependant care allotments (of about $7000 per year for childcare.) We made a list of demands on the school. We wanted that dependant care allotment, health care for our kiddos, and we wanted our more expensive housing (that the school made us live in because we had kids) covered in our financial aid packages. Stuff like that. After unsuccessfully meeting (again) with the financial aid office, we called the student newspaper. They decided to make our issue a huge news spread (with lots of pictures of our cute kids.) We met with the student body president who decided to call a meeting with the school’s provost. The financial aid office basically enforces the policy of the provost’s office, so this dude was in control of everything. He met with us and decided immediately to give us the bigger financial aid package! Woo-hoo for us! I think our biggest selling point was the following housing argument. The school had a policy that guaranteed housing for all undergrads, but put families in more expensive housing, while NOT providing a proportionate increase in financial aid. So basically it was discriminating undergrad families. My moral is to think of the specific things you are asking for and why someone should listen to you.
You CAN pay for college, if you know where to look at how to fight.
PS Don’t forget your friendly welfare office and government childcare subsidies (even though thanks to welfare reform, many states will only help you become a wage slave and not an educated kick ass mama.)
PPS You’re amazing mama! Rock it at your school!