FAFSA: A Financial Aid Horror Story

A special dedication to the Class of 2014 and others applying for federal financial aid for the first time

If you remember the very first post ever, there were three objectives in this blog: 1. To document the love of food 2. To document the love of arts and crafts. 3. To document my “get out of college debt free”plan.  So, in honor of scholarship and financial aid season, I’d like to go back to objective #3 and share my cautionary tale of the major reason why I’m living in the 23235 (Bon Air) and not the 23220 (VCU area).

Let’s go back to about this time last year. I had already received my acceptance letter from VCU, and was way too excited for to be a ram. I wasn’t exactly sure whether or not I’d be on campus or with my family, but my prayers, hopes, dreams, and good vibes were sent to the College Gods, hoping they would assign me in Johnson or Brandt. My mother sat me down one day, “Alright Claire, let’s do FAFSA”. FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is what you do if you need federal, state or institutional aid, and boy, did we need it. So as my accountant mother triple checked each box about six times, we sent it off, praying we could get money because lord knows we can’t afford it. 

After that was sent off and was processed, the VCU Class of 2017 page began. And I made friends. Tons of friends. Friends to possibly live with, friends to listen to Florence and the Machine with, friends to bake with. People there were so much like me, and I was wanted to be with them all the time in the next year. It had to happen.

So in mid-March, we got the financial aid letter. I pulled it apart immediately with great anticipation. I had already found a friend and we thought about rooming together; it seemed like worlds depended on this letter. When I read the letter, things didn’t make sense. I only qualified for loans of about $5,000. Confused, I handed the letter to my mom and she freaked out herself. I put on my Sweet Frog t-shirt and visor, and ran off to work, leaving Mindy to dig up the mystery.

When I came home that night, my mom was sitting the basement chair, with bad news in her eyes. “I called VCU and reviewed the FAFSA application. It was an error of decimal places, we put that you have $200,000 in your savings vs the true $2,000. I fixed and resubmitted the application”. She went on to tell me about how at this point we would only get a Pell Grant, and state and institutional aid were iffy. She didn’t think I would get to live on campus, and I cried and yelled at her for not being optimistic and having hope. I despised her realistic manners. We got another letter a couple of weeks later, giving us the Pell, but nothing else.

On senior skip day, aka the morning of Prom, my mom and I went to VCU’s financial aid office and pleaded our case. We told our story to many office workers, hoping one of them might be able to open up a magic safe full of money saved exclusively for us, or turn back time so we could do it correctly and get the grants. Unfortunately, they told us the same story: We missed the deadline for changes, and VCU had already offered all the money they had, even over offering, knowing that not everyone would take it because some would go other places. I wouldn’t even qualify for work study, that was already given out.

In their own weird way, things work out. With the Pell grant and scholarships, I got by this school year with a third of what my friends in dorms and meal plans are paying. The summer of two jobs nearly killed me, but it was worth it to make money to pay for college. Plus, food at home is ten billion times better than Shafer on a good day, and my bed is so much more comfier. I still see my VCU friends all the time, and I keep my job. I’m just lucky VCU was my one and only, a school that makes commuting as a freshman possible.

This isn’t a pity post, it’s a lesson to learn from. Please, check your FAFSA twenty-six thousand million times before hitting submit, and another sixty-two times after that since you can make changes. Don’t let anything horrible like this happen to you, but more importantly, don’t let things like this stop you from chasing your dreams.

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3 thoughts on “FAFSA: A Financial Aid Horror Story

  1. Hey this is Katie from over at wanderstruckgirl.blogspot.com. Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your blog and I nominated you for a Liebster Award.

  2. Being poor is an adventure not to be missed. Those who are freely handed grants, scholarships and money by their parents will never know the numerous perks to having no money. These include the wonderful rush of adrenaline when your debit card says ‘accepted’ at the grocery store, finding a $2 coin in the bottom of your handbag (yay! McDonald’s snack here we come!) and making $20 from your grandma stretch for a full night out.

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