khadijah-85Can YOU afford a $200,000 education? You, whose parents are on TANF, who helps your parents by working a full-time job, in addition to school? You should probably go to your state school, it only costs $20,000, 1/10 the price of a fancy-smhancy private school, like Harvard, Williams, Stanford.  Or better yet, community college. What are you thinking applying to that private school?

Except, one thing-  I’m getting a $200,000 education.  For free.

Wait. What? Free? Gratis? My parents have a Trust Fund, that’s probably it.

Actually, nope.

In a remarkable twist of fate, for the first time in my life- being POOR was a good thing. You know why? Some colleges are beginning to recognize that intelligence doesn’t correlate with income and many are putting their money where their mouths are.


But don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. Get ready for weeks of explaining your financial situation to colleges. The FAFSA was created for the traditional college student  – traditional age, two parents and 2.5 kids, no extended family issues, etc. – not exactly room to put extenuating circumstances like ours. And a lot of times, your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) will be higher than your family can actually afford. That’s why you need to get in touch with your financial aid officer early, at whatever schools you are thinking of going to. Tell them your situation. Be COMPLETELY honest. I told them my mom had no income, and they kept asking for tax forms. It was extremely frustrating. They asked for my father’s information, and it took them a while to finally understand that I had NO contact with my father and so I could not provide that information. But keep it up, be persistent with financial aid, and it will pay off, literally!

It is important to understand the difference between price and cost. The price is what colleges charge absent any financial aid – that’s that big number on the website. For most private colleges, that number is daunting. But the other important number is cost – what it will cost you once your financial aid is factored in. Because many schools are heavily endowed, they can make the cost of attending an elite private school less than a less expensive public school. Seriously, (for the juniors and younger out there) apply to the private schools. They can often give better financial packages than your state school. UCLA, for example, is more expensive for me than Harvard! UCLA, keep in mind, costs ~$80,000 while Harvard costs 200,000+. Yet Harvard is cheaper for me because they can afford to give financial aid. Look for the term “need-blind.” That term means they will admit you regardless of your ability to pay. In fact, the admissions office does not consider your need at all in making the admission decision. The other term to look for is “full need.” That means that the school will meet your full financial need – but that’s a bit dicey because your need is determined by a pretty inflexible standard that does not respond well to non-traditional families. And how they meet that need can vary greatly with combinations of grants, loans and work-study. A number of schools state they offer both need-blind admissions and full-need for U.S. students. There is room for some professional judgment and flexibility so be sure to give your financial aid office all the information about you and your family.

Now, because of the economic recession, schools are a bit, shall we say, tighter with their wallets. But don’t lose hope! Schools know the value of highly qualified students from different backgrounds, and the right school for you will provide you with a financial package you and your family will be happy with.

And by the way, all this talk about a free education is a bit misleading. I can tell you that you will pay in blood, sweat and tears for every penny of your education!