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Can You Go to College for Free?

Can you go to college for free - gold dollar signIt’s a simple fact, most people don’t want to change their careers if they are making money. But what if you’re broke and need to change the course of your life by going back to school? Well, actually, you are in the best position of all if you don’t have any money and have never been to college. Dare to ask yourself, “Can You Go to College for Free? In those circumstances, the answer might be a definite YES.

It depends on a few things. Are you young enough to be dependent on your parents? Did you make a bunch of money last year but then it didn’t work out so now you are broke? Do you have a spouse who makes a lot of money? I am sure there are other factors which could complicate things. They don’t mean you can’t qualify for Financial Aid for college, but they make things more complicated.

Can you go to college for free - gold dollar signBut if you are a person who has been struggling for a long time on your own, perhaps with the help of Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Food Stamps (SNAP), General Relief payments (GR), Public Housing (Section 8, for example) or any other type of public assistance payments, you are  HOME FREE when it comes to going back to college! The answer is YES unless you have unusual circumstances, you CAN go all the way through a bachelor’s degree completely free.

A Pell Grant doesn’t have to be repaid and it can pay for an entire bachelor’s degree at many of the less expensive colleges and universities.

Start Here

Can you go to college for free - gold dollar signPlease don’t fall for the scams that ask you to pay any money to find out if you qualify for Financial Aid. The US Government has a FREE WEBSITE where you can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (www.FAFSA.gov) This application is the ONLY starting point for EVERY type of financial aid in college or graduate school. You simply MUST fill it out.

You will need to create an account and fill in the financial data for the previous tax year. There is even a button where you can have it filled out automatically from your tax return. But if you didn’t file taxes because your income was so low, then don’t panic. you can just fill in the correct amounts yourself.  It will tell you your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) online at the end of the application.

How It Works

Can you go to college for free - gold dollar signSchools use the EFC to determine how much Financial Aid you get and how much you need to pay yourself. The lower the EFC, the better. If you are poor enough, the EFC is zero.

Now, if you have parents who help support you or a spouse with an income, you will need their information too. That is why I said it would complicate things. But it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to qualify. If you’re a dependent student and your family has a combined income of $26,000 or less, your EFC would automatically be zero.

Even if you know your income is too high to qualify for a full ride, you might still qualify for quite a lot, and also many scholarships require you to fill out the information, even though they might not be based on financial need. So go fill out the form if you want to go to college at all.

Can you go to college for free - gold dollar signYou need to be admitted AT LEAST HALF TIME to an ACCREDITED PROGRAM that leads to a DEGREE. If it is accredited, the degree can be a vocational diploma or associate’s degree in addition to the more recognized bachelor’s or graduate degrees. The college or university’s financial aid department will take your EFC and make an offer to you of a financial aid package, which you can accept in whole or in part.

The Financial Aid Department will take the official cost of living while you are in school and will first offer you a Pell Grant if you qualify, and then offer you guaranteed Federal Stafford Loans to make up any difference.

Can you go to college for free - gold dollar signYou will be offered enough to pay for school AND LIVING EXPENSES. If you were in a dormitory and eating at the school cafeteria, those would be your living expenses, but if you are studying at home online then your rent and food bill and upkeep on your car are examples of living expenses.

Don’t worry about your credit score for this type of financial aid. It has NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

A Pell Grant doesn’t have to be repaid, so your credit score doesn’t matter, and Federal Stafford Loans are guaranteed by the government, so your credit score doesn’t matter there either. Everyone with a low enough EFC qualifies for these types of financial aid. There are other types, but they are beyond the scope of this article.

Can you go to college for free - gold dollar signWhat’s At Stake

The maximum Pell Grant amount you can receive for the 2019-20 school year is $6,345. Other grants offered by the federal government can total up to $4,000 each.

Your Pell lifetime eligibility maximum is 600% over the course of your lifetime. That’s equal to a 100% Pell Grant each year for six years. Pell grants are only offered up until a person has achieved their first bachelor’s degree.

There is a lot of detail on how much you can borrow, but the lifetime maximum on these guaranteed loans is $57,500 for undergraduate students and $238,500 for graduate students.

There is a LOT of money at stake.

Not everyone wants to go into debt while they are in college, so they can accept part of the financial aid offer (the Pell Grant) and decline all or part of the loans.

Can you go to college for free - gold dollar signThe first loan payment is not due until six months after you graduate, and the repayment amount can be tied to your income. If you encounter a period of unemployment or illness, the loan payments can be “deferred” or paused for a period of time to help you get back on your feet. The important thing is to stay in touch with your loan officer after graduation so that you do not “default” and completely fail to pay your loans because that can cause problems in your life.

The consequences of defaulting on a student loan include the following: The entire unpaid balance of your loan and any interest you owe becomes immediately due (this is called “acceleration”). You can no longer receive deferment or forbearance (temporary forgiveness of payments due to circumstances), and you lose eligibility for other benefits, such as the ability to choose a repayment plan. it can destroy your credit score.

So, it is a good idea to rely on Pell Grants as much as possible. But the student loans are very helpful as well and I don’t think they should be dismissed without being understood. On SUBSIDIZED student loans, the Federal Government even pays the interest while you are in school, and on UNSUBSIDIZED loans the interest builds up unless you pay it as you go. But either way, the government guarantees the bank their money so nobody runs your credit at all.

It’s a pretty sweet deal!

Lisa Bates

2 Comments

  1. Lisa, thanks for your post. When I went to university, the grants and loans that were available at the time were definitely useful to get me through. I even bought some shares with part of my loan and I managed to finish university with some money rather than be in debt! I wish I had kept up investing though!

    • Wow! That was some wonderful money management while you were in school! Too bad you didn’t keep investing. Can you pick up where you left off now? 

      I am on disability and I have spent a lot of time in school while I was laid up. I have a bachelor of Social Work and two Master’s degrees, one in Nonprofit Management and Leadership, and the other in Christian Ministry. I was able to live more comfortably on my student loan money (which didn’t count against my SSI) while I was in school but now I have come to the end of the available funds. I am going to tie my repayment amount to my income which will make me eligible for the smallest possible payment (I think it is around $20 a month) until I build my internet business to the point where I can give myself a salary and get off of disability. It is all part of my master plan.

      I tell you this because it really is possible to negotiate the Financial Aid landscape and come out on top! I didn’t pay a penny out of my pocket for my three degrees, and they gave me a substantial amount of loan money to live on while I was in school that kept me from encountering the hardship of living on SSI. 

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