Spring Break, FAFSA Style

Spring Break’s a bust!

Sarah’s home from college for one week and one week only. After a school quarter filled with reports, exams and intense studying, this is the time for her to have some much needed R&R, and some tender lovin’ comfort, courtesy of her mom (aka, me).  I take the week off from work so I can administer all my love and affection, prepare her favorite meals, and have lots of mother-daughter moments going shopping, seeing movies and just doing nothing. In other words, for us Spring Break represents the hopes that we can have some lazy, fun-filled days. Ah, bliss.

But nooooooooo!  Rest and enjoyment, be damned! Thanks to the Feds, Spring Break might as well be dubbed “FAFSA Break.” For we have to spend nearly every waking moment filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile and the IDOC (Institutional Documentation Service) applications.  Any parent with a kid in college, or a kid who’s been through college, knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s time for the annual ask, otherwise known as, please-bestow-on-me-some-financial-aid!

I'm thinking these must be the nice people that decide your fate. They're busy reviewing FAFSA applications and determining the financial future of your college bound kid.

These are the applications that determine whether your child is eligible for financial aid for college and if so, how much they’ll get.  Every year, institutions of higher learning require that you complete these applications which contain hundreds and hundreds of questions. So many questions, that a lot of them are repeat questions, just because they’ve run out of questions to ask. And each application is a variation of the other, so you have to answer 100 or so questions  per application, but in a different order each time.

It’s kind of like a scavenger hunt, one that involves finding the right paperwork that’s going to help you answer each question.  And one that is grueling, aggravating and hair-pulling insane. It makes completing your tax returns seem like a walk in the park. To begin filling out these financial aid forms, you must have available your latest tax returns, as well as the returns you submitted for the prior year.  Tax returns for both you and your child, that is.  You must also have at the ready, your W-2’s.

Then, you must know exactly how much you currently have in your savings and checking. How much your home is worth. What’s in your retirement and investments, and exactly how much you have socked away in foreign investments and, perhaps, under your mattress? Also, what is the value of your car and, while we’re on the subject, why haven’t you fixed that nasty scratch to help maintain its value? And, do you have any insurance policies you can turn into college moolah?

They also want to know, how much interest did you earn this year, and were there any proceeds from garage sales? What about the tooth fairy? Did she bring you any money this year that you can apply toward the cost of tuition? And exactly how much currency is in your pockets at this very moment? Under the sofa cushions? Oh, and do you know the value of your grandmother’s jewelry?

Yes, the nice people that decide your fate–or exactly how much you’ll have to pay toward your child’s education–want to know how much you’re worth, and no rock will be left unturned. For us, every year it’s the same:  Not eligible. Except for maybe a paltry unsubsidized loan (not to be confused with a subsidized one) of limited amount, which barely covers placing one foot on the college campus of your choice. You have to be living at or near the poverty level to qualify for anything more than that.

But who knows? Maybe this year we’ll get a windfall. The folks at FAFSA will have money to burn in their pockets and say, “Hey, let’s give Sarah a break. Let’s give her a big fat scholarship to make her mother happy.”

Nah. Ain’t gonna happen. Our FAFSA ship sailed long ago. Oh, well. Back to the application. We only have 38 questions to go, at which time Sarah can pack her bags and head back to college. So much for Spring Break.