“No One Actually Gets Money from the FAFSA:” My Experience With Myths About Financial Aid

A few weeks ago I was sitting on campus and overheard the following statement: “No one actually gets money from the FAFSA.” This statement is false and contributes to a larger misconception about paying for a college education when you come from a lower income family. It is very easy for those of us whose families are financially stable and able to afford college to fall victim to these kinds of myths about financial aid. In reality, there is no income cutoff for who can and cannot receive financial aid, it maybe just come in different forms for different financial situations.

I am fully responsible for funding my own education, and I chose to attend American University because of the amount of financial aid that I received compared to other universities. Coming from a high school where a large number of my peers also made their college decisions while considering finances, I expected to find myself in a similar situation at college. However, once I got here, I found that many of my peers at American University were paying full or almost full tuition, had families that owned multiple houses, and did not have to work for spending money; the complete opposite of my own situation. The diversity of socioeconomic statuses was wonderful up until when my friends began to complain about those who received financial aid, and how it wasn’t fair.

From that point forward I was genuinely terrified of my peers finding out the degree to which my tuition was covered by financial aid, I did not want to become the source of their resentment. I began to feel like maybe I didn’t deserve the scholarship that I was awarded simply because of my parents' income if everyone else has to compete for scholarships based on merit. It took me almost an entire semester to come to terms with the fact that my financial situation, no matter how different than my peers, was none of their business to deem “fair” or not. Need-based scholarships are awarded to students who are just as deserving of a college education as students who come from financially stable families and win merit based awards.

Students receiving large sums of need-based money should not have be put into a position where they feel shameful for it because of what their peers are saying. We need to debunk our preconceived notions about financial aid and financial aid recipients in order to create a more accepting environment at universities.


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