How to Pay for College When You’re Broke

“College is possible even when you’re broke,” says Jessica Brown, president and CEO of College Gurl. An experienced financial aid professional, Brown has the inside scoop and understands the challenges and pitfalls of financing an education.

Luckily for the rest of us, she’s written a book, How to Pay for College When You’re Broke. “Many people think they can’t afford college, but they can,” says Brown. “It may just take a little more groundwork. I want to provide the options and different resources they can look into to fund their education.”


Educate Yourself


We really cannot afford to send our children to college mindlessly.

“I’ve seen too many families drop off their kids at school, and then they’re surprised when they get a bill for $10,000. ‘Is the school going to give me money for this?’ they ask.” Brown describes a fundamental lack of understanding about school financing.

“The government offers only so much aid every year. I’ve seen students get excited because a school offered them $20,000. But the money isn’t renewable–sophomore year is a different story.”

What Brown describes is called front-loading. It isn’t unusual for a school to offer more money in a student’s freshman year than in subsequent years. This bit of bait and switch can lure families with a false sense of financial security.

Also, a $20,000 scholarship isn’t much if the total annual cost is $40K or more.

“Never get complacent,” Brown advises. “Parents can lose their jobs; you can lose your scholarship. Education is possible for everybody, but you need to educate yourself.”


Financial Aid 101


How to Pay for College When You’re Broke is the kind of Financial Aid 101 course anyone should take if they’re interested in pursuing higher education. Funding your education is complex and requires a commitment to educate yourself about the options.

Brown says, “You need a support system. Use books, use websites. Educate yourself.” She mentioned exciting programs like the New Jersey STARS program, which provides free community college to eligible New Jersey residents, and significant scholarship support toward a four-year degree at a public or private New Jersey school.

Georgia has a similar program,” Brown told me. “And seniors in Georgia over 62 can earn a college degree at no cost.”

Brown also endorses the idea of attending community college for two years and then transferring to a four-year school to save money.

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