How to Get Help Paying for College

The cost of higher education in America may seem overwhelming , but there are resources available to help students get the aid they need. Attending college can appear to be impossible to the average working family, with tuition prices steadily on the rise, the high cost of room and board, books and other necessary expenses, but don’t lose heart. Although it is a major financial obligation to tackle alone, there are steps you can take to get financial assistance to send yourself or members of your family to college. Through applying for Federal Student Aid, and programs like the College Assistance Migrant Program, affording higher education can be within reach. By applying for Federal Student Aid, prospective students have the opportunity to receive financial help to pay for their college education. To apply, one must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) form. This form asks the future student questions regarding their(or their parents’) income, assets, and other tax information to determine their eligibility for financial assistance. Over 15 million students are able to attend college with financial aid because each year there is more than$150 billion available through federal grants, loans and work-study programs. The U.S. Department of Education uses the information you provide on your FAFSA application to determine the type of aid you are eligible to receive. Many prospective students wonder if their legal status in this country affects their chances of receiving financial aid. Although you do not need to be a U.S. citizen to qualify for aid, if you are a non-U.S. citizen, your status must fall under one of the following categories:

  • You are a U.S. permanent resident with a Form I-551, I-151, or I-551C (Permanent Resident Card, Resident Alien Card, or Alien Registration Receipt Card), also known as a green card.
  • You have an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) showing:
  • “Refugee,”
  • “Asylum Granted,”
  • “Cuban-Haitian Entrant (Status Pending),”
  • “Conditional Entrant” (valid only if issued before April 1, 1980), or• “Parolee” (you must be paroled for at least one year, and you must be able to provide evidence from the USCIS that you are not in the United States for a temporary purpose and that you intend to become a U.S. citizen or permanent resident).
  • You are a “battered immigrant qualified alien “ who is a victim of abuse by your citizen or permanent resident spouse, or you are the child of a person designated as such under the Violence Against Women Act. If you fall under one of the above categories, but the expiration date on your documents has passed, this does not necessarily mean that you are ineligible for aid. You may just need to renew your document, or apply for anew one. You will need to check with the appropriate issuer of your specific document. Applying for FAFSA is free and can be completed quickly. The easiest way to complete your application is by going online to www.studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa and clicking the appropriate link that reads: “Fill out the FAFSA, now.” There are also many links on the page to answer any additional questions you may have. If you prefer to complete your application in person, there are many locations in which you can pick one up. Any local college or community college will have a financial aid office with people trained to help you through the process. Most local high schools also have guidance counselors who are available to help you get the information and paper work you need to apply. If you would like to reach someone by phone to learn more about the FAFSA application, you can call the Federal Aid Information Center(FAIC) at 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). Both English and Spanish speaking options are available for assistance. Calls must be made between8:00am and 11:00pm Eastern, Monday-Friday, or 8:00am and 5:00pmEastern, Saturday.

College Assistance Migrant Program

It is important to remember there are many other means in which to receive financial aid for both U.S. citizens, and non-citizens alike. Some programs work independently of the FAFSA program, or join with FAFSA to provide additional aid. Make sure to search online, where you pick up your application, or over the phone as new aid sources are announced often. One such program, is specifically for migrant and seasonal farmworkers, or their families, called the College Assistance Migrant Program (or CAMP). CAMP is a unique federally-funded educational support and scholarship program that helps more than 2,000 students from migrant and seasonal farm-working backgrounds to attend college, per year. Once accepted, participants receive between $750 to $4,000 of financial support during their first year of college and continued educational support until their graduation. The CAMP program uses information gathered from FAFSA applications to determine the need of its applicants. In order to receive the additional assistance CAMP provides, applicants must have or meet the following criteria:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Migrant or seasonal farm-working background
  • U.S. Citizenship or U.S. Permanent Legal Residency
  • Seeking 4 year academic degree
  • CAMP must determine one’s need for the services and support they provide 38 colleges nationwide provide the CAMP program as a service on their campuses. In order to receive the support that this program provides, an applicant must be eligible to enroll or already enrolled in one of these schools. Finding the schools that offer CAMP can be found online at: www.migrantStudents.org/campcolleges.html. Applying for the CAMP program can also be done online through the above address. Students can scroll through a list of colleges that offer the program, and request applications for CAMP from 1–3 schools at a time. Once the application is received online, a CAMP recruiter will contact the applicant by phone within 72 hours to assist them with further enrollment. If an applicant prefers to apply in person, one can seek help at a local college by visiting the financial aid office, and speaking to an assistant. To speak to someone over the phone, applicants can call the Office of Migrant Education at (202) 260-1164. Normal hours are 8am to 5pm, Eastern Time, Monday-Friday. Assistance is available in both English and Spanish.