Your parents probably started pushing you to attend college when you began preschool. They insisted that you join every extracurricular activity at your school in hopes of earning scholarships. Then, when they saw how much college was going to cost you, they turned out their pockets and said, “Sorry, we can’t help you.”
If your parents encouraged you toward the college route but were unable to assist to the level that they had hoped, or if your family had severe financial struggles and truly couldn’t afford to help, you still have options for getting a college degree. Don’t become one of those students who try to defraud the system. You can find legitimate options to fund your education.
Grant Fraud? Don’t Even Think About It
The U.S. government distributes Pell Grants totaling as much as $5,500 to needy students, and it sends the grant money directly to the students’ colleges. Colleges deduct their portion of tuition and give the money to students to help students pay for room, board and supplies. Unfortunately, some fraudsters called “Pell runners” target inexpensive online schools or community colleges, apply for and get accepted to low-cost degree programs. When their Pell Grant disbursements come, they take the cash, drop out of school and disappear.
In some cases, studied by students at a school that offers an accredited MS in Criminology program, Pell running is the work of gangs of students (to read more about how gangs have branched out into white-collar crime, visit this page). In Arizona, a student named Trenda Halton recruited over 60 fake students to sign up for college, get the Pell Grant money and give her a $500 to $1,000 cut. Colleges and the Department of Education are cracking down on Pell running; Halton and her cohorts were all sentenced for their crimes. Complete your FAFSA and take advantage of Pell Grants if you can, but don’t attempt to get cash by committing grant fraud.
Lying on the FAFSA? Not a Chance
If your parents either refuse to help or can’t help you pay for school, you might think that the best solution is declare yourself an independent student. The bad news is that if you don’t meet government requirements for independent students, then declaring your independence requires lying on your FAFSA.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to be declared an independent student. You have to do more than move out of your parents’ house. You’re not even considered independent when they don’t claim you on their taxes. Unless you’re an Armed Forces member or veteran, supporting dependent children, considered an emancipated minor, going to graduate school or past your 24th birthday, then you’re considered dependent no matter what your parents do.
If you’re caught committing FAFSA fraud, you could get up to five years in prison and a $20,000 fine. You would also have to reimburse the government for any money that you received, and if your school has an honor code, you’re likely to be expelled.
So What Are Your Options?
If you received an acceptance letter only to discover that your parents can’t pay, you can try other options to get your degree.
- Pick a cheap school. You might have to get an affordable undergraduate degree at a less prestigious school. On a positive note, since grad students are considered independent, your parents’ income won’t count when you go for your master’s or doctorate. So, for your graduate degree, you can swing for the fences and apply to a great school.
- Investigate scholarships. Even if you have to take an extra year to line up money, take some time to look into available scholarships. Hit up community groups, religious groups and industry groups related to your field. Also, use the Department of Labor’s scholarship search engine.
- Get a job. Many employers offer at least partial tuition reimbursement. Some employers, like Starbucks, have agreements with colleges and universities so that their employees get a free or reduced-price college education.
Remember that your parents’ inability to pay your tuition isn’t about you; it’s about them. Also, when you’re trying to go to school, don’t be shy about searching for financial assistance and assertively asking for available money. You deserve to build a great future whether you are getting help from your parents or not.