October 19, 2007

Putting yourself through college is an expensive prospect

Posted in The Financial Aid Process at 6:56 AM by Joe From Boston

Here’s an article that really digs into the situation felt by thousands of students who support themselves.  The Daily Cardinal from Madison, Wisconsin highlights the flaws in the system.

Time for change? For students without financial support from home, college costs more than just money

By: Sandra Knisely /The Daily Cardinal

On a typical Thursday, Kathryn Grajeda, a UW-Madison junior majoring in engineering mechanics, finishes class at noon and hurries home to work. Grajeda is luckier than many student workers—she can work from her apartment and set her own hours for her job at Total Water Treatment Systems handling data entry and spreadsheets. But the 10-20 hours she works in addition to a 17-credit, six-class schedule is critical, because Grajeda pays for school entirely on her own. When she graduates in 2010, she anticipates $40,000 in debt.

Grajeda described her situation as a Catch-22.

“I love my job, but it can be inconvenient because it takes away time from studying,” she said. “But I can’t feel anything about that because there’s nothing I can do about it. I have to work to be here.”

As college costs continue to spiral upward and financial aid packages are more likely to come in the form of loans, parental financial support has become more important for this generation of students than ever before.

Reality check

According to Sara Goldrick-Rab, assistant professor of educational policy studies and sociology, the current generation of students cannot put themselves through school.

However, this is not surprising considering the University of Wisconsin System estimates the 2007-’08 school year at UW-Madison will cost $18,190 for Wisconsin residents. The sum is significantly higher for other students: $19,810 for Minnesota residents and $32,440 for out-of-state students.

The amounts include generous estimates: $930 for the year’s books, $7,390 for room and board, $500 for travel expenses and an extra $2,180 for miscellaneous expenses. However, Shirley Fischer, director of UW-Madison Financial Aid, said she has heard from students who consider the estimates too low, sometimes even by $10,000.

In the face of monetary needs, many students get jobs, with some holding more than one position. However, the jobs listed on the UW-Madison Job Center Website list an average pay around $8 per hour.

Working 15 hours a week for the entire academic year at $8 an hour (counting 16 weeks per semester) will bring in $3,840 before taxes. That amount will cover a Wisconsin resident’s tuition for only one semester (which equals $3,595, according to the UW System estimate), with some spare cash to put a dent in the textbook total ($470 for the semester). Working 40 hours per week during summer and winter break (an estimated 18 weeks) for the same salary would yield an extra $5,760. This would come close to covering the estimated cost of room and board, but a full semester’s tuition is still unaccounted for.

Assuming a student worked full time over both breaks, he or she would still need to work 50 hours a week during the 32-week academic year if paid $8 an hour. If paid the more generous salary of $9.50 an hour, the number of work hours needed would lower to 41 hours a week.

If, however, a student is unable to work during the breaks due to an unpaid internship or summer courses, it would take approximately 72 hours per week at $8 an hour for the 32 weeks to cover the semester’s expenses. Even $9.50 an hour would still require a near impossible 59 hours per week.

A family affair

Grajeda is the youngest of three kids who attended college in quick succession. All of her siblings were responsible for their own education, but when Grajeda applies for federal loans, the government doesn’t ask if her parents are helping her. It assumes they are.

The federal financial aid system is built under the premise that parents contribute. The UW-Madison Financial Services web site states: “It is a basic assumption of the federal financial aid programs that you and your family bear the main responsibility for paying college expenses.”

The Expected Family Contribution formula is used as a “measure of your family’s financial strength” and calculates a student’s financial need according to their income and the income of their parents, among other factors, including other siblings in college. Parental support is assumed, and the calculated need of a student determines the amount of subsidized aid a student can receive. A subsidized loan is a federal loan that doesn’t accumulate interest until six months after graduation.

“[EFC] is not necessarily an accurate calculation,” Fischer said. “It acts more like a rationing tool with a lot of moveable parts.”

Read the whole article here.



  1. Will said,


    Better advice than the last will follow. Read on…

    I’m 24 and working full-time, going to school full-time. Yes, life sucks from a time point-of-view. But, the thing most people leave out (when talking about “rough times at school”) is the sense of accomplishment; really, the increase in morale and self-confidence. I can do it, I have friends doing the same, you can do it. The catch: YOU have to do it.

    What college are you thinking about attending? More importantly, what major are you thinking of? Pick one that’ll pay off in the end. For example, engineering pays off (not really that hard, either, contrary to popular belief), but philosophy will have you stamping mail at the local post office for $10/hr for life. Both will cost you the same money/time-spent-studying, but one obviously pays off more. FIND A SCHOOL IN YOUR AREA THAT HAS THE MAJOR YOU WANT, THIS IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. Trust me, it’s not that hard.

    Secondly. Choose a cheap-ass school, avoid ye ol’ loans! I’ve got 60K in loans, it’ll suck to pay back. I now work in my industry (before graduation, mind you), and nobody gives a crap about where I went/am going to school. Am I competent? Yes. That’s all they care about, seriously. If you’re thinking about/willing to go back to school, that’s enough motivation (way more than the average “entitled” person) for anyone to hire you.

    Get out there, take the time to research and make it happen. Work + school is way more possible than everyone says it is; living proof right here.

    Good luck. Get off your ass and make it happen.

  2. Hi Steven,

    You need more advice than I can give, but I can tell you this – look for scholarships! Take the time to REALLY look for scholarships. Don’t just spend half an hour then give up, like the typical 18-year-old does. Really spent the time. Take several hours over several weeks and troll the internet. Google is your friend! There are also several free scholarship directories such as StudentScholarshipSearch.com that can a huge help in your search.

    As for signing up for classes, your school will send you information on how and when you will sign up. These days, it’s frequently automated – you normally are directed to a computer lab where you sign up on a computer. IF there’s room left, you get in, if not then on to your next choice. I good idea is to bring a list of what classes you want to take, along with several alternates.

    Ask your college about meeting your adviser prior to the start of classes, if it’s possible. He or she (normally a faculty member in your chosen field of study) will be a big help. And on the off chance that they are not, most schools do allow you to choose a new adviser, so don’t panic!

  3. Steven said,

    I have never ben to college… i am 23, and i live on my own… how can i become a full-time student and still make it?

    Im not even to sure on what i need to do as far as signing up for classes… im lost… can anyone help me?!

  4. jerlinroosevelt said,

    self improvement is the best improvement…… Todays youngsters are want to stand by our own leg… not even after studies… from studies itslef they take their own responsibility….. by applying loans…..

  5. […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

  6. […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptParental support is assumed, and the calculated need of a student determines the amount of subsidized aid a student can receive. A subsidized loan is a federal loan that doesn’t accumulate interest until six months after graduation. … […]

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