Help with finances during intensive college program
August 4, 2013 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I've been accepted to the program of my dreams, but I'm not allowed to hold a job while in attendance, and my EFC is higher than my family can afford, so my school-determined need is too low for me to even support myself with loans. Are there any options I'm missing?

I just want to say that the one thing I am not willing to change is my major. I was accepted into a really prestigious film program at a state school. I live in-state, so the costs really aren't as bad as they are at some film schools. That being said, it's a small, intense program, and the school bars you from having a job while attending, because you spend so much time either in class or at a shoot, and hours are unpredictable. I also have to attend during summer, so a summer job is a no-go. I love this school, I know that it's right for me, and I'm confident I have what it takes to make it with their help.

My only problem is money. I am supported by a single mother who is in the medical field, so she makes a little over 80k a year. She's in a lot of debt, however, so I don't see a lot of that money going towards my education, and she's told me herself that she truly doesn't have much to help me with. Unfortunately, I'm required to report how much she makes anyway through FAFSA, so my EFC is high. I'm talking in the 14k range. This makes my need lower than it really is, because my school isn't that expensive. My problem isn't necessarily tuition, which is comparatively low, and my program doesn't usually use books, but my real issue is food, rent, gas... basically trying to support myself in a new city without being able to receive a monthly income. I've checked out loans, but a lot of the better ones I've seen coincide with your school-determined need, and mine is much lower than the actual need I have once I calculate my expenses (ex: I calculated I'd need a little over 5k this year in outside aid, when my school says I'm pretty much covered). I tried to apply for scholarships all summer, but never got any despite my 3.9 GPA and A.A. which I received loan-free from a local community college.

I'm really struggling here, trying to think up some options. I'm willing to work to get what I want, but having not started the program yet, I'm terrified I won't be able to keep up if I have to dedicate my life to a low-paying work-from-home situation, and my work will suffer. Does anyone have any options for a student like myself?
posted by orchidgenes to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Doesn't the school have a financial aid office? You must start there. I agree that there must be loans available to you, and that will surely be the route you have to take in the end--no matter the interest rate. If the program says you can't work you can't work and I would trust that they probably know what they're talking about with regard to the time you will dedicate to this program.

Just do it right. Even with a higher interest loan. Work your butt off and it will pay off.

On a side note, one of the ways I kept my own expenses low when I put myself through college was to rent a room in someone's house. NOT a roommate situation, but an established household with an extra room and use of amenities. Way cheaper, furnished, equipped kitchen, use of laundry, parking, plus if you need it your housemate may be a helpful resource for information about your new town. It may not represent the classic fun college experience many students reminisce about, but you will save SO much money this way. Focus on the ball. It's worth it.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:09 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I calculated I'd need a little over 5k this year in outside aid

Are you saying that to cover your food, rent, gas, you need to come up with 5K a year? What is the actual financial shortfall you need to meet?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:33 PM on August 4, 2013

Have you looked into student worker arrangements? Failing that, it may be possible for you to take a small under-the-table job (tutoring, perhaps) to give you some added funds without unduly alarming your program. Working under the table may not be an acceptable solution for you (it's technically illegal, usually less stable than normal work, and may cause problems with your program) but it is common and may be an option worth exploring. Failing that there's loans, but you need to be real with yourself about the feasibility of paying them off after school. Talk to your school's financial aid/financial counseling office. You may also be eligible for scholarships based on organizations that you or more likely your family members are a part of, such as the Masons perhaps. Talk to your school first though, they have people who give this kind of advice professionally.
posted by Scientist at 12:35 PM on August 4, 2013

What about deferring for a year and working to build up some savings during that time?
posted by bsdfish at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2013

food, rent, gas

I see you're in Florida, so I'll use UF as an example. Colleges often have super cheap food options, co-op housing, and neighborhoods you can get around in on a bike or on foot (allowing you to save on gas or even sell your car). I recommend following up next week with the more specific question of how to live cheaply in the new city you're moving to.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:44 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm with Monsieur Caution. Look at your living-expense estimate and see where you can cut back. Back in the olden days, only rich kids from the fancy suburbs had cars on campus, for example.
posted by drlith at 12:50 PM on August 4, 2013

I can't tell from your question if living on campus is an option for you. At some schools, this can be much cheaper than living off campus (particularly when you consider the cost of a meal plan versus eating out a lot because you don't have time to cook), and it may be more straightforward to use your financial aid to pay for on-campus room and board.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:53 PM on August 4, 2013

All of the above, plus make sure that (since you are going into a pre-professional arts program) you are factoring in the costs of any and all supplies and studio time you will be responsible for. If the program (or one or more classes) ends with a making a short film, what costs do you have to cover for making it, and what supplies are covered by tuition (if any)? Any "not required but you will need them if you want to use this as a calling card / for your portfolio later" supplies? Ask a current student about the costs of participation once tuition is covered, and operate on the assumption that you will need to pay these (if everyone pays extra to, say, rent expensive lights for a final project, and you don't, you may suffer for it even if it's technically "optional," for example.)

If your classes don't use books, do you have a photocopy fee to pay for course readers (these can be astonishingly high)? What about materials for ancillary activities - do you have to go to some off-campus screenings or events, etc? Any other hidden costs for participation? Make sure that, before you determine need, you've really dug into what your need really is.
posted by Wylla at 2:30 PM on August 4, 2013

Talk to the financial aid dept. tell them you are independent and your family's income should not count towards your EFC. Get a legal separation from your parents if necessary, just to prove it. Maybe a $300 lawyer fee will help you out

Just here to say that it doesn't work that way.

OP - is your mom in a position to cosign a loan for you? Most private loans aren't strictly FAFSA based, but will base their offer off of your credit.
posted by Think_Long at 2:42 PM on August 4, 2013

Just a thought - were you working full or part time during the past year? It's my understanding that the EFC assumes that the student will continue to earn about the same amount as they've earned in the past year and can put that toward costs. If it is your college's program requirement that you do not work while enrolled, it stands to reason that the financial aid office at your school should be able to manually adjust your EFC. (I can't tell from your question if you have received any kind of aid package from your school.) I'd explore that avenue a little further before taking a private loan. Another thing to talk about with them is the fact that your mother's personal expenses (her student debt) are higher than might be typical for a family with a college-bound student. They may not be able to throw grant money your way, but they may be able to allow you take out federal loans, at least.

Another thing to keep in mind is that just because your program doesn't use textbooks, it doesn't mean that you won't have to pay out of pocket for other educational materials. So be realistic about your budget. (On preview, Wylla put it better.)

Also, how much total loans is the worst case scenario for getting through this program? I understand, from personal experience, how bad it hurts when you've been doing the super-frugal "right" things in regards to college costs and you still have to take out loans. $5k a year, when you only have 2 years (?) left, for a total of $10k in college debt is not bad. Obviously $0 would be better, but $10k of debt is manageable for artists who are hustling to make it in the big film cities (LA/NYC). If I am understanding your financial situation, this is a very different from someone borrowing $25k/year to go to private art school. It sucks but you would be alright in the long run, and going into a different major/program likely wouldn't cost you any less in college costs in the long run. You'd have a BA, right?
posted by stowaway at 2:43 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To answer everyone's questions, in order:
-DarlingBri, yep, I calculated my rent, utilities, gas, food, etc. and the 5k was what I came up with after subtracting the financial aid I'd already been awarded (fed. loans and one state scholarship, Bright Futures).

-Scientist, Student/campus jobs are counted as jobs and aren't allowed, plus my EFC is way too high to get a work-study arrangement.

-bsdfish, definitely can't defer, because it's such a difficult program to get into. Pretty much what hal_c_on said.

-hydropsyche, I looked at living on-campus first, but meal plans and r&b are so expensive at my school that off-campus would turn out cheaper and more comfortable, especially if I try to bike more than drive.

-Wylia, One of the biggest draws of the program for me is that they give every student a budget for each film they make and they pride themselves on not charging you any extra for your films (or for screenings for that matter, most are on-campus). You may have to pay incidentals if you're over-budget, but I intend to do my very best, for survival's sake, not to go over. From what I heard, the budgets are reasonable.

-Stowaway, I'm definitely talking to them sometime this week, and I'll make sure to bring that up in conversation, because I am indeed quitting my job once I move to school (though it's not much, minimum-wage, in fact). And I have 3 years left, but I did one year of college dual-enrolled through high school, so age-wise I'm pretty on track. And some of the aid I was talking about are federal loans. Really, it would be more like 12k a year in loans, some with better interest than others. So... not so good. And yes, I'd have my BA.
posted by orchidgenes at 2:50 PM on August 4, 2013

Schools can ban or suggest not working as much as they like, but nearly all private tutoring jobs are under the table, flexible, and would work for your situation.

Similarly, downsize the amount you're spending on rent on food. You haven't mentioned if you're sharing with anyone yet. It sounds like you're able to cycle, so do that and save on gas.
posted by Ashlyth at 3:41 PM on August 4, 2013

I'm going to take a wild guess here and assume that you must have had some referrals or direct recommendations from a mentor or mentors to get into this program. Mentors can be sponsors, or could steer you toward someone who might be interested in sponsoring you for the program.

Florida is all about grants for the arts - research that direction, too.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:09 PM on August 4, 2013

Talk to the financial aid office, and tell them that the EFC does not reflect your family's true ability. They have the power to get you more aid/loans. There's a parent PLUS loan if your mom is willing to take that out, or there are private student loans available, in addition to the regular subsidized/unsubsidized. Despite what the school says about not working, try to find a job; many students work in spite of program restrictions on working (I did). Make a realistic budget - including things like emergency fund for car repairs, money for social outings, etc.

Finally, it seems that this is some kind of fine arts or film program. Seriously think about the value of this program. What are the specific job/business opportunities that this program will present? What is the value add of this degree? Would you be better off moving to LA and starting at the bottom? What kind of minimum salary can you expect after graduation? How long does it take grads to find a job at that salary? Will you need an apprenticeship period? $36K in loans (12K/yr * 3 years) is not that much (I have 6 figures in student loan debt, but I also a professional degree from a top-tier school). But, 36K will require about $450/month for 10 years to pay it off (at 6.8% interest). In many artistic fields, it is more who you know (and who knows you), than where you went to school or your various certificates. Practical experience is often better than schooling. Could spending 3 years in the film industry (and making money, rather than accruing debt) actually be more valuable than 3 years on this degree?

This post on Above the Law about deciding to go to a low tier law school brings up relevant questions one should ask when thinking about going to a not-inherently-lucrative-career-granting school.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:14 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hope you find a workable solution. One more thought - is being a resident advisor in the dorms a thing that people still do to get a break on housing cost? - that might be another thing to consider.
posted by stowaway at 8:16 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. Discuss with your Finanical Aid office. They may be able to negotiate some more money

2. Apply for more scholarships.

3. Sell Avon? (I moonlighted doing this and was able to make a few extra bucks here and there. Would that count as a job?)

4. Work as a dancer. It's typically 1099 work, and you make your money in tips. (I know, I know, but I'm thinking outside the box.) Hey, worked for Diablo Cody.

5. Work as a dominatrix. All cash business.

6. Clean houses. Again, all cash and flixible hours. You can get a night gig doing buildings.

7. Work as a server or bartender for a caterer. You would be working evenings and weekends, and it's not steady. Good way to make a few bucks here and there.

8. Work like a fiend during the summers to make up the shortfall. Two or three jobs. Whatever it takes.

Those are my ideas.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:12 AM on August 5, 2013

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