Helpful FAFSA Q&A from Mark Kantrowitz

by Grace

Mark Kantrowitz answered FAFSA questions from readers of the NY Times The Choice blog.

To help readers of The Choice fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or Fafsa — the form that so many families will begin tackling this month to initiate the process of receiving financial aid from the federal and state governments — Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert and founder of the Web sites finaid.org and fastweb.com, is taking questions this week in our virtual Guidance Office. Mr. Kantrowitz is the author of “Secrets to Winning a Scholarship,” published last February.

I always learn something new from reading these types of articles.  Did you know that in completing the FAFSA, a parent’s two-year associate’s degree counts as having “completed” college?  However, this may be a trick question if a student is trying to qualify for some types of financial aid.  Here’s the explanation from Part 2.

Q.  I’m not sure how to answer the question on parent’s education level. I have an A.S. degree and took some classes at a four-year college but never got my baccalaureate degree. Have I “completed” college? – PSB

A.  The purpose of this question is to determine whether the student is the first in his/her family to attend college (i.e., the highest level completed by either parent is middle or high school). Some states and colleges provide special grants and scholarships to these “first-generation” college students. First-generation college students are at higher risk of dropping out.

Note that these questions should be answered based on the birth or adoptive parents, not step-parents, foster parents or legal guardians.

For the purpose of this question, receipt of an associate’s degree is normally considered to have completed “college or beyond.”

The question is badly worded because some programs for first-generation college students distinguish between “no college,” “some college, no degree,” receipt of an associate’s degree and receipt of a bachelor’s degree.

If you are unsure as to the proper answer, select the “Other/unknown” option.

Here are links to the complete series.

Part 1: Answers on the Fafsa, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Part 2: Answers on the Fafsa, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Part 3: Answers on the Fafsa, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Part 4: Answers on the Fafsa, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Part 5: Answers on the Fafsa, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Last of 6 Parts: Answers on the Fafsa, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid

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7 Comments to “Helpful FAFSA Q&A from Mark Kantrowitz”

  1. That is really weird. AAs and BAs belong to completely different social universes, and being the first to complete a BA in your family really is a huge leap, in a way that being the first to complete an AA is not.

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  2. Now that I think of it, I can’t think of any of my relatives who have AAs. I suspect some rarely seen cousins or aunties may have done associate degrees, but no relative that I know closely has an AA.

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  3. I thought it was weird, too. Usually there’s a significant difference in career opportunities between AA and BA graduates. I would answer “other” if I was in that situation.

    Yeah, I seem to know more people who’ve completed community college courses than those who’ve actually graduated.

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  4. “I thought it was weird, too. Usually there’s a significant difference in career opportunities between AA and BA graduates. I would answer “other” if I was in that situation.”

    Absolutely anybody (including some pretty derelict types) can take a community college class. One of my relatives that teaches at a CC says that there’s a segment of the CC population that would find it a real stretch to hold down a job as a hotel maid.

    I also think that in the context of “first in family,” being the first in your family to actually get a BA is in a different class from just getting in, taking some classes, and then leaving without a degree. It’s less dramatic than the AA/BA distinction, but the unfinished degree still suggests that your family does not have the wherewithal and know-how to make getting a BA unproblematic. My paternal grandparents both had a little college, but there was a huge difference between their more blue collar life experience and that of their three children, who all got BAs and then MAs.

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  5. One branch of my family tree went like this, educationally:

    1. Great-grandma got an 8th grade education on the frontier. There was no high school locally, so in order to get a high school diploma, she had to go to boarding school (at Washington State University). She quickly got homesick and went back home without a high school diploma.

    2. Great-grandma sent all four of her kids to college during the Depression and WWII at WSU, and half of them got degrees (one became a vet–a very common college track for ambitious farm kids). My grandpa was a so-so college student for a couple of years (he wanted to be a vet like his brother), served in the army as a medic, got married, thought about doing the GI Bill, but seeing as he was around 25 by that point, he returned home to work at a lumber mill and farm.

    3. My grandparents sent their three kids to college. Two got MAs and one got a pharmacy degree (the pharmacist had wanted to be a vet, didn’t get in, and had to settle). Two of the three turned out white collar. One of the three (my dad) has both white collar and blue collar features, but he teaches part-time at a CC. When I was a kid, his blue collar features predominated.

    4. I have a BA and an MA. My siblings and cousins on that side of my family all have at least a BA except for my cousin the commercial pilot, and I think he’s going to be just fine.

    That’s about 100 years of history. The whole thing is very incremental, but with unexpected jumps forward, as well as equally unexpected setbacks and lateral moves.

    It’s certainly fortunate that my family got interested in college before it became so frightfully expensive.

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  6. Very interesting family history. Have you ever considered your children NOT getting college degrees? I’ve considered it, but at this point I’m pushing for them to be on the safe side and get one!

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  7. If kids can get a college degree without unreasonable sacrifice (and ours probably can), I think it’s still worth doing. But I hope I would pull the plug after four years if there were no signs of real academic progress.

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