The Backwoods

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My Parents Are Married…and other college scholarship killers

Posted · 50 Comments

With Destini going off to college in the Fall, we’ve been furiously applying for grants and scholarship as if her future depends upon it…because it does.  With seven kids in the house, surely several of them will seek further education.  And since the earned dollar only goes so far, we were hoping to spread our very limited extra funds over the next few years.  Because…now pay attention…in the next eight years, all seven of our children graduate from high school.  That’s a lot of futures hanging in limbo…relying on us. You do the math.

And in this lengthy application process, while we search and seek money opportunities to offset the costs, we have learned one definitive fact…

If your parents are married.  If they make money.  If they went to college.  If they are doing everything right, everything the world says is good and moral…it doesn’t matter how many kids they are trying to support, or how high your GPA is, or how many leadership qualities you display…you don’t qualify for crap in financial aid.

If, however, your parents are single, unemployed, or uneducated…your college can be practically free…at least on the community college level.

I’m not a believer in freebies. I don’t take advantage of free programs, even if I qualify; I don’t agree with unlimited handouts if a person is capable of working; and I don’t even let my kids get that free cookie in the bakery section at the grocery store because I want them to know there is a price to pay for everything.

I don’t have credit cards. I drive old beater trucks with no payments.  Within the year we will be mortgage free because we are choosing to do without, in order to be self-sufficient.   I believe in working for every single thing I have.  My point is…we aren’t throwing our money around, and yet there is still no way we could pay for their education, even if we wanted to. Yet our income is determining Destini’s eligibility for scholarships she would otherwise be qualified to receive…based on all her hard work.

But I also live in reality.  And the reality is education is both expensive and necessary.  I believe some of my children should go to college…not all…and I believe they deserve the same chance at potential academic scholarships as anyone else.  I do not care for the phrase “show financial need” when it comes to deciding who gets to improve themselves, and who doesn’t.  An essay competition should be merit based…not determined by your parents marital status or gross adjusted income.

But because we’ve been married for twenty years….because we’ve kept our family together…because we have beat the odds and remained a two parent household…they don’t qualify for aid.

Because my husband has been lucky enough to retain solid employment for those same twenty years, because he works 13 hour shifts, with his well-worn hands, in subzero temperatures, 900 miles from home and misses half of his children’s lives to do so…they don’t qualify for aid.

Because at thirty years old I struggled my way through college while parenting eight kids and didn’t take “no” for an answer when people said it couldn’t be done and I managed to get a college degree four years later…they don’t qualify for aid.

Because we worked hard…struggled through all the crap dealt us by life, and came out okay…our children…those of the middle class blue collar worker…will be the next generation of the under-educated parents, struggling to raise their children, wondering where it all went wrong.

But perhaps there is hope after all…at least our grandchildren will qualify for aid.

50 Responses to "My Parents Are Married…and other college scholarship killers"
  1. momma says:

    SO true we have 4 kids work hard and are kids are involved in the community, church and school. Sad try to teach them to do right in life then when it comes time to get any rewards for doing the right things in life they aren’t eligible because we have worked our entire lives.

  2. Lara Rogers-Mcginnis says:

    Crap, you just made me realize I should quit college, so that Robert will qualify…. Now what???

  3. Amye W. says:

    As a graduate student who has relied on financial aid for both of my undergrad and graduate careers, I know that system all too well. If you need any help or tips navigating the frustrating world of financial aid, please contact me (I will provide my email address when I post this comment). I know how frustrating it can be, but as someone who has challenged the system 14 times and won every challenge, I might have some good insight. Please don’t hesitate to contact me. I applaud your commitment to your children’s education that will undoubtedly give them a bright future.

  4. Allie Nick says:

    When going through the undergraduate application process I realized that since my parents were married, had no “issues” and worked hard to make a decent living in construction and clerical work I would not be afforded any financial aide. I have loving and supportive parents that i am extremely grateful for, but i knew that they could not pay my way through school and I have been raised to work hard.  I worked 4-5 jobs at the same time and went to a state school to pay my way through college, and I find myself better off for it. I have friends who borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars for their undergraduate degree’s and are still borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars more now that they are in graduate, medical and law school. I was one of 5 in my section of 72 students at the beginning of the year in law school that had no undergraduate debt whatsoever. I now have taken out the minimal amount to cover tuition and some living expenses because there are requirements limiting the number of hours you work in law school that i have to abide by, but while others have taken out excessive amounts and are taking out enough money to pay for trips to the Caribbean on spring break, I am living at home, taking my lunch and working as hard as I can for my education.  I plan to work in public service to work down my law school debt after I graduate as well. I know of people who refer to their loan money as “monopoly money” and it drives me insane, but i know in the end that I know that I have worked extremely hard for my education which makes me value my education even more. 

  5. Angela6724588 says:

    I’m sorry that you feel that way especially about all essays should be merit based, NOT financial need based…….. I am at the opposite end struggling to get ONE child into college this upcoming Fall with a very limited income (considered close to poverty level). We have been trying every possible angle with scholarships but basically have gotten back the same response many times that there is so much competition this year due to a hugely increased scholarship application submission.  Yes, so what if we were able to qualify for limited Federal Aide but we also instilled into my son’s head that even though he was accepted to all eight of the colleges that he applied to, it would only make sense to select from the least costly ones (State Public Colleges).  As far as the help from Financial Aide, some good that is when our share of a bit over $5K for the first year (it might seem small but we had to stretch our grocery budget for the two week period just to be able to send in the $400 deposit) will have to come from a Federal Direct Parents Plus loan which requires no adverse credit within the past 5 years so possibly, because of my past failure of choosing a good husband, it may cause me to fail in being able to help make my son’s dreams for his future come true. Before you judge, my son’s father walked out and left me not only taking care of my son but also our bills.  My 2nd husband works very hard and many hours but because he only graduated from high school, our income is tight and we have been unable to correct any adverse credit that remains for me.  Please don’t get me wrong, you have a right to your opinion but just remember to put yourself into someone else’s shoes before you feel that your daughter is being denied extra college money because it’s all being handed out to those who are not middle class. Although you and I have totally different circumstances, we are both trying to make college happen for our children and I can promise you that because we are in a different class than you, we are NOT having piles of Scholarship money tossed our way!  I wish the best for you because I can understand how agonizing it is to know that in the world that we live in today, our children will have little chance at solid career success without furthering their education. Trust me, I have shed enough tears over it for you and me, both…… It’s also sad that we live in a country that is slowly becoming increasingly expensive to meet just our everyday needs (gas, food, clothing, medical, etc.) without incomes being raised to help with the shortfall that more and more people are in the same situation of not being able to start saving years before hand for our children’s college years. 

  6. This is ridiculous. I totally agree. When my husband and I first got married we considered getting an annulment for the financial security of our family. It’s so sad that doing the “right” thing and getting married is so detrimental to our families and the well-being of our children. 

  7. Jim says:

    I know this won’t help but….I have a friend who is divorced and has remarried.  He put all of his son’s college savings and other savings in an account held by this wife (his son’s stepmother).  Since his wife doesn’t classify as a family member, he doesn’t have to report that college savings on any of the financial aide forms.  Further proof.  If your parents are married, you are disadvantaged when it comes to financial aide for college.

  8. Anita says:

    I can empathize with your situation.  It seems for those of us who try to get ahead, by choosing to stay married, become debt free and raise a small tribe, the gov’t won’t give any aid.  I agree that all gov’t money should be given more fairly to all who might need it.  And not punish those of who are a little more financially sound….. It shouldn’t matter what I or my husband fianancially gross each year, but on the potential student who wants to get the much needed education. 
    I so enjoy your blog!

  9. Leah says:

    See if Destini would be interested in looking at CollegePlus! for her education. They’re a very reputable company & the college they use is accredited. 

    • We are also using CollegePlus and it’s awesome. My youngest already has 21 credits. I was scrolling through the comments to see if anyone had suggested CLEP and DSST testing. He’s gotten these credits done in 5 months. 

  10. Make sure she applies for the UAOnline Scholarships! I got $500 for several semesters for just writing a brief essay about my need and situation. Here is a link . I would assume she filled out the FAFSA as its usally part of the process for UAA. Also is she going to come to Anchorage or go to the Kenai Campus for classes? To save on expenses many classes are available through distance education through the UAOnline classes. I took a class from UAF and UAS so I did not have to travel to the university for class after I got my grade I just had to transfer the credits to the campus I was attending. Two recommendations –  I only advise this if she is a self starter and has the drive to get it done on her own. Also check to make sure the class transfers to her campus with the correct class credit and not just a general credit.

  11. guest says:

    I did qualify for some student aid, but not enough not to have to owe 50K coming out of school.  Unfortunately your kids will need to take out massive loans, like most people.  I can’t say that the system is perfect, but at least they can get student loans.  For what it’s worth, my parents only had 3 kids and the idea that they should pay for our education never crossed their minds (even though they considered college mandatory for us). 

  12. Robyn Ekker says:

    And THIS is why I am SO resentful of all the “wonderful” programs looking to help the least among us but that totally overlook and devalue those who work damn hard to stay off the dole as much as possible.  I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t give a helping hand to those who need it – God knows there are many, many truly needy people out there who will take opportunity and run with it.  However, I think we should also look to those who are helping themselves and see what we can do to encourage that even more.   Doing what you (and countless like you) are doing is incredibly hard and for the “wonderful programs” to penalize you for it is totally insane. My family was in the same situation – five kids in college at roughly the same time w/ income too high to be considered for many scholarships.  It sucks and for those who want to level the playing field, well, they’ve gone too far.  They’re discouraging hard work and actually punishing success.  Thanks for writing this and pointing out the frustration of those who do the right thing. 

  13. Cmr81 says:

    The United States Air Force will pay for college

    • Anne says:

      My grandson tried that.  It is not as easy as they make it sound, but they do pay some.  It isn’t a free ride though.

      • Cait says:

         For certain, high demand professions (medical, in particular-they made several presentations for my nursing school class) the air force, and most likely navy as well, are willing to enlist students and pay their full tuition, or pay their costs retroactively if they graduate before enlisting.  There is a minimum enlistment period (it was 6 years, last I heard), but to have your loans paid off, it seems like a very short time.

  14. Cdahlgrd says:

    It may actually be better for her to apply to private colleges or smaller universities.  Often they will help you find the scholarships and grants to be able to afford it.  I had that experience at Montana University – Billings.

    Also, even after she starts school – keep looking! There are lots of small scholarships for students after they have proven they can deal with college.  Like Kat D says, “Not Glamourous, but at least something.”  Those somethings add up!

    For the next kids:  Start looking NOW!!  Keep a “resume” of everything they do, writed, read, volunteer, etc.  and use it to help you when applying later.  Start having them do competitions and events like NaNiMo, etc.  It will pay off later.

  15. Klhazelton says:

    We are struggling with this realization now, with our oldest being a freshman in high school.  We too, drive old, gas-guzzling, paid-for cars.  We also are paying our mortgage off early (right before our son graduates high school).  We too pay cash for everything.  We too have been married for almost 25 years.  And we too have sacrificed time as a family to be able to “do the right thing” and pay our own way in society (as well as pay the way for many others who might or might not be “doing the right thing”.)  And now, we too are feeling the pushishment for being frugal and sensible and consientious by having to fully fund our children’s college education.  It’s very discouraging…

  16. Lori Goudzwaard says:

    Our daughter qualified for several scholarships that many don’t because she is the daughter of a Marine however, there were limited funds available from many of these foundations and programs so over her years in school, she was only able to take advantage of one in her sophomore year.  I hate that she has so much school debt.

  17. Wahneice says:

    My girlfriend is involved with a book, that is coming out this year, talking about this very thing.  Here is the website if you are interested

  18. Pbardusch says:

    This was so amazingly written.  I wish it could get in the right hands so everyone could see the injustice in it all.

    • Share says:

      Sorry, but the people who need to see it and could actually do something about it are too busy making sure they keep their “career” by getting re-elected–something our founding fathers never intended.

  19. LSF says:

    my parents never offered a penny to help me with mine … I financed it myself.  my ex feels that we (he) should pay for the kids.  for my daughter, he has worked something with his GI bill.  but we are eligilble for zero financial aid although divorced and have a house no bills.  apparently we are supposed to sell everything we own, live in the car and then pay for the college with that.   ridiculous.   although my ex is using gi bill to pay for hers, we still searched for the $1,000 ones to pay for college books, laptop, and those expenses not covered.  it isn’t cheap.I got 2 boys behind her that he will have to pay for.  married or divorced, doesn’t matter….not eligible.  gotta be minority or illegal.

  20. Kristy K. James says:

    Just another reason society is going down the tubes.  If parents can afford to help a child through college then yes, they should.  But once a child is eighteen…and adult, they’re ADULTS and therefore responsible for themselves.  At least everywhere but financial aid offices.

  21. Jontai Shadow says:

    That sucks! Somewhere there will be a break in the armor of the “Process” that determines who gets what as far as scholarships. Destini  and some of your other kids will get to go to college. There is always a good soul somewhere that will see the  want,need, nay! the urge to continue her education buried within her and do what they can to help. It may take a while but prayer is a powerful thing, it just may not happen when you want it to.

    I have a friend that wanted  to go to college but couldn’t afford it so she started looking at grants and scholarships and doing what she could just like you guys. (This is a few years back though, like 4 or 5.) Both parents were dead,she was working 2 jobs to support herself and living out of a friends closet basically.  They told her no at every turn,no no no.  She ended up getting a scholarship not for her talent in writing or art or sports but because  one of her Great Great Grandparents somewhere down the line  was Mexican.    She turned it down because she said she would rather work 3 or 4 jobs and never sleep just to pay for school than get a scholarship based on such a piece of shiz reason.   Instead of awarding her for her hard work they wanted to reward her Great whichever parent way down the family tree for being an illegal that got their green card and became legal.    Unless you are mexican or your family has some way to pull weight with the school,keep praying because the system is broken and people suck. But prayer works,so does faith and the yearning to continue learning and continue to further your life.

    • HistorianMom says:

      There are folks who have endowed scholarships because even though members of minority groups have made progress in the last fifty years, some groups are still under-represented in college populations so they want to give people a leg up.  It is often helpful to young black, Native, or Hispanic kids to see people who “look like them” in professional positions — it gives them a sense of what is possible.   We just went to a presentation by two astronauts, one of them a woman who was a veteran of four shuttle missions, and she talked about how when she was growing up, she was good in science and math, but it literally never even occurred to her to think about a career as an astronaut, because all the pictures we saw in the 1960s and 1970s were of men in space suits.  It wasn’t until NASA actively began recruiting women in the 1980s that she decided to apply.  And now because of her and other women who have proved themselves in similar careers, little girls as well as little boys can dream of going into space.  But since women are still under-represented in STEM fields, there are going to be more scholarships available for them than for men. 

  22. Mick says:

    Very good Keri – seen it over and over again.

    • Mellonia says:

      I work in a school and have worked helping students get financial aid. Students who are illegal can’t apply for the FAFSA and thus can’t get financial aid from colleges. Those students with the very best grades and lots of activities do well with local scholarships but the students with good but lower GPA’s, not so well. I was the first in  my family to go to college 40 years ago and it was the same situation. But I took out student loans and worked and it was worth it. The fact is there is much less money going to student financial aid than in the past. Low income, single parent students many times aren’t the best students but if they succeed, they become taxpayers so it is win-win. IMHO, our priorities as a nation are all screwed up and we don’t invest in our citizens. I’m so old I remember when community college in California was free to all with the idea they would become future tax payers and we would all benefit. Also, agree with poster who said there are MANY unclaimed scholarships.

  23. Melissa Tangalin says:

    Having the same experience, except we are graduating 6 over the next 3 years after having graduated 3 already and we have 3 more in elementary and preschool… I feel your pain.  And we don’t qualify for one cent of financial living on a single income….. Of this years graduates one is heading for the military the other to college on academic scholarship from the college…….

  24. Tjeromi6 says:

    I have been just told that a couple of my cancer patients are going to pass away because they do not qualify for “medicaid” or “help”  One guy pays his own insurance 500 per month and has cleaned out his savings, has sold off all that he could  and has had to stop working. He is in his 40’s  and has worked hard thruout his years and now he does not qualify for crap !!   Yet….there are people on welfare and some who have never worked  EVER or are illegal (true story)  and you guessed it !  It s  ALL paid for them !  100 % .    United States is forgetting who the workers are !  People that have never been in trouble with the law !  People that have always paid their own way !  People that have worked and paid taxes……  I totally agree with you.  We all work so hard and keep up our insurance and work our entire lives and then when we do need extra help we dont qualify !   ggggrrrrr  My second example is the same type of thing…. he has always worked, has insurance and now does not have the THOUSANDS  of dollars to “put down”  for his treatment so  YOU GUESSED IT…..he gets NO help !  He has decided to not do treatment..and he is going to die …..and yet there are others who are heavy smokers and drinkers on disability and have never worked and guess what….they are covered 100 %.  What the heck is wrong with our country ??  I am just sad and sickened by it all !  Sorry…..but that being said….

     I pray for all your babies, that some how some way they will ALL be able to go to college !   YAY for you all !   I love reading your blogs and all of those kids seem like bright wonderful kiddos !   

    • Tjeromi6 says:

      by the way…… I was told that only 10 – 15 percent of scholarships get used because people dont know they are out there.  Just a thought !  Prayers to you all.

    • That is horrific.  Don’t even get me started on how insurance runs/ruins our lives!  Here’s a for instance: I had a friend who was…well…he was dying of lymphoma. He’d had stem cell transplants, been sick for years, test after test after test.  But time and again the insurance would make him go through the same painful tests, like spinals, over and over or they wouldn’t pay.  “Oh, you had that horrible thing done to you last week?  Well we’d like you to do it again for no particular reason, to prove you are still dying, before we will pay for another procedure.”   
      Holy crap…the system is a mess. 

  25. Chelsie says:

    in case you don’t know about this site…it’s one my college recommends students use to find scholarships.
    Good Luck!!

  26. Elisabeth Knottingham says:

    I understand your frustration, I truly do. But as the child of divorced parents who had me when they were children, I could never find funding either. But… I did it. I made it through, with a small help from my over-strapped parents the first year, lots of hard work, and in the end very little debt and a real sense accomplishment. I know how insanely hard it looks from there, but you are your daughter is smart, and you will all figure it out.

  27. Kat D says:

    Kudos to you and your hubs for doing everything you can! My husband and I are both professors at a small, private college (which means seriously low pay, but we love our work too much to leave) – we see so many students in the same boat as Destini. Keep digging – and check with the financial aid office at the college.
    There are probably some smaller scholarships out there for her. Not
    glamorous ones, but at least something. If you don’t claim her as a dependent, she may qualify for additional federal financial aid as well but that usually takes a full fiscal year to come into play and you lose out on the tax credit. Depending on what she decides to major in, the department might have some aid after a year or so that’s merit-based. And, as much as I hate to say it, don’t overlook student loans. Just be careful which ones she signs up for – some of them she’d have to start paying right away or the day after she graduates with high monthly payments. Some are much more reasonable with both low interest rates/payments and a 6+ month grace period after graduation before payments start. A lot of our students start at community college to keep their costs as low as possible while getting their gen ed credits and then transfer to do their major.

  28. You might enjoy what this blogger has to say about college and large families….she has a family of 10….four bio kids and 6 adopted…

  29. Surprisedeb says:

    I can empathize with your dilemma, I had the same problem when I went to school. In my case, my parents were not giving me any money towards tuition but because I was 20 I still had to list their status on any applications. Good luck! I hope the answer appears before the burden does.

    •  My 23year old daughter is waiting until she is 24 for that exact reason…so she no longer has to list us….so sad! We are NOT rich…not by a long shot!  Egads, if only they could see my bank account. haha

      • Alaskashellone says:

        My 26 year old son did the same thing–he tells me he’s glad he waited, that he’s actually READY for college now, and when he requested his transcripts to transfer his credits from his two-year tech school for the four-year university, he discovered that all eight quarters he was on the dean’s list, all unwittingly!  He told me he never looked for that, that he just buckled down and got the work done so he could go on to the next thing…take heart!  He is in Georgia, and was awarded a large and very helpful grant that is allowing him to do all his undergrad work, even though he is still working full time as well as going to school full time…It will happen! I did not have any scholarships at all, since I had a GED when I went to college…worked full time through college and after switching majors, to nursing school, graduated in the top third of my class and fully paid.  I haven’t been able to help any of my kids with college funding, either.  Now they are on their own and working to pay off the loans, I help out in myriad ways to see if I can help ease the burden, but this is OUR education–who is going to take care of the old Mom when and if she is in need of it, if they don’t have the ability to get and keep a good job?

  30. Rose Sanders says:

    Amen! We found the same thing!  We worked hard, did everything we were supposed to do and it feels as if we were punished for it. Something is really wrong with the system.

  31. Anon. says:

    Aw, c’mon – not even the free cookie?  Keri – lighten up just a notch.  There’s not payment due for that cookie – really!!

    • Well, if you’ve raised kids who spent the first years of their lives being trained by birth parents to steal, lie, cheat your way into everything you can get…kids who have been trained from birth to take advantage of every handout there is…who have lack of work ethic ingrained into their minds by drug addicted, unemployable, welfare dependent bio parents…please, let me know how it’s done.  My birth kids…they got the free cookie when they were little because they weren’t already damaged…but these kids?  They need to see from every aspect that putting out your hand and expecting someone else to do all the work, is not an option. Even if that means I have to buy them a cookie, rather than take the free one right next to it.  Does that make sense?  Or maybe I’m just a big meanie…haha 🙂 

      • HistorianMom says:

         I get this, I really do.  We have had fosters.  We had one a few years back and when Christmas rolled around my kids were busy making things and buying things for each other, and tour girl was like, “Hey, what are you so exercised about?  You want presents?  Salvation Army will bring them!”  We had her for about two years, from age 12 to 14, and we never did get her to understand the idea of “giving presents.”

      • Alaskashellone says:

        Yes, it does make sense!

  32. Stew1113 says:

    Yup! Been there done that- parents werent still married, but both are college educated and had jobs making decent money- its really frustrating when you get to the “financial need” line on those applications- its kind of like a sucker punch! Keep fighting the good fight!

  33. Need2pray says:


  34. Stephbrittain says:

    Keri, you always amaze me, but when does our childrens education end because we are employed and support our children, they are adults when they go to college, a luxury I didn’t have.  I love that children are educated but parents shouldn’t have to sell their soul or property for education![

    • Oh, believe me…I won’t be going broke to pay for my kids college, any more than I did for my first daughter, who is 23.  They are on their own…as there IS NO money on my end. That’s the problem.  Their only choice is to take out thousands of dollars in student loans while those with parents who aren’t as “so called successful” reap the benefits of free education. It’s such a bummer when you have a kid like Destini who is such a hard worker, owns her own business, and will still go into huge debt to be educated. 

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