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Back to School: Standing in Line Again

Having gotten this tidbit from my counselor, I was inclined to share. Money woes were common among returning students. Surprisingly, many of my peers had never heard of the WIA grant. In fact, they said they too were drawing unemployment and their counselors had failed to mention this source of aid. The WIA grant not only paid for my tuition and fees, but it also covered my books, school supplies and mileage to and from campus.

The Workforce Investment Act determines eligibility based on the following criteria:

• First and foremost, you must be able, available and actively looking for work
• Receiving unemployment compensation on a weekly basis;
• Severed from work due to company closing or layoff; or
• Have exhausted unemployment insurance benefits within a 6-month period and have not worked full-time since

At the time of our conversation, I had no idea of the eligibility requirements or what was covered by the WIA grant. My peers were unanimous, however, in endorsing the Pell Grant. They shared that the financial awards often exceeded the cost of college. Moreover, since no repayment was necessary, it was left up to their discretion how they chose to use the remaining balance. At their urging, I dropped by the Financial Aid office and picked up an application.

The Pell Grant is a type of federal student aid. Unlike a loan, you don’t have to repay the money. It can be directly applied to your student account or paid to you directly in the form of a check. Even if you are receiving other assistance, you can still apply for the grant. It might be adjusted somewhat, but your eligibility is not compromised.

I figured it would benefit me to apply. After all, I was unemployed so the more money I received, the better. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application was long and tedious, much like applying for a car loan. Rather than manually completing the form, I opted to fill out the online version and submitted it electronically. By doing so, I could get a quicker response.

I was declined. Perplexed about the reason, I decided to inquire further online. How could I have been turned down? I’m drawing unemployment, and I met the financial need criteria. Perhaps I missed something. I kept reading, and learned that the grants “…are awarded only to undergraduate students – those who haven’t earned a bachelor’s or graduate degree.” This was the reason - I already had a bachelor’s degree.

C’mon line, move! The attendant was opening the door again, and we were moving. Once inside, I began the search for the books on my list. What a maze! Students swarming like bees and gray-haired ladies in blue smocks searching the rows and stocking the shelves. “Pardon me. Excuse me. Oops, sorry!” I meandered through crowded rows unavoidably bumping others in passing, and found that one of my books was temporarily out of stock. Seeing my frustration, one of the ladies asked if I could use some assistance. I asked her when my book would be in. As she went to check, I overheard some disgruntled students complaining about the cost of their books. One of them suggested that they purchase their textbooks from He explained how overpriced the textbooks were at the campus book store and how much he had saved shopping online.

The store employee returned. It would be a week before the book was in stock. I explained that I had financial aid and asked how I should proceed. She advised me to have the cost of the book deducted from my financial aid and pointed to the large sign over the checkout area: Financial Aid Ending Tomorrow. I asked feebly, “Will I have to stand in the line again?” “Yes darling,” she replied, giving me an I’m-so-sorry look. I took a deep breath and stood in yet another long line at the checkout counter, stopping ever so often to rest my books and school supplies on a surrounding row of books.

Oh well, I thought to myself, at least it’s warm in here and the line is moving more quickly. Welcome back to college!

Suzette Hinton is a writer, life coach, substance abuse counselor and musician. She is the founder of Purposeful Connections, a coaching and consulting agency in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she resides, and the proud mother of a 16 year old son, Derrien, whom she has coached for over 16 years.

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