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Why did I only receive $2,000 in financial aid when my family's income is $28,000?

QUESTION: How do I get federal grants and scholarships? I filled out the FAFSA and sent all of my information to my school (Howard University), but I only got $2,000. I am not trying to sound ungrateful, but my dad is supporting four of us on $28,000 a year and we can not afford the $16,000 it costs per year. Signed, Cash Strapped

Dear Cash Strapped: It sounds like the $2,000 was a grant and the rest of your aid was composed of work-study and loans. Given what you have described it sounds like you should have received more in financial aid. However, there are a lot of factors that go into the calculation so we cannot say with certainty (unless we reviewed the actual FAFSA form that you submitted) whether or not this was a correct assessment.

First, contact the financial aid office at Howard. Schedule an in-person or phone conversation with one of the financial aid officers and ask them to take you step by step through your financial aid award. As they look through your file they might be able to explain why your offer seems low or perhaps they might discover an error.

Regardless of the outcome you will probably have to accept some level of debt. Don't be afraid about taking out student loans. Lots of students do and for many it may be the only way to afford a college education. You should qualify for a subsidized loan program, in which the government subsidizes your interest payments while you are in school.

Finally, after you have exhausted all financial aid options you should make a concerted effort to apply for scholarships. Again, many students have found that scholarships are the only realistic way to lower their tuition without additional loans.

We highly recommend reading our scholarship book Get Free Cash for College (available at to learn how to find and win scholarships. You will be competing with many students to win scholarships, however, very few will know how to create a winning application. For scholarships your grades are much less important than how you present yourself to the scholarship committee. You will greatly improve your chances of winning once you know what scholarship committees are looking for and how you can write a winning scholarship application.

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Gen & Kelly Tanabe

Gen and Kelly Tanabe are the founders of SuperCollege and the award-winning authors of 11 books on college admission, financial aid and scholarships. Together they were accepted to all of the Ivy League colleges and won more than $100,000 in merit-based scholarships to graduate from Harvard debt-free.