Takeaway: Paul and his mom were able to complete his FAFSA at a school sponsored workshop. The experience also inspired Paul’s mom to fill out the FAFSA and go back to school.

“I’ve always been curious about the way things work,” says Paul. “When I was a kid, I had Erector sets, K’NEX and all kinds of toys like that. I liked building things and taking them apart.”

“I’m heavily involved with my high school’s robotics team. I’m the lead build captain, so I handle a lot of the building of the robot. We compete around the United States. Through robotics — and Boy Scouts, which I’m also involved in — I learned what I’d call gracious professionalism. Even in competition, you don’t step on your opponent. You try to help them,” Paul explains.

“Robotics really gave me the chance to be exposed to the actual engineering side of things. It has helped point me in a direction of a career path. I’m really interested in space and rockets.”

“I’m a really academic guy. A pretty big nerd,” he laughs.

Exploring ways to pay for college

Paul spent lots of time researching the best college for his career goals, but needed help paying for it.

“Money has always been tight in our family. I’ve gone to a public school and qualified for free or reduced lunch all my life,” he says.

Fortunately, he was selected to receive a scholarship through a program for Kansas City students from low-income families.

“I’m very, very thankful,” says Paul. “But they are what’s called a ‘last dollar’ scholarship. They expect me to get other financial aid and scholarships, and then they will fill in what I can’t get.”

“At the beginning of my senior year, my school hosted workshops with counselors to fill out the FAFSA. I knew that I’d fill in some information, put in how much money my parents made, and I might be eligible for money,” Paul recalls. “I thought it was going to be straightforward.”

“Of course, I should have known that, since it’s the government’s money, I can’t put in random or lower incomes to try to get more money for myself. So the process was a little more complicated than I thought.”

Getting the right information to complete the FAFSA

Paul initially started the FAFSA by himself at one of the workshops at school. “I made an account and filled in everything I could about myself and my parents. I didn’t know how much money my parents make off the top of my head though. I had to take information back home to them, and they struggled quite a bit trying to figure it out.”

“All my friends got money and our parents have different incomes. It is not as daunting or scary as it might seem.”

Paul decided to bring his mom to one of the workshops at school. “She brought all her tax documents. The counselors walked us through what information on her tax forms needed to go into the FAFSA and where to find it.”

“Finding somebody like a friend or counselor who understands these documents was helpful. Someone who can say, ‘Oh, you need this form. It looks like this and has this information on it.’”

Paul and his mom were able to complete his FAFSA, and then he waited to hear back. “It wasn’t as instantaneous as I thought it would be. It took a few weeks,” he says.

Even though he knew his scholarship would help cover whatever he didn’t receive from the FAFSA, he was thankful when he found out he got financial aid.

“The least I can do is try to lighten the load by getting financial aid myself,” he says. “Now my mom doesn’t have to worry so much about trying to pay for college for my younger sister when she graduates in a couple years.”

The experience also inspired Paul’s mom to fill out the FAFSA and go back to school, with the help of GradForce KC. “She’s a massage therapist and runs her own business. She’s going back to school to learn nutrition so she can improve her business as a whole,” he says.

Paul’s advice: People from all walks of life can benefit

“Fill out the FAFSA no matter who you are or how much money you think you have,” Paul says.

“All my friends got money and our parents have different incomes. It is not as daunting or scary as it might seem. If you are worried, find experienced people who have done it before. They will ease you into the process, and it will be like nothing.”

Paul will be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and studying aerospace engineering. Because he’s an Eagle Scout, he says, he’s no stranger to the bugs he’ll encounter in Florida.

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