Lessons Learned

Author: Ashlynne Haycock-Lohmann

In 2002 I lost my dad while he was training to deploy to Iraq. I was ten years old.  College was the last thing on my mind, and it was not high on my mother's priority list either.  It was always something I knew I would do, but not something my mother and I really discussed until the end of my junior year of high school after I had taken multiple AP exams, done expensive ACT prep and testing and was now paying ridiculous amounts of money for college application fees. Getting into The American University was one of the proudest moments of my life, and I knew my dad would have been the obnoxious parent who never took off the AU Eagles sweatshirt.  I was so excited to attend that the fact that tuition was over $50,000 a year seemed unimportant until I got my first bill in the mail for the semester for $25,000. Where was this money going to come from?! Could my mom and I have done some things differently when I was ten years old to make this process easier and less stressful?  Would I be able to stay in school and pay this extremely expensive tuition for my dream school?  The answer to all of these questions is YES.

Ashlynne Haycock and mother

Fast forward four years and $200,000 later and I graduated ON TIME and with NO DEBT! If you had asked me this at the end of my first semester of college I would have said that's not possible.  Now that I have graduated, I am the Education Services Coordinator for TAPS.  Having lived and learned through those four years of expensive undergraduate, and seeing how finances negatively effected my GPA, and assisting survivors for the last year to access education benefits I wish there were a few things my mother had known when I was ten years old that would have made everything easier from the moment I got that exciting acceptance letter. 

  • Start applying for scholarships early.  Just because they cannot apply for VA education benefits or state tuition waiver until they are 18 years old does not mean they cannot apply for scholarships earlier. Organizations like Folds of Honor and Children of Fallen Patriot Foundation enroll kids as early as newborns. They will make sure they have money put aside for your kids for when they are college age.  Imagine not running around like a mad person six weeks before your kids start college and instead doing it at your leisure when your kids are young?!
  • There is assistance for college prep. Eknowledge provides free SAT/ACT prep for surviving families; all they have to pay is shipping.  Folds of Honor offers the Children's Fund scholarship that pays for tutoring and other educational costs, such as books. Children of Fallen Patriot Foundation will pay the SAT/ACT test application fees and college application fees. They will even buy your child a computer before their freshmen year of college!
  • Compare schools side by side.  The Department of Veteran's Affairs launched the GI Bill comparison tool this year. It gives you a break down of how truly veteran friendly a school is. It shows you how much the GI Bill pays at that school, how many students are using the GI Bill (this does include Fry), what the Basic Housing Allowance at the school will be, and really gives you a chance to compare the schools your children are considering.
  • Try to spread benefits out. Did you know that 45 states offer tuition waivers? Neither did I at 18. Your kids could potentially save their VA education benefits for graduate school and use a state tuition waiver for undergraduate. A lot of states even allow you to combine state education benefits with federal education benefits, meaning less money out of your pocket!
  • Always apply for FAFSA. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is FREE money based on your income. A lot of surviving families will be eligible for Pell Grants, which is money given by the federal government to lower income families for college. If you are not eligible for a Pell Grant, and your loved one died due to service in Iraq or Afghanistan, you may be eligible for an Iraq and Afghanistan Pell Grant. It is the exact same amount as a regular Pell Grant ($5,085.50) and available to families who make too much to be eligible for the regular Pell Grant. It costs nothing to fill out FAFSA and only takes 30 or so minutes of your time and could potentially provide additional FREE money for your kids' college tuition. 

For information on Folds of Honor visit: www.foldsofhonor.com 

For information on Children of Fallen Patriot Foundation visit: www.fallenpatriots.org 

For information on Eknowledge visit: http://www.eknowledge.com/ 

For more information on the GI Bill Comparison tool visit: http://department-of-veterans-affairs.github.io/gi-bill-comparison-tool/

For more information on TAPS Education Support Services, please contact education@taps.org or call the TAPS helpline at 1-800-959-TAPS.