Students Make Costly Mistakes With Financial Aid

Spending aid money on a car and working too many hours can jeopardize academic success.

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What's more, because they felt so busy balancing work, family, and school, most students felt they had no time to understand, let alone challenge, aid awards. "You are busy trying to survive. You have no time to get information," one student explained.

Still, some of the financial mistakes the students made were so blatant and potentially career-ending that Eitel was surprised at how stubbornly the students seemed to prefer expensive ignorance. When asked if they would attend a seminar that would teach them how to distinguish between "wants" and "needs" and manage their money better, the students shook their heads. "It's not something I'm interested in. It is not relevant. I can take care of it later," one said. Another explained: "If you learn from mistakes, that is the hard way. Struggles can be good because it keeps you motivated," adding, however, that "it also can defeat you."

Eitel says she wonders if "scaring them" about the fact that loans could dog them for the rest of their lives would motivate the students to wise up. And she believes colleges must realize that most students won't volunteer to learn good financial habits, so such training should be included in required coursework.

Despite all their (sometimes self-inflicted) difficulties, Eitel says she was nevertheless impressed by many of the students. True, the combination of tight money and ignorance forced some (such as the woman who bought cellphones for her family) to drop out, putting at risk their formal education and its career benefits. But, Eitel added, "for all their faults, many do persevere."