Sajina Shrestha, City College of NY

Sajina is a senior at the City College of New York, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Journalism. After graduating, she hopes to be a journalist in New York. Sajina receives both TAP and Pell but the award amount has been decreasing every year while the tuition is also increasing. Although her financial aid pays for most of her tuition, she has to rely on her Fellowship awards and pay out of pocket for the rest of the tuition. What makes it even harder to pay or save up for tuition is that her FAFSA never has a clear number of how much she’ll be expected to pay. Inconsistency with FAFSA is a common occurrence among college students and it can be very frustrating to deal with when you don’t know how much to save up. Although her parents also help her pay her tuition, it is becoming difficult for them to pay the increasing cost every year. With increasing tuition costs and decreased award sizes causing financial strains, Sajina has to work while attending classes to stay afloat. With more CUNY funding, Sajina hopes that tuition costs will be lowered and award sizes will be increased.

Iftakar Bakhsh, Borough Manhattan Community College

My name is Iftakar Bakhsh. I am majoring in Business Management. I am planning to go to a four-year college to achieve my Bachelor’s degree. I live with my parents, so they pay for my college expenses. I used to get financial aid but now I don’t get full cover for tuition and other expenses like textbooks, transportation, food and shelter due to my parents’ income. My parents pay out of their pocket which is hard for them because they have a hard time to have enough money. So, they sometimes have to borrow from our family members and pay them back later which puts my parents in debt. Both of my parents have to work in order to pay for my tuition, other college expenses, rent, and food.  I wish that they can make colleges free for everyone. This can help my parents, so they don’t feel stressed about paying for my college expenses.

Melissa Hernandez, SUNY Cortland

My name is Melissa Hernandez and I attend SUNY Cortland full time. I am a senior and have been here since freshman year. I am from Long Island, and my Senate District is 3 and my Assembly District is 16. When I was applying to college my first choice was University of Tampa but unfortunately I did not get enough financial aid to afford it and began to look at SUNY and CUNY schools. Out of all the SUNY and CUNY schools I applied to, I felt that SUNY Cortland was the best fit for me. I had toured many schools previously and although I toured Tampa and fell in love, SUNY Cortland also gave me the same feeling I felt when I toured Tampa. I knew a few people who had gone to Cortland and heard all their great memories which made me feel more comfortable and excited to come. I am majoring in political science and I do really enjoy this major. I am taking a year off before applying to graduate school to focus on myself and future opportunities.

I pay my tuition through the help of my parents and financial aid.  I am fortunate enough that my tuition has been paid through financial aid. I work almost everyday over the summer to help pay sometimes my rent at school and other personal spending I might have. I am the first child in my family to go to college and understood that my parents would not be able to pay full tuition without getting some financial help, however, before I began my college career I always had the impression that going to a SUNY or CUNY school would be considered to be less than nothing in terms of tuition. I think that since tuition has risen over the decade it is very unfortunate for many, myself included. It is not fair that society places this idea that college is a stepping stone for an individual to get a good job and make it in today’s world. Not only is tuition an expense at college but textbooks are another cost for students. Textbooks depending on the class vary but still add up and can be very expensive. Textbooks should not be an extra expense for students. 

The pandemic was a hard time for my family because my mom is diabetic which meant she was at a high risk, which then made it difficult for my dad to continue to work. My mom is a nanny and my dad has a painting service. My dad is an independent company which already makes it hard enough, and then when the pandemic hit it made it harder for him. During this time, I had recovered from unemployment and later began working again in July which allowed me to save enough money to pay my rent junior year without the help of my parents because of how tight money was. 

I personally always wanted to go to college because of the promise that going to college means I would have a good job. I want to finish my degree to have a comfortable life and be able to support myself. I think that although school does cost a lot I would still be at school, however, I would have prepared myself financially before I attended. 

Lorna Duran, Hunter College

My name is Lorna Duran and I am a Junior at Hunter. I don’t receive any financial aid, so my tuition is covered by my parents who pay out of pocket. I have consistently applied for federal tuition help, but I never meet the requirements. My father, a teacher, makes slightly more than NYS Taxable Income Limit and because of this, I have never been eligible for TAP. The reality is that I am part of a single-income family in one of the most expensive cities around the world, I cannot truly afford tuition. On top of the thousands of dollars spent on tuition, every semester I spend about $500-$800 on expensive textbooks and access codes. Additionally, I also have to pay for my commuting expenses which come out to a couple of hundred dollars a year. 

Every semester when I get that email that tuition is due, I stress out because I know my parents will have to find that money one way or another. If my family has an emergency towards the end of the semester, my father has to carefully consider how he will pay my $3,465 dollar tuition. I wish that there were more funding opportunities for students like me. I shouldn’t have to worry about paying for tuition, and how I will afford my textbooks.

Samuel Davenport III, Nassau Community College

I am a first year student at Nassau Community College. Currently, I am studying Liberal Arts, but my goal is to switch to IT. I am paying for school both with unsubsidized loans and out of pocket. However, I am an out-of-state student, so the tuition is double for me. My mom and I are splitting the remaining balance after loans half and half. At first, she was paying it all, but then I got a job and offered to help out.

Paying for school is far more expensive than I thought, and it’s a challenge working and going to school at the same time. Pretty much all the money I’m making is being dedicated to school. That’s why I try to make sure I’m doing well in school; because the money that my mother and I are spending would go to waste if I don’t.

I am a full time student and work almost full time – about 30 hours a week. It takes a lot of discipline and focus to make sure I can still do well in school while balancing all the hours at work. When I first started working, I thought I would only be working 20 hours a week, but I needed to increase my hours to help pay for school. If I had the option, I would only work 20 hours, so that I could spend my time doing readings for class and getting a really good handle on the material. Balancing school, work, sleep, and personal time is definitely not easy, but with a lot of dedication and determination, it’s manageable.

Being at a commuter school in a suburban area makes transportation hard too. Depending on the day of the week, I either borrow my cousin’s car, someone drops me off at school, or I get an Uber. However, I uber more than anything else. I usually spend about $60 a week on Ubers, but the real money issue is tuition.

Rani Persaud, City College of NY

Rani is a senior at the City College of New York pursuing a degree in Political Science and International Studies. After she graduates, she wants to go on to become an attorney and work in Guyana to serve her community. Rani receives financial aid but it barely covers half of her tuition. Although her parents help her pay the rest of her tuition, it is still a lot to pay out of pocket, especially since Rani is an out-of-state student and lives off campus. Being an out-of-state student, Rani pays more than twice the tuition than those with an in-state tuition. All the expenses are a lot to keep up with when she only receives a small amount of aid. Rani hopes with more funding for CUNY, out-of-state students won’t have to pay so much in tuition and that students who need housing on campus get the resources and money to help pay for it.

Randy Garcia, City College of NY

Randy is a sophomore at the City College of New York pursuing a degree in Anthropology. He is particularly interested in medical anthropology and he hopes to attend a nursing school after graduation. Although his financial aid covers his tuition, other factors of pursuing a college degree stand in his way. One thing is the lack of mental health resources on campus. Being a full time student, it is easy to get stressed or burnt out. CCNY does not have enough counselors to accommodate all students and it’s hard to find an appointment when you need it the most. Randy hopes that with more funding for CUNY we can provide the proper mental health resources for students.

Anahi Urias, Pratt Institute

Anahi Urias is a sophomore photography major at Pratt Institute. As a first-generation college student, she struggles daily to navigate college with little guidance on the process. These struggles are especially prevalent when figuring out how to pay for school. 

“My father works in sanitation in Santa Monica. Every day he leaves for work at 7 am and doesn’t return home until 8 pm. He does that every day for 7 days a week, and it’s still not enough.” Anahi said when asked about her biggest inspiration for attending Pratt Institute. She goes on to explain that even though in the “eyes of the government” her father is well off, her family struggles to make the necessary expenses needed to live comfortably. Resulting in her beginning her first job at 15. 

“I would go to school – which would end at 4 – I’d have worked at 5 or 5:30. Within that time frame, I would make the commute to work. Then I would work till 9 or 10. That’s a lot to put on a 16-year-old. I was literally a kid, you know.” Dealing with customers and working in such a strenuous environment from a very young age revealed to Anahi that she had to pursue higher education. It was the only way to ensure that she would be able to provide her family with a life that would be worth living. “When I decided to go to Pratt, I started to pick up extra hours to save money on top of supporting myself. I would wake up, go to work, wash dishes for 8-10 hours, and then go home, and repeat that for 6 days a week. And on days when I had off, I had to choose between resting my body or doing something (creatively) productive.” Anahi makes the point that while attending Pratt she is going through the same environment that she started at 16. Except now she is doing it for something she loves. Though she is happy and grateful for this opportunity, the mental energy exerted between beginning a career and working just to make the next tuition payment is impossible to maintain. “I have to do it (working and going to school), but it’s hard when not only am I trying to stay happy – I’m also trying to figure out how I’m going to afford to eat the next day. It’s a lot,” she continues. “And it’s a lot when you don’t have your parents sending you 500 dollars every week. Or every other 2 weeks. Or just 500 dollars in general.” 

Anahi struggles through tuition, food insecurity, and maintaining her mental health every semester. In combination with the limited support from her parents, it is impossible to truly feel secure in her identity as a student. “Even with the financial aid awards I’ve received, there’s still a good amount of money I have to pay. And I have to pay for the materials on my own and that itself is a lot of money. I still have a balance to pay, and I can’t register for classes until I’ve paid my balance. And it’s not like I can just write a check – that check will bounce – and I can’t get a loan, and my parents can’t get a loan.” 

“I worry about that (paying off loans) all the time. You know because college isn’t a guaranteed thing. Even if you get a high-paying job – you still have to figure out rent and water bills, and then you have the student loans that you have to start paying for six months after college. And to even get the job in the first place? It’s difficult because there’s a lot of people fresh out of college and they’re doing the same thing you’re doing.” This struggle has begun to seep into pre-graduate life. Anahi currently works a work-study job on campus. She is grateful to work on campus. It frees up time in her schedule and eliminates the commute. However, she is only given one shift because her peers also need to be scheduled. “There are so many students that need a Work-Study that there aren’t enough hours for everyone.” 

Despite it all, Anahi’s passion for her art remains. “Photography is what I love doing. The actual action, being in your own zone, holding a camera, just choosing where and how you want to make an image appear that in and of itself is relieving to me. I find a lot of joy in it. Being able to do something you love doing, and getting paid for it? Sign me up.”

Atlas Thomas, Pratt Institute

Atlas Thomas is a senior, sculpture integrated practices major at Pratt Institute. Going to college in the midst of a global pandemic forced Atlas to rethink the way he approached his educational finances. Though with the help of financial aid Atlas was able to get this far in his educational journey. 

“I got really into ceramics when I was in high school. I was doing okay with it then we got to wheel throwing, and I sucked. I just couldn’t do it. Everything I made would be terrible. I said to myself this is inexcusable, I can’t be bad at this. I continued to work at it, and I got a job at a pottery studio. As the years went on I just fell in love with pottery and fell in love with sculpting. It wasn’t like one moment, it was like a slow build up. I have a Parent Plus loan. I think I have the Pell Grant, the Presidential Scholarship, and I work – I work two on campus jobs – one in the Fine Arts wood shop, and another in the ceramics studio. We (my parents and I) have been getting loans since my freshman year. If we hadn’t been getting loans it would have been a lot more difficult, mainly because it’s just so expensive to live here. 

For the last two years I’ve lived off campus, and paying rent is difficult, because it’s just so expensive to live here. I live in an apartment a couple blocks from campus, and I have roommates. A good majority of my expenses are covered through financial aid. I budgeted a little bit less than I needed on purpose, because I didn’t wanna have too many loans to pay after I graduated. I made it to where loans will pay for so much and I would need to work to cover the rest. I had a plan, because I didn’t wanna be in debt for the rest of my life. I probably am – but like less debt now, by a couple thousand. I’m a little bit worried about how I’m going to pay back my loans, only because I don’t have a guaranteed job after graduation. I’m looking for paid internships, and a job, because after graduation I won’t have these on-campus jobs, which covers my expenses. I am lucky enough  that my parents are helping me out a little bit. Last year I was trying to do it all on my own; it wasn’t sustainable, so my parents agreed to help me out. I work 18 hours a week on top of six classes, because I’m a full time student. So I’m a full time student with 2 full time jobs and that cover most of my expenses. 

It’s difficult to pay for it all (tuition, rent, etc) – the apartment I live in wasn’t my first choice, so I ended up paying a couple hundred dollars more than I had budgeted for. It’s still less than I was paying last year. I only took out the bare minimum, I’m just trying to be frugal with it. My junior year I got loans to cover a little bit of my living expenses. Covid messed up whatever numbers I had. It ended up not being what the school was going to charge me. The school tends to charge people more than they say they will, so I had to deal with that. I was working 2 jobs on campus last year about 19 – 20 hours a week. So that covered most of it. I had to dip into my savings, but for the most part all of last year everything was on me. My parents helped me with groceries, but I have three siblings that my parents also support, and I didn’t want to be a burden. It’s exhausting to go through school and deal with those feelings. My mom always talks about how she paid her way through college and med school, so there’s this mentality that you have to work – you have to put in the hours – you just gotta work. I’ve been working since I was like 6 years old basically. I’ve been expected to work for a good majority of my life, so working my way through college was just like a given.” 

Alexis DiBartolo, SUNY Cortland

My name is Alexis DiBartolo and I am from Long Island, New York. Specifically, I live in Nassau county in Massapequa Park, where my Senate and Assembly District is 9. I am currently a senior at SUNY Cortland and a history major. I decided to go to SUNY Cortland because I would like to become a social studies teacher, and SUNY Cortland has a great education program. My family pays for most of my tuition and fees, as I do not get any financial aid. Fortunately, I only have a small amount in loans to pay back. I work during the summer, about 17 hours a week for my family’s restaurant and also babysit to provide for my spending money at Cortland. I do not pay for textbooks or rent, as my parents provide me with money for that. 

Because of the global pandemic, my college experience definitely changed. Online learning is certainly not for me. I very much would rather be in a classroom and in-person, then being taught by a computer screen. Onlines classes definitely made learning harder and less enjoyable. I am glad to finally be back in all in-person classes my final year at Cortland. Thankfully, the pandemic has not affected the way my parents pay for my college education. My dad’s job was not lost, and still continued throughout the pandemic. 

To me, getting a college degree is very important. Education, in my opinion, is very powerful and the passport to a successful future. Without my college degree, I would not be able to become the teacher that I passionately want to be. In the future, I am not too worried about paying back my student loans since it is typically a part of every student’s life. Also, I do not owe that much in student loans thankfully, so I am not super worried. 

Personally, I feel as though higher education in SUNY/CUNY schools could be better. Free tuition is only given to those whose parents make under a certain amount of money, and my father makes over the amount, thus I do not get free tuition or financial aid. And while my family lives a comfortable life, it is still at times challenging to pay for school as I have two other siblings who also went to college. Just because a parent makes a certain amount of money, does