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 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.”
My name is Isabellah Paul I am currently a sophomore transfer student double majoring in Political Science and Women & Gender Studies here at CUNY Hunter. At my previous institution I was in a program that granted me a tuition scholarship, however upon transferring to Hunter I was awarded no financial aid since my mother had a full time job and has been working for 20 years. I resorted to taking out loans to pay for my tuition and I also work to cover any other costs. Being a full time matriculated student and working part time gets difficult to manage, especially when considering the money I am taking out in loans. I wish to go to law school upon graduating too so I will have to continue taking out loans for another 3 years. As a single mother of 4, my mom works full time and pays rent. Therefore, I like to remain fiscally independent to ease some of her burden. I pay for my own phone bill, books, my commute, food, and any other miscellaneous costs. Managing all this in tandem with school has been stressful at times.
Oftentimes since my mother is so overwhelmed with work, I have to assume responsibility for household errands such as grocery shopping, laundry, picking up my siblings from school, etc. One night my brother broke his arm and I had to bring him to the hospital since my mother had work the next morning and I was the only other household member above the age of 18. I spent the whole night there and could not get a chance to go to school the next day. Events like this often make managing school difficult, especially when they abruptly occur and no one else can handle them but me.
CUNY has been known for its affordability and their ability to grant students the opportunity to achieve their academic dreams on their own time. However, this affordability has been compromised and supporting a fully funded CUNY will enable students like myself and many others in getting their degree more feasible than before. Every student has a different financial situation and supporting them through making CUNY free like in the past can help aid the accessibility in obtaining higher education for many.
I attended The Borough of Manhattan Community College and for me it was not that difficult but it was challenging.I was not eligible for financial aid because my parents were both working, so I was not at all given any rewards from them. It was because my parents had worked for thirty plus years, which caused me to not be eligible for financial aid so we had to pay out of pocket for my school. Around that time my family had moved into a private home. It was then after that that every year would be a little harder, we had to do some renovations, so the majority of the money that my parents made had to go into fixing the house. It took me about 4 years to finish at BMCC because I had to be a part-time student and get a job because I did not want to overwhelm myself with school and so that my parents didn’t have to spend so much money on me and books and also the house. It would have been too much.
By the end of my last 2 years I started to work as an Usher at the school, so I was able to pay for classes for myself and help around the house whenever I needed. Since I’m living with my parents, they didn’t charge me for rent but if they needed money for the basics like food or any other essentials, they’d ask me or my brother. I worked about thirty hours a week. Yeah, it got a little stressful in the end, but it wasn’t as bad compared to other students who had to take out loans, I thankfully had no loans to pay back.
At BMCC I was studying Small Business Entrepreneurship. I would like to own a photography company and as an art major it’s more for the experience and the networking, so studying or getting a degree means getting the experience that not everyone would get by doing it on your own. Going to college helps you get your foot out the door, but you have to push yourself to make the next step.
I am studying Business Administration at Queensborough Community College, and I want to pursue accounting in the future. This is my second year, and I am graduating in Fall 2020. I’m currently in ASAP and they help cover some expenses and books, but I don’t receive any financial aid and pay out of pocket for tuition during the summer or winter sessions. Because of COVID-19 I haven’t been able to work for a month, but I still have to pay off my bills and help support my family.
I am an immigrant. The only way I can pay for this college is by working and working too much. I have to deal with my travel expenses, meals, and then my tuition or textbook expenses. I work three jobs to get myself going and also help my family financially too as we are here to make our future. A fully funded CUNY would take a big load of stress off of me and my family, and would especially help immigrant families who are trying to save as much as they can to have a secure and better future.
Being QCC’s Student Government President I think if people didn’t have to worry about paying for college, they could have more time to study or get involved with campus life and opportunities, rather than running to work right after class.
I am a dual major in Children and Youth Studies and Political Science. I hope to be an advocate and fight for matters that are important to me. I have decided to pursue Children and Youth Studies because there are many children in Bangladesh, my native country that continue to suffer with little to no voice. I am fortunate enough to come to the United States and pursue education. But many children around the world are not as lucky. I hope to make a change in how children are viewed and treated in society. Thus, I decided to major in Political Science also, because in order to make a change I need to have the power to influence or be part of policymaking such as through activism.
I receive Pell, TAP, and I also work to put myself through school. The financial aid awards covered my higher education costs like tuition, textbooks. But it definitely does not cover my food, rent, and other living expenses. I work to cover my living expenses such as food and transportation. I have one job and I work 20 hours a week. It is hard to pay for commuting while paying tuition so I have to work. I would like to see the state support students with the other costs associated with college that people often forget about.
I am a freshman at Brooklyn College. I’m currently undecided. But I hope to major in something that will guarantee a job as soon as possible, so I’ll probably major in something STEM-related. I always knew I had to study and get a higher education so I could be financially independent, move out, and live my life on my own terms.
I currently receive a Pell Grant and TAP. I am the first woman in my family to go to college. I hate the anxiety of filling out my FAFSA when I don’t know how much money I’ll receive. I don’t know why I received less money this year too. The financial aid I receive covers my tuition, textbooks and lab fees. But it does not cover rent, food, and living expenses. I don’t have a job right now but I am looking for one so that I can cover the added expenses of college that people don’t normally consider. I’d never be able to pay rent and pay tuition at the same time. That’s why I still live with my family. TAP should be expanded so that students can better focus on their studies and worry less about the added expenses of education.
As a first year college student, I was not prepared for how challenging life outside of the classroom could be. Many of my friends have struggled with food insecurity due to not being able to pay for their meals, because their schedules are so packed that they can’t balance having a job plus being a full-time student. We’re forced to eat on-campus, which is very expensive and a lot of the time isn’t accessible enough to students with different needs. This then adds additional stress to us, which makes being a successful student almost impossible.
I’ve also seen how little mental health resources are made available to students. I’ve struggled with mental health issues over the past year, and being able to get help has been a major struggle. I have had to wait hours for an appointment at times due to a lack of available staff and resources. I know many other schools don’t have nearly as many resources for students on-campus that we do. We cannot reach our potential as students or even live normal lives if we don’t have a support system to provide us with the assistance we need.
I’m a first-year student majoring in criminal justice. After obtaining my bachelors I want to go to law school and become a criminal lawyer or a human rights lawyer. I receive TAP and a Pell Grant along with financial aid. My tuition is covered.
Unfortunately I do not have my own advisor. I have an opportunity to join the BLA program at my college but I fear that if I join BLA I will not be able to get any help from other programs such as ASAP. College textbooks, lunch, and transportation are expenses outside of tuition. I was looking for a job but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been made difficult to find a job and register for the upcoming semesters’ classes. My family and I are immigrants from Italy. Nobody in my family is working right now because of the pandemic. If I don’t get a STEM waiver, I will not be able to afford summer or winter courses. I am fortunate that I am able to attend college and receive an education that I can be proud of.
Personally I’m a very determined student. Being an immigrant pushes me to achieve unimaginable things such as getting a high school diploma in one year and doing 4 years’ worth of high school material by going to Saturday classes and waking up very early. I make sure that I am still on track even now because I’m that determined. We need a fully-funded CUNY because we are very motivated and dedicated students. If CUNY were to be fully funded, we would have better infrastructure that would allow us to get to class on time, instead of taking detours, and the staff we need to succeed.
I am majoring in Sociology and pursuing a certificate in Public Policy at Hunter College. This is my last semester. I just found out that I got accepted into graduate school in Spain where I will be getting a Masters in Education. I plan on being a teacher for at least the next few years after that. I am also considering going to law school eventually, but that would be many years from now. The reason that I chose this program is because if I work at a school, my tuition fees get waived. I wish I could say the same for my time at Hunter. I am paying for my education at Hunter College with a few different merit scholarships, both private and through my program at Hunter, without which I would not be able to attend school or I would have to make the difficult decision to take out a massive loan. The rest is covered with a combination of mine and my mother’s savings. To be able to be in the position to do this is an immense privilege that I do not take lightly. Because I am from New Jersey I do not qualify for TAP, Pell, or the Excelsior Scholarship. In order to pay for textbooks, food, rent, and a MetroCard I have been working part-time every semester and full time during summer and winter breaks. I wish that I was able to qualify for these types of financial aid because it would take away the stress of a huge financial burden for me and my family. I would have more time to not worry about working and actually have moments for rest and passion projects.
I talk to students all the time, and the biggest barriers to education that I hear every day are always finances – CUNY is an institution built for working-class people, but the rising cost of tuition is making it less and less accessible. Every semester more and more of my friends have to drop out because they can no longer afford the cost of attendance. We need a free and fully funded CUNY so that every student has the opportunity to determine their own destiny, regardless of their financial status. The ability to pursue education is a human right and must be regarded as such. I wish that the state saw CUNY for the potential it has to be an engine of equity for all students, as well as an investment in the future of our economy and society as a whole.