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Bria Degraffenreid, Buffalo State College

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Attending ​​Buffalo ​​State​​ College ​​was​​ one​​ of​​ the ​​best​​ things ​​that ​​has ​​happened ​​to​​ me ​​but I have surely ​​faced ​​some​​ obstacles. ​​I’m currently ​​a ​​senior ​​and ​​it ​​has ​​been​​ a​​ long ​​journey ​​but  ​​I’m finally ​​almost​​ at the ​​finish ​​line.​​ I’m ​​a ​​Media ​​Production​​ major ​​and ​​I’m ​​hoping ​​after​​ college ​​to ​​find some sort of internship ​​or ​​job in my field. But ​​I’m ​​worried,​​ how​​ will ​​I​​ pay ​​back ​​these ​​loans ​​if​​ a ​​job ​​isn’t guaranteed?

​​I currently receive ​​financial ​​aid ​​but ​​the other ​​expenses ​​outside ​​of​​ school​​ are ​​a huge ​​factor. ​​Often ​​I find​​ myself​​ wondering ​​how ​​I ​​can afford to ​​travel ​​home​​ during ​​the ​​holidays to see my family.​​ Thankfully with ​​the assistance ​​of​​ a ​​community ​​program​​ Harlem ​​Children ​​Zone,​​ I’m usually ​​able​​ to​​ make ​​it​​ home during ​​the​​ holidays.​​

Also, ​​covering ​​the ​​expenses​​ of ​​supplies ​​for ​​my ​​photography classes ​​has ​​intensified​​ and become another burden that I have to bear on top of everything else. Throughout my college career I have been worried and concerned about paying for food and my bills more often than not. Paying monthly bills, affording classes, and making sure I survive every week ​​have all​​ really ​​opened​​ my​​ eyes ​​to ​​the​​ reality ​​of ​​needing more funding across the board for higher education as well as an increase in assistance programs specifically for college students.

Susan Brea Riley, SUNY New Paltz

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I have a few grants, some scholarships, and the Excelsior Scholarship. I pay for nothing but books, however the Excelsior Scholarship definitely needs to be a little more transparent with its requirements. I didn’t have an issue with it at first but then they didn’t want to give me the scholarship even after I qualified and was accepted for it because I had 9 credits on my transcript from a school I used to go to. 

There, I paid out of pocket for everything and it was too expensive. I had to budget a lot of things out of my shopping list and even went on a diet due to my school expenses while at my last school. I was considering taking out loans before the Excelsior Scholarship came around because I was literally putting my health at risk by not wasting money that could go into school. College is a necessity. There is no reason for it to be treated like it’s a luxury when we have western countries being just as successful as we are.

Ramona Shoy-Parker, Brooklyn College

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I am a freshman at Brooklyn College studying Communication Television and Radio.  Without the Excelsior Scholarship, I would have needed to take out a loan.  Luckily, I found out about the scholarship through Forest Hills High School. They pushed me to fill out FAFSA early. They had an assembly about the scholarship and sent emails with a link to apply.  I don’t plan to stay in Brooklyn College.  My mom just moved to Florida and I will be transferring to a school down there.  I am aware that the scholarship will turn into a loan however, I am still grateful because the scholarship gave my mother time to save up before she can start paying out of pocket.

Currently, balancing work and school is a lot.   I am taking 15 credits while working 40 hours a week to pay for additional costs such as textbooks, food and transportation. My mom helps me out with the costs but balancing it is a lot, especially straight out of high school. If I had the option to take fewer classes I would. I believe the scholarship would be better if students were able to take a mandatory 12 credits because 15 is a lot of pressure, especially since the scholarship doesn’t cover Winter or Summer semesters.

Emanuel Bolano, Hunter College

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I am a Sophomore Computer Science major. I qualify for TAP and Pell, which are not offered in the summer or winter.  I’m constantly worried about failing a course that I need in order to continue on track with my major and graduate on time. 

I don’t get financial aid in the winter.  This is very stressful.  I missed the application process for a program like SEEK that offers priority registration and textbooks.  I don’t have a job.  My parents give me money and I use money saved from my summer job for food.  If I didn’t receive financial aid I’d have to take out a loan. 

My biggest challenge is focusing academically and trying to get by on the money I have.  It’s very difficult to buy food on the upper east side.

Darina Kozoub, Hunter College

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I study Precolonial History.  I am a 4th year student receiving  a TAP award and the Pell Grant.  I work 30 hours a week as a home attendant.  Pell covers textbooks, metrocard and food.  I live with my mom so I don’t have to worry about rent.

It is stressful to work and be in school.  I wouldn’t be in school if I didn’t receive financial aid.  I’d be working.  I am not graduating on time, I have to stay an extra year and will run out of TAP.  It stresses me out a lot I don’t know what I’m going to do.  It’s really messed up that in order to receive TAP I’ve been forced to be full time.  It’s a lot of work, I can’t handle it.  The workload from five classes is a lot.  Paper after paper.  12 credits is considered full time but you can’t graduate on time. 

Most people I know don’t graduate in 4 years.  The hardest part about being a student is balancing work and finances, it effects my mental health.  We need better mental health services!  Food is super expensive too, especially at Hunter which is on the Upper East Side. Who can afford to spend $10 a day on food? It’d be great if there was an affordable option for students.

Avalann Bargallo, Buffalo State College

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I was raised in a single parent household with my two sisters. My mom worked full time to support us all. She didn’t get the opportunity to go to college but wanted better for me and my sisters. No one in my family has finished a four year degree yet and that is mainly because of the financial burden.

I am a full time student enrolled in the EOP program and do receive financial aid, but that covers tuition. I still have multiple loans in my name I had to take out and have worked 1-2 jobs during the school years to pay for living expenses such as books, food, my car, and most recently off campus rent because seniors aren’t allowed to live on campus anymore. I would love to just focus on school but that’s not possible.

I am worried about paying back those students loans and possibly wanting to further my education because of the costs. Investing in higher education will greatly improve the future students of New York.

Tyrell Lewis, Bronx Community College

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I was a General Education major at Bronx Community College. I wasn’t able to graduate and needed to get a full time job. I couldn’t do both. I had participated in the workstudy program but I wasn’t making enough. I had to pay rent, food, cable, and utilities. I was awarded a partial Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) award and the Pell Grant.

I found out about ASAP too late, but if I had known about it, I would have applied to it for the tutoring to bring my grades up! I wanted it for the tutoring. Everyone should have ASAP. While I was at BCC I received SNAP assistance. The transition from high school to college was really horrible. Textbooks were the biggest cost. I couldn’t keep up with my studies because I couldn’t afford the materials, and this is when I was receiving TAP and Pell. Pell helped for some but I also had to pay for all of my living expenses it was way too much.

Stephanie Almodovar, City College of NY

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My name is Stephanie Almodovar and I am a freshman at CUNY City College. I am currently looking to go into Civil Engineering. Right now, I work as a group leader at a local YMCA and this job allows me to save a little for school. Unfortunately, I do not receive Pell Grants and I do not qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship because my mother’s income is just above the cut off level. Often times I struggle with paying tuition and buying the necessary textbooks for school.

I do not qualify for work-study so most weeks I have to choose between saving money towards school or buying lunch. I usually only eat lunch 2-3 times a week but sometimes that’s too much because buying snacks will deplete my savings and I would not be able to eat for the rest of that week. Thankfully, with the help of outside scholarships, I am now able to pay tuition without worry. However, at any time, that could change. I try my hardest to not let these troubles overcome my college experience but sometimes it all becomes too much. In all honesty, I dream of tuition-free CUNY so that one day I will no longer have to worry about paying for school and just enjoy learning.

Anny Mariano, Queensborough Community College

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I am a freshman psychology major. I would like to eventually work at a school and work with teenagers or do social work. I receive the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and the Pell Grant and I am looking for a job to pay for the bus, food and clothes. I didn’t qualify for ASAP because they said I had too many remedial courses. But I had taken those classes in the summer already. When I went to try again to appeal, the spots in ASAP were already filled up. If I was able to get into ASAP I would get my metrocard covered which would be a huge help. I am the first person in my family to go to college. My family and I are from the Dominican Republic. If I didn’t get financial aid I’d have to take out loans. I am trying to work to save money in case there is a semester that I don’t get enough financial aid.

Ayo Johnson, Queens College

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I am a 4th year computer science major at Queens College. I am 21 years old and work full time at JFK airport. I am also in school full time and commute from Canarsie, Brooklyn. Even though it is taking me a year longer to graduate and I have sacrificed extra time just commuting, Queens has a strong computer program.
Thankfully, I live with my parents but the space is tight and the prospects of me ever moving out are dim. Work study would help me tremendously, as would SNAP. My 3 siblings get just what they need but the future is always scary. The pressure is on for me to move out but it just isn’t possible.
It is a hard choice to either give up my full time job or work part time on campus and help pay for school. Most of my money goes to transportation and food. School supplies are actually a large percentage since I pay for computer programs and equipment. I’m just trying to save as much money as possible and one day work for a tech company.