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Chelsea Grate, SUNY Cortland

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This is my second year of college, but my first year at SUNY Cortland. I transferred here from Hudson Valley Community College. I’m a Political Science major with a minor in Communications, and I’m somewhere between a sophomore and a junior because of the credits I transferred in with from HVCC and high school.

I am concerned about graduating on time. If I had six more credits I’d be considered a junior right now. I didn’t want to do classes over the summer because I didn’t want to have to pay for that out of pocket on top of everything else. Once I do graduate from Cortland I’m going to grad school, preferably at U Albany or Syracuse. I pay for school with financial aid, TAP, and the Pell Grant. I also work at Target and Market 32 on breaks to pay for textbooks and food for the semester. If I didn’t get financial aid, I would probably be working full time at Target, and I don’t think it’d be possible to go to school at the same time as that.

Reanna, Hunter College

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When I first started high school, I knew the scholarship I needed to receive. If I didn’t get it, there was a chance I wouldn’t be going to college. After four years of dedicating my life to studying, taking AP classes (with tests I could barely afford to take), and eliminating any chance of a social life which could distract me from my schoolwork, I am proud to say I received the private scholarship I dreamed of. So I did all that and burned myself completely before even going to college. While I was extremely grateful for the scholarship that would help me with tuition, I had no idea that financial burden was inescapable in college.

I am currently a sophomore at Hunter College. I came to Hunter as a pre-med student, but being so burned out freshman year, I saw my A+s that I got in high school transform into Cs. My scholarship was threatened and I was devastated. At the beginning of sophomore year, I decided to try anthropology courses and I fell in love. However, I had to get a part-time job to pay for my monthly metro cards and textbooks. Working almost every night after class drained every bit of energy I had and I could barely stay awake while studying. I struggle to maintain the 3.5 GPA that my scholarship requires me to maintain. Textbooks, especially online textbook codes have destroyed my bank account. Food and transportation remain major struggles. Why do students have to pay over one hundred dollars each month just to be able to get to their classes or to attend their jobs so they can have money to pay for all the costs of being a student?

I dream of getting a PhD in Anthropology and becoming an archaeologist. However, field schools for archaeology are extremely expensive and fieldwork is usually done abroad. I have no way of paying to travel to obtain these experiences and I fear being in major debt. I am honestly afraid of graduate school, as I know that the extreme financial burden that awaits.

Latsha Lee, Bronx Community College

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I’m a psychology major and part of the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP)– it is critical for me to be able to attend BCC. Before I enrolled in ASAP, I worked full-time and was a full-time student as well. It was difficult to manage everything: I am a mom – I have two young boys (5 and 6), working full-time, plus taking 5 classes, helping out with the rest of my family.

I’m loving the free MetroCard. Last semester, I actually lost my card and they weren’t able to replace it. ASAP told me there wasn’t enough funding to replace lost cards! I don’t make use of the campus child care center. Back when child care was a bigger issue for me, I didn’t pursue my education. If I had known about it, I would have enrolled at BCC much earlier.

I do have a fear of not graduating on time. If I lose my financial aid, or I’m no longer able to be enrolled in ASAP for whatever reason, I won’t be able to afford to continue. But ultimately, I want to go to City College after graduating from BCC, to pursue studying law in the future.

Julia Sweeney, SUNY Cortland

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I am a senior Biology major at SUNY Cortland. I originally thought about teaching biology, but I don’t like the program here. I’m not entirely sure what I want to do after graduation, but I am excited to graduate. I work two summer jobs and use financial aid to pay for school. I get some help from Pell and TAP but they don’t fully cover everything, but they do help with buying my textbooks and food for the year.

I don’t have time during the semesters to work, because I’m trying to balance school, labs, and everything else. That’s challenging enough without a job. If I didn’t get financial aid I wouldn’t be in college, period. I’m completely independent from my parents, I pay for my own car insurance and other bills, and I wouldn’t be able to afford life’s necessities on top of school without the help of financial aid.

I’m kind of concerned about graduating on time only because I’m taking a required class in my last semester here and I need to pass in order to graduate. We need to have fully funded SUNY because it would make life less stressful. We wouldn’t have to worry about if and how we’re going to afford to eat everyday, pay for books, and other bills.

Neely Benoit, SUNY Cortland

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I’m a Professional Writing major with a minor in Anthropology, and this is my fifth year here at SUNY Cortland. I’m planning to go to grad school after this to study Anthropology and Political Science. Right now, I take out private loans. I think I got the Pell Grant for about a semester, and it was only like $50. I don’t receive TAP, and I couldn’t even qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship.

I’m a student director in one of the campus buildings, and I also pick up shifts at Auxiliary Services as a floater. So I’ll wash dishes or cook chicken on the grill for six hours straight. In general, I work anywhere between 12 to 25 hours a week. I’m always looking for more work because I don’t get any money for rent or food, and that takes away from study time and homework.

I applied for food stamps, but I wasn’t eligible because I didn’t work enough to qualify. They don’t take into consideration that I’m also a full-time student. I’m already a year late to graduate, but I’ll be on track to graduate this year. If it wasn’t for working so much, I’m sure I would’ve graduated on time for my degree. We need a fully-funded SUNY so people like me can graduate on time and not have to worry about going to grad school because of all the private loans they’ve already taken out. I’m walking away from undergraduate degree with almost $100,000 worth of student debt. And that’s from a state school. I’ve already started paying those loans off for three years already. That’s another thing I pay for with work, besides car insurance, my car payment, internet, electricity, rent, food, and textbooks.

I don’t pay more than $300 a semester in books. If a semester cost me more than 300 bucks in textbooks, I would weigh which books are more valuable and get rid of the other ones. There are also some classes that require fees in order to take them. I took art for three semesters, and that was $200 for each course each time, totaling $600. And that doesn’t even cover materials. It covered studio space and workshop equipment.

My biggest challenge as a SUNY student has been finances. I worry more about my finances than I do about passing each class. I know I’m at a major disadvantage in class because I have to work so much more just to make sure that I have a roof over my head while I’m in school, or just to make sure the internet doesn’t cut off so that we can finish our homework. I think if we had a much lower tuition or if there were less hurtles to have to jump through for a student like me, then I might be able to not be in as much debt, and then I would be able to go to grad school without the fear of not just getting rejected, but also of it not being paid for.

Katherine Breton, SUNY Cortland

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I’m a sophomore at SUNY Cortland. I study psychology, and I’m working toward a minor in Spanish. After I graduate, I’m going to grad school for my Master’s and PHD in psychology, probably somewhere in New York City– by home. I currently get financial aid, TAP, and the Pell Grant, but even with that I still take out loans, and my parents pay a little bit to help too.

I don’t work during the school year, but at home I work at the YMCA, and between the money I get from that and babysitting, I can pay for my textbooks. If I didn’t get financial aid I’d probably be in a CUNY school instead of at SUNY Cortland, so that I was closer to home and it’d be less expensive. I wanted to go to SUNY because I wanted to get out of the city for awhile. There are so many problems that SUNY and CUNY students have to face right now, but just one of them is transportation to and from school and home. That’s expensive, and I feel like that should be provided. We need a fully funded SUNY and CUNY so that everybody has the opportunity to get a degree no matter what financial circumstances they’re in.

Evelyn Marks, SUNY Cortland

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I’m a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) major at SUNY Cortland, but before that I was an Adolescent Education major. I’m kind of a “super duper senior” because I graduated more than 2 years ago with a B.A. in English, which makes me a non-traditional student.

I have two plans that I could go for after graduating. I could get my master’s here at Cortland and then go to New York City to teach, or the second plan is basically going abroad and teaching. I pay for college with loans and work. I used to receive TAP and the Pell Grant when I was initially going to college, but I don’t receive them anymore.

I work part-time at Walmart, roughly 20 hours a week. Last year I worked full-time and could barely balance my workload between classes and work. This year it’s a lot easier to balance the workload. I get my textbooks through the inter-library loan, which is awesome because you don’t have to pay a million dollars for books. I use whatever money I have leftover from work for food, even though right now I don’t have a lot of money for that, either. I was going to apply for SNAP, but I heard that college kids aren’t always eligible.

Even if I didn’t receive financial aid for college I would still go, considering that’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years, but I am concerned about graduating on time. Some of the classes I need to take actually conflict with other classes I need, which means I have to push my graduation date out a year, essentially. I think SUNY/CUNY should be free because I think that students shouldn’t have to worry about scraping together money for college when they should be trying to perform better in classes.

Emily LoTiempo, SUNY Cortland

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I’m finishing up my last year at Cortland in Professional Writing and English, and I’m getting ready to apply to Emerson to get a Master’s in Publishing in Boston. I’ve been so lucky. My grandfather died a few years ago and left his grandchildren a good sum of money for our education. I still have two jobs so that I can pay for food and books and stuff. My mother doesn’t help me with school at all. But I’m still lucky that I don’t have to worry about loans for tuition.

I see all my friends around me not as well off as I am. I’ve been blessed. I see people with 80 thousand dollars in debt. Even the new Excelsior Scholarship doesn’t cover everyone. I know a lot of people in debt that just don’t qualify. Although I’m not worried about money, I am worried about my career path after school. My major doesn’t have a set path, like some others do. Entry-level positions aren’t actually entry-level. I have to mold everything I’ve done in college as experience even though it isn’t technically professional, which is what jobs are looking for. The cycle of no experience leads employers having to take a chance on students.

More internships on campus would really help people like me. Remote internships just aren’t the same. We need more on-site internships, and we really need to encourage more professors to take on research assistants and interns. Without that experience we can’t get jobs. Without jobs, we’ll never be able to begin paying off all this student debt.

Josh Mazariegos, SUNY Cortland

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I am finishing my final year as a Teaching English as a Second Language major with a minor in Spanish. After Cortland I plan on moving back to Columbia to be an English professor.

I do receive some financial help from the Pell Grant, but I still have to work year-round to cover the other expenses, like all of the textbooks I need for my classes. I typically work full-time in the summer months, and I also work at Neubig Dining Hall between classes to get by. As far as food goes, I do have a meal plan that I have to pay for out- of pocket, but I also work in one of the dining halls so I’m not a big fan of working around the same food I have to eat.

Kristen Muller, SUNY Cortland

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I am currently in my final year at SUNY Cortland as a Spanish and Teaching English as a Second Language double major. The only financial aid I qualify for is like $50 from TAP, which really doesn’t cover anything. In the summer, I work full-time as a secretary to help cover my college expenses, like room and board and tuition.

I don’t have time during the school year to work because of how demanding my majors are. Also, I have to drive myself to and from my observation hours. That can get really expensive, but I still have to pay for that out of pocket on top of everything else.

I have a meal plan but the food and the hours for dining halls are so ridiculous that I normally eat off campus, not to mention the food on campus is more expensive than off-campus food! I think we need to have fully funded SUNY so we don’t have debt until we die and won’t affect our credit scores for the future when we really need them.