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.”
Abram is a junior at the City College of New York pursuing a degree in Architecture. After he graduates, he wants to work on municipal buildings and urban planning. Although Abram receives TAP and Pell, it is not enough to cover his entire tuition. He mostly relies on his Macaulay honors awards and his grandmother to pay his remaining tuition. His scholarship money only covers 70% of his tuition and the rest is paid out of pocket. Although paying off his tuition is not a big challenge, he hopes that with more CUNY funding, he can get the resources to pay for his housing expenses.
Currently, I am in my last semester at Queensborough Community College where I am working on an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice. After I graduate from QCC my plan is to move on to a 4 year degree at John Jay. I am also a full-time student so I have to take 13-14 credits each semester. I am an ASAP student, which pays for a multitude of expenses like my Metro card, Textbooks, and part of my tuition. The rest of tuition gets covered by FAFSA and TAP. I don’t work and I wanted to when I applied for federal work study but I was denied because I already “met” financial needs. I pay for my food out of pocket or I would take food from home.
If I didn’t receive financial aid I probably wouldn’t have the chance to gain a place in the professional workforce or acquire new skills needed for my personal and professional development. I am very concerned about graduating on time because that is my time that I am dedicating to earning this degree and I want it to be maximized and put to good use with no impediments.
It still amazes me that CUNY used to be a free institution but now we have to pay for our future and our success. We have to constantly be worried about certain programs being cut like ASAP or SEEK. I come from a single parent household where my mother has to hold down two jobs just to support my family. Education has been a big staple in my household as well because not a lot of people get to go to college or take advantage of the opportunities given. This is why we need a fully funded CUNY because students like me. It would be very beneficial to raise efforts in doubling the Pell grants because that would allow for more students of color like myself to be able to enroll in college and diversify admissions as well as the workforce. We wouldn’t be discouraged to take a stand.
Leslie Spinosa is a first-year student at Pratt Institute. Although apprehensive about the remote learning option offered to her after committing to Pratt, Leslie felt somewhat obligated to accept the offer in fear of losing her presidential merit scholarship or loans in the future. Leslie was accepted into Pratt in Spring of 2020, right before COVID-19 had kicked into high gear. Given her family’s financial security at the time, she felt confident in committing to the institute with reliance on her presidential merit scholarship, student loans, and federal work study allotment. However, that security was compromised in the wake of COVID-19, as her father was out of work as a car dealer for months. Mr. Spinosa applied for a pell grant to provide his family some relief, however it never followed through. Now, he is back at his job, however business is slow and school has become harder to pay for as a result. Leslie has taken on a job of her own to help out, however, with the especially chaotic schedule of online school, she has not been able to take on enough work hours to generate a significant income. Not being able to work on campus to acquire her federal work study money has been a major loss. Additionally, Leslie’s family income was higher at the time of applying for the FAFSA, resulting in a lower grant which, in light of her current financial situation, has left her to rely heavily on loans. Further, Leslie has dealt with her fair share of basic struggles with the new remote learning system. She often finds it difficult to count on consistent communication with her professors, and has had a particularly hard time getting her questions answered by her financial aid advisor, leaving her in the dark about where she stands with the school. Despite all of this, Leslie has worked exceptionally hard to make it through the semester thus far, and will continue to push forward through these trying circumstances. Leslie sees the great value and necessity in acquiring her college degree, and hopes Pratt will provide her with the technical skills and connections to launch her post-graduate career.
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.
I am a senior at Brooklyn College. I am a Political Science major. I plan on going to Law school after obtaining my bachelor’s degree to be a criminal defense attorney. When there, I want to create my own version of the innocence project. Khalif Browder’s story definitely helped me in deciding what I really wanted to do. The fact that someone who was innocent could spend 2 years in prison for allegedly stealing a backpack was beyond me. The psychological and physical abuse that he endured within the two years was inhumane. I think that he is a prime example of how the criminal justice system fails us all the time.
I currently receive both TAP and Pell to pursue my studies. I’m having trouble graduating on time because I cannot afford summer classes. I wish that TAP would cover summer sessions so that I wouldn’t fall behind.
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.
I am a freshman at Hunter College currently studying Biology. After college, I plan on going to medical school to further my education. I do not pay for school on my own, I receive financial aid. I receive TAP, Pell, and am a part of the SEEK opportunity program. I pay for my textbooks with the money I receive from Seek. I do not work but am trying to find a job to help support my family with money. I do not receive SNAP or work-study and pay for food with my SEEK checks and other financial aid. If I did not receive financial aid, I would have to resort to taking out a loan or finding a job so that I can make my own money. I am somewhat concerned about graduating on time, because I might not be able to complete all of my prerequisites for my major in time.
We need a fully-funded CUNY for low-income students who are not in any opportunity programs like SEEK or EOP and have to depend on other means such as working or work-study to pay for college. Many students could benefit from increased investment. Too many students have to rely on balancing jobs, school, and loans.