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.
My name is Jordan Gibberman and I am a student at SUNY Purchase. My experiences paying for college all began in the summer of 2018 before freshman year. My family and I had to apply for student loans all because I decided to live on campus. We didn’t have a lot of money to afford housing and meal plans, so the loans were the only option. We applied for a federal loan that my school offered us, but even that wasn’t enough. Additionally, we applied for a private loan from College Ave. In other words, I have two different kinds of student loans.
This would last up to the midpoint of the Spring 2020 semester, when I transitioned to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, I came to an important realization that going away to school is super expensive and staying at home is just right for me. So, my family and I stopped applying for student loans and focused on paying for school with financial aid, along with the Excelsior scholarship that I had throughout my whole college experience. That scholarship only helped me cover the tuition, and the only reason I qualified for it was because I go to a SUNY school and the governor at the time created it for students who want to go to SUNY schools, but have low household income.
I certainly hope I qualify for student loan forgiveness. That would be a huge benefit for me as I would only be paying back less than what I currently owe, which honestly isn’t that much compared to what students normally would have during normal times. Overall, I wish I didn’t have to go through this experience paying for college — it’s honestly one of the reasons why I often think about if I should’ve gone to college or not.
My name is Isabelle Pastore and I attend SUNY Cortland full time. I am a senior now, but I have been here since freshman year. I am from Stony Brook, Long Island. I decided to go to SUNY Cortland because my parents only allowed me to apply to SUNY schools. Cortland seemed like a good choice because I absolutely loved it when I visited. I toured a couple of other schools, but Cortland truly felt like home. A few of my friends were going to Cortland too, so I knew I would be comfortable here. I am majoring in Communications and I love it, but I’m not really sure what I want to do in the future. I pay for tuition through the help of my parents and student loans. Most of my tuition is paid through financial aid but I am very worried about having to pay back my student loans. I work 15 hours a week over summer and winter break to help pay for my personal spendings, but it’s not nearly enough to pay my student loans. I think college should cost substantially less than it does. When my parents went to school, it cost much less and attending college was less common. I don’t think it’s fair that tuition costs so much because in today’s society, it is expected that people attend college in order to get a well paying job. I don’t like how we need to pay thousands of dollars in order to make good money. I think college should be more of a choice than a requirement. On top of tuition, students need to purchase textbooks each semester. Textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars and I truly think they should be included in tuition.
The pandemic was a difficult time for me and my family. During COVID-19, my Dad unfortunately lost his job. Fortunately, my Mom also works so we still had an income, but it wasn’t enough for all of our everyday costs. It was hard for a while and there was even a time where I thought I would have to transfer home to attend school there. We didn’t even get Christmas presents that year. My parents wanted me to drop my sorority solely because we weren’t sure if we could afford it anymore. Thankfully, my Dad was able to get another job about a year later.
Getting a college degree is important to me because it’s required in order to get a well paying job. I want to get my degree because I want to be able to support myself and live a fulfilling life. It upsets me that I will have to spend a good portion of my life paying back my student loans. I definitely think college should be way more affordable and less expected than it is and I hope that in the future, college is way more affordable for everyone.
Daniela is a freshman at the City College of New York pursuing a degree in Psychology. She hopes to become a psychiatrist after she graduates so she can address the taboos of mental health in her culture and help vulnerable people. Although Daniela is working hard to get her degree, limited financial aid and lack of communications with financial aid advisors is making it hard for her to stay focused. She receives TAP but it is not enough to cover all her expenses, leaving her to pay most of her tuition out of pocket. Daniela’s mother helps her pay her tuition but that is becoming hard since she has 2 younger siblings she also needs to provide for. Daniela also has to dorm on campus since her parents live far from CCNY, and that increases the cost of going to college significantly. To make matters worse, financial aid advisors don’t always answer Daniela’s questions about FAFSA or financial aid packets, making it harder to plan how she will pay her tuition. She has recently applied for loans and is looking to work to pay for her college education.
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.
Eric Jing Guo has been a student for many many years. He has had to take out loans to be able to pay for his education since he didn’t receive any assistance from the state. Like many students, he is worried about paying back his looming student debt.
But Eric is a dedicated student and has worked incredibly hard to get to where he is today, as a graduate student, a teacher’s assistant, and a research assistant in his field of study, which is public/non-profit management, as well as market computer discipline science. Eric hopes to use the knowledge he has gained through his college experience to help small businesses promote themselves and grow their markets. He feels that in today’s world, a college education is important to succeed.
The pandemic has hit everyone, but thankfully Eric was at the very end of his degree, and since he is taking his final class to graduate he said it has not been too much of a burden on him, however, he and his cousin have both lost income due to these trying circumstances. But one thing Eric has noticed is just how much the pandemic affects the class dynamic. It comes as no surprise that overall communication between teachers and students has become more difficult, as sending an email doesn’t exactly lend for the best back and forth sort of discussion that is necessary for fostering education.
Eric doesn’t have too much more to go before he accomplishes his goal and is thankful for all the individual support he has received from his professors and peers over his time being a student in America.
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.
I chose to attend SUNY ESF for a few different reasons, the biggest being cost. My father is a doctor, and he is still paying off the loans that he took out to go to medical school three decades later. I didn’t want to end up in a similar situation as him, being forced into debt for the rest of my life. But even at a SUNY school, it keeps getting more expensive to be a student. Our dorms are almost three times as much as tuition, and we are forced to live in them for our first year. Tuition is increasing, but there have been constant cuts to programs and opportunities that the school can provide for us.
I’m studying environmental science, and our textbooks cost so much! I don’t know how New York expects students like me to get our degrees while having so many extra costs. I was fortunate enough to receive an academic scholarship to ESF so I can avoid taking out loans or relying on my parents. This means that I need to dedicate extra time to my studies to keep the scholarship, which makes being able to get a part-time job very hard. I chose ESF to avoid going into debt, but with tuition hikes, living expenses, and the additional fees and materials I need to pay for, I don’t know if that is possible.