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Posts Tagged ‘student loans’

Ismael Ali, Hunter College

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I am a junior at Hunter College majoring in Political Science with a minor in Black Studies. I am also the first person in my family to go to college. Right now, my main priority is to graduate as soon as possible so I can get a job to provide for my family and pay my student loans.

I was first a college student at SUNY New Paltz where I was part of the Education Opportunity Program (EOP). One of my main challenges at New Paltz was the price of textbooks. Even though I was working two on-campus jobs, I found myself spending two thirds of my paycheck towards textbooks. I addressed the issue to my EOP advisor, who cared and loved me like their own, and they were able to help me with an EOP book voucher. This voucher helped me to pay for the rest of my school supplies. The downside is that this book voucher is limited. I know that I am one of so many students who struggle with textbook costs.

In the fall of 2018, I transferred to Hunter College. The first thing that comes to mind when people ask me why I transferred is the fact that the cost of tuition at SUNY New Paltz was overwhelming. As a full-time college student, it was impossible for me to get a job that would cover my tuition so every semester I had to take out loans.  

I’m now in SEEK. Like EOP, Search for Education Elevation and Knowledge Program (SEEK) helps me with my textbooks and provides me with an advisor. Thanks to the SEEK program, my transition from New Paltz to Hunter College was very smooth. This is why we need true leadership from our representatives to defend and expand opportunity programs.

Rebecca Garcia, Hunter College

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Starting my college journey has definitely been stressful due to financial complications. I spent my freshman year of college at the University at Albany and then transferred to Hunter College my sophomore year. When I was figuring out how to pay for my freshman year tuition, I found that I was ineligible to receive full financial aid from Pell or TAP. This was difficult because my parents were not financially able to cover the rest of the University at Albany’s $14,000 annual costs.

To make matters worse, as a freshman, you are forced to live on campus your first two years and have an unlimited meal plan (which was the most expensive plan) with no way to opt-out of those choices to pick a cheaper alternative. My parents and I were then forced to take out student loans with extremely high-interest rates that I will not be able to pay off until I am in my thirties. Already in my first year, I was $30,000 in debt with student loans. I could not fathom how much debt I would be in once I graduated from there.

However, due to the introduction of the Excelsior Scholarship I was able to have my tuition paid for by the state. This is why I moved back to New York City to attend Hunter College. I can now continue my education without having to worry about paying for mandatory meal plans or dorming. I am currently a junior at Hunter College majoring in Urban Studies and hopefully double majoring in Sociology. I am still unsure of where I would want to go with my degree, however, I am hopeful for the future.

Although my story seems to have a happy ending, I know that there are thousands of students just like me who are not able to receive this scholarship or any type of aid due to these programs’ strict requirements. These students are then left to endure balancing both work and school. Allowing CUNY to be fully funded would help countless individuals. We all know that higher education is an important asset to survive in this growing economy so college needs to be financially accessible to everyone. No student should be boxed out of the Excelsior Scholarship; every student should have the same experience I’m having. And had free public college been a reality sooner, I would not be $30,000 in debt.

Sarah Zielstorf, SUNY Cortland

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As a college student I knew I would have my fair share of financial issues. Applying for scholarships, grants and taking out loans can be a painful process, especially when you’re deemed not poor enough to get actual help and not rich enough to cover the expenses.

I’m a sophomore at SUNY Cortland and am currently in the BFA studying studio art but I plan on changing my major to gear more towards illustration/animation. My career goals involve working for major companies creating storyboard art for tv shows/movies or video games. As an artist I understand that right from the get go I won’t have an immediate high paying job. It’s something I will have to work hard for and I look forward to that part of my life. Furthermore as an artist, I know money will be tight but I haven’t even stepped foot into that career field yet and I’m already facing many financial struggles that I was under the impression would be taken care of.

As of right now I have received the federal Pell Grant, TAP, federal Perkins loan and other loans and I also work to get myself through school. And sadly that still isn’t enough. Due to a low credit score I am unqualified to get more loans that would pile on to my amount of debt. I couldn’t afford to pay my tuition up front so now I make monthly payments, any money I earn I can barely touch because it goes towards a $500 monthly payment plan that my mom struggles to help me with.

Any time I need to spend money or finally agree to eat out, I always check in with my mom to see if I can afford it. I report back to her any payments I made so we can keep track of our funds. The Excelsior Scholarship promised to aid those making $100,000 a year or less. I fall under that category as do many others. The Excelsior Scholarship also claimed it would cover tuition payments and as years progressed the threshold would increase so no one had to pay for college and be in debt. Sounds great right?

And it is, in theory. I understand that when any new program rolls out there are bumps in the road but my experience with the scholarship was anything but helpful. If the items on your college bill don’t have the word “tuition” in it you pay for it yourself. Though it’s true that any amount of money is helpful, the specific qualifications for the scholarship helped as little people as possible. One of my friends who received it only got $1,000. After receiving financial aid, federal aid etc and receiving the Excelsior Scholarship, I thought I was finally free of counting pennies to see if I could buy a half gallon of milk, I was wrong. The Excelsior Scholarship only allows up to $5,000 per student for solely tuition. This scholarship doesn’t include dorms, meal plans, studio fees, lab fees, athletic fees, transportation fees etc.

After going back and forth with the financial aid office (who were not given information about the Excelsior Scholarship) and the Excelsior Scholarship office for two weeks, I thought I wouldn’t be able to attend college again and I would have to stay home to work. Luckily I was able to take out a loan and work some more with the financial aid office and dip into my savings account. In the end, I chose to stick with the aid I was already receiving because it came out to more than the scholarship. But why do I have to choose?

The financial aid office also required my parents 2015 tax records, my financial situation has changed drastically in two years! Looking at recent records most likely would have helped me get more aid but that is not the way the system works. I want to study abroad so I have a savings account but on more than one occasion we’ve had to dip in to help with payments. So I work more to save more money which gets exhausting and cuts into my social life, but I wouldn’t even be able to go to college without this job so I have to keep working. Life isn’t easy, people have to make sacrifices and work hard, but college is about getting integrated into adult life slowly, not getting thrown in and suffering all the way through.

Malcom Michael, Buffalo State College

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Since I was adopted from Russia by my single mother who possess a PHD in English literature, the importance of my education has been emphasized from early on in my life.   As my high school years elapsed and the daunting reality of the real world loomed over my conscience, I found myself applying to community college. To my surprise, there were a lot more hurdles I had to overcome then just an entrance exam. Despite New York State offering a wide variety of financial aid support to students, I was unable to qualify for any financial aid.  Thus, my mother and I took loans to supplement the cost of community college.

By the end of my two-year program, the debt I had accumulated was over $9000. With my Associates Degree in Criminal Justice, I transferred to Buffalo State College where I am now a senior studying Political Science. As my first year at Buffalo State waned into the past I had accumulated a loan which surpassed $20,000. During the summer prior to my senior year I moved from Buffalo State campus into an apartment close to campus.

The summer of 2017 was the beginning to a life full of relentless stress and physical pain. As bills began to pile up I found myself working full time at a local pizzeria.  Luckily for the first time I was actually able to receive financial help from the New York State government through the new Excelsior Scholarship. Which was even harder to receive than loans. Along with the hoops one has to jump through, the programs has many restrictions which have the potential of crippling students. An example of one of these restricting parameters is the required number of credits a student must take during a semester in order to receive the financial support.

Over my senior year here at Buffalo State College I have been working 40+ hours a week while being a full time student. The financial burden of living expenses such as rent, utilities, food etc., has made it increasingly difficult to focus and dedicate spare time to school. The fear of eviction and the potential of being homeless is a daunting reality for students who fully support themselves. I often find myself worrying about my finances, rather than worrying about important school assignments.

Domonique Baker, SUNY New Paltz

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I first got a Medical Assisting certificate at Ridely Lowell, which is a trade school, which I am currently in $18,000 in debt for. I then got my Associates at Dutchess Community College in psychology.  I am now going for my Bachelors in Psychology. I didn’t qualify for any financial aid because I am independent, even though I only make $25,000 a year.

I work full time to cover outside expenses like food, rent, utilities, a car.  I got a better job at a hospital recently which pays a little bit more. I take out loans for New Paltz. If I get a C or above in school, my full time job gives me a grant of $2500 toward tuition. To pay for this semester, I had to put it on a credit card though, because the tuition assistance from my job doesn’t kick in until later. I work full time over night so I only sleep 3 hours a night. Its impossible to study.

If college was free, I wouldn’t have to work so hard, maybe just part time. It would greatly improve my college experience. I’d get to spend more time studying and be able to meet deadlines. Now I record my notes to play while I’m driving. I have to take a course over because I got a D, it was a course that started at 11am but I got out of work at 9:30am and sleep deprivation made it hard to stay awake through the class. I now have to retake the class but it’s full. I often have trouble registering for a class because it interferes with work, especially since I live 30 minutes from campus. If the class is too close to 5pm or right after then I can’t take it. I wanted to get a concentration in organizational psychology but a lot of the required courses were at 8am and since my job wants me to be at work that early it’s not realistic. I need the job though, so what can I do? This limits the options I have for my future prospects of becoming a Physician’s Assistant.

I applied for the Excelsior Scholarship, one day I was on hold for 20 minutes, then 40 minutes. They said I didn’t have enough credits, I was in school for too many semesters, they said over the phone that as long as I don’t have a bachelors and meet the income eligibility I’d get it, but in the 11th hour of the last day they denied it because of credits. When I call them and talk to them no one knows anything.

Clark Adomaitis, City College of NY

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I am a sophomore. My major is Economics with a concentration in Business Administration and Management. I hope to one day become an activist focused on environmental inefficiency and to also teach a college poetry class on rap. Currently, my parents pay for my tuition, as well as the costs to dorm on campus. I do not qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship, TAP, or Pell Grants, so the full burden of my college education falls on my parents and students loans.

I believe in a fully funded CUNY system so that every student can attain the high quality education they deserve. With a fully funded CUNY, students like myself will no longer have to struggle financially and can fully focus on our future.

David Paiz-Torres, Nassau Community College

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To pay for my education, I get a Pell Grant and a TAP Grant from New York. Usually, I would pay for books with my book voucher, but this year I couldn’t because tuition went up. The way the voucher works is that I would need to have at least $100 more in financial aid than tuition costs. Due to tuition hikes at Nassau Community College, that did not happen this semester. Instead, I had to use a credit card and some money that I had left over from my summer job to pay for my schoolbooks.

I plan on graduating Nassau Community College, and moving on to get my Bachelor’s Degree in Education. Since I want to be a teacher, I will need to follow that with my Master’s in teaching which only adds to the costs I will have to pay. The cost of attending a 4-year school are very concerning for me, because I know I will have to take out student loans. I’m worried that by the time I would be eligible for loan forgiveness programs; these programs would have been dismantled. Any cuts to these programs would be putting my future at risk.

Here in New York, we need to increase funding for SUNY and CUNY schools so professors and academic programs can be properly paid for and so electricity and other utility bills aren’t put on the backs of students. Our state leaders can definitely do a better job in terms of funding our schools.

Fabienne Lescouflair, SUNY New Paltz

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I’m a student in the Human Service field, I feel forced to take out loans because my mother is the only other person helping me pay for my education and she is a single mother.

While I was at my 2-year school, both of my parents ended up paying for half of my tuition while I worked my brains out and paid for the other half myself.  My mom can’t help me out anymore because of the tuition hikes, which forced me to take out loans in the middle of the semester to cover the tuition.  It’s not ideal but it’s better than dropping out.  

Malik Mckenzie, SUNY New Paltz

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I am currently in $33,000 of student loan debt, and I’m one of the lucky ones, as I know of people whose debt far exceeds that amount. There was never an option of paying out of pocket as I, nor anyone in my family can afford the astronomically high amount it cost to attend school.

The constant rise of tuition is a serious issue for all students as it is pricing out lower income families from a higher education. Even those currently receiving the Excelsior Scholarship could lose it and be faced with this hike.

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.