The Financial Aid Battle

Three days before I was supposed to arrive on campus for my junior year at Syracuse University, I received a phone call.  My “work study” award hadn’t been renewed for the fall semester.  This was a problem, a big problem.  When you attend a university that costs more than $50 thousand a year, every penny counts.

Work study is a financial award that allows me to work on campus through federal funding.  Once I am granted a work study award it is then up to me to find a campus job.  Last semester I began working at Syracuse University’s Student Centers and Programming Services.  In doing this, I am able to make a weekly paycheck, half of which is paid by the federal government, and the other half by Syracuse University.  I am free to do as I wish with this money; it does not have to be used specifically for tuition related expenses.  The only catch is that once I use up my work study award I am out of a job.  (Read an explanation of financial aid options from Forbes magazine)

Each year as I reapply for financial aid, I endure the same struggles.  There is lots of paperwork, most of which makes no sense – at least not to me.  I’m hardly able to keep tabs on my own bank account, never mind the finances of my parents.  After two hours filling out online forms and paying a small fee, my part is done.  I then wait months and months to find out how much financial aid I have received.  Usually, this is followed by me feeling stress upon more stress about the looming financial burden that I know my parents will undertake to ensure I am able to pursue my dreams.

So when I found out that I hadn’t received work study this semester, I was a bit more than worried, not only because I need the financial help, but also because I love my job.

Like in any good relationship, communication is key (and you want to have a good relationship with your school’s financial aid office).  When I heard I didn’t receive my work study award, I picked up the phone and dialed the SU financial aid office with determination.  I was going to get that money.  Unfortunately, my phone call got me nowhere, except at the bottom of a wait list.

Luckily, the SU community looks out for their students – almost everyone here on campus understands that students like myself need all the help we can get, especially when trying to navigate the financial aid system.  The next day I received an email from my supervisor at work.  They had contacted the financial aid office on my behalf and explained my situation. Three days later I was able to start working.

But my struggle with financial aid continues.  Next week I will be back in the financial aid office seeking more assistance. I am grateful for the help I have already received, but I cannot settle.  While I continue to make use of campus resources, applying for scholarships and constantly having an eye out for work opportunities, it’s not enough. I have found that the funds and resources are there, but no one is going to hand them to me. It often feels like a battle and not one that is easily won. I have to work hard and be persistent to ensure I am able to continue my education.

At the end of the day, even with all the help I receive, I will still graduate in debt – thousands and thousands of dollars of debt.  It might leave some wondering why I chose to come to Syracuse, an expensive private university. But given my desire to work within the competitive industries of media and politics, I find the advantage of graduating from one of the top programs is well worth the expensive price tag.