Money can’t buy happiness

Financial Aid. Two words that nearly every student has had on his or her mind over the past few months. It seems that the change in economy has brought financial decisions to the forefront of everyone’s mind, both on a national scale and even as local as the Institute. With that newfound realization, a large college tuition bill is just the sort of thing that has people worrying.

At a time when parents are constantly fretting about the security of their jobs, students need to take every step to ensure they maximize the amount of financial aid that they can receive. I’m certain that Financial Aid has had a barrage of e-mails and phone calls over the summer requesting meetings and changes to Student Aid Reports; however, I have heard more dissatisfied students this year than ever before—myself being one of them.

I was lucky enough to enter Rensselaer with enough in scholarships to think I wouldn’t have a huge problem with loans after graduation (at least in comparison to others). I feel like it’s a safe bet to say that most freshmen enter with this assumption, but fail to take into account tuition increases each year, and changes in family circumstances occur. In subsequent years, many are left wondering what to do with the price difference that they don’t have covered under their student loans. I think that it is unfair for students to enter with the idea that they will be able to complete their education at RPI, only to be left stranded in their sophomore or junior year because of finances.

While the Office of Financial Aid encourages students to come to them with any concerns since there are supposedly many scholarship funds for upperclassmen, I have found that this only leads to more frustration. “Fill out this form first and then we’ll see what we can get you,” is usually the first step. When you have been pushed to the side for several weeks and call to follow up, you are asked to fill out another form. You trust that the office will help you in time for the first bursar bill, but you find nothing in your finalized Aid Report. For filling out lots of forms and wasting hours of time in meetings, all you receive is a nice reassurance that you can, in fact, pay for Rensselaer with the money that your parents don’t actually have to give to you.

I have found myself in a pickle with finding a way to pay for my final year at RPI. Although I have been paying my way through college since high school graduation with no support from my parents, I have managed to find a way of doing so up until this year, when the final price tag of a Rensselaer education was just too much. My father was laid off over the summer; my mother has been unemployed since I was born and found it hard to be taken back into the job market, particularly now. With two other brothers in college (a freshman and a sophomore), I assumed that maybe—given the new circumstances—I would finally be eligible for some sort of aid to assist me.

But no, I still wasn’t eligible for anything additional. I can’t hold a job because of a 20-credit senior courseload and my position on The Poly, so I am at a loss of how I am going to pay for my last year of college when I can barely afford a new pair of socks.

It’s not only me that had a problem this year. I have heard more students griping about how ineffective the office is than I hear complaints about Commons food (yes, crazy, I know!).

Rather than giving us the same amount of financial aid each year, I have found myself wishing RPI would switch to giving an aid report where the amount a student has to pay each year remains the same (leaving the aid to be adjusted accordingly).

In addition to this, part of the reason that our tuition is so high is so that we can give so much financial aid to undergraduates, according to previous discussions with the Cabinet. Why, however, can’t we normalize this and, while it would be giving out less aid, lower the tuition charges?

Some sort of review of this system really needs to occur, because the only extra award I received from the office this year was a headache.