This piece is part of a series of financial aid-focused student profiles. These student stories are part of our ongoing reporting on financial aid. You can also read our analysis of a student survey about financial aid and our reports on the financial aid Day of Action and subsequent town hall.

Sean Petersen is an M’23 student from South Africa. He received financial aid for his first year but said that even with Minerva’s support his family “could barely afford it.” His financial aid package was not the main reason he decided to come to Minerva, but he said it certainly contributed to his decision. Minerva was the only school he was seriously considering, so if he hadn’t gotten in or his financial aid was not generous enough he would have taken a gap year to work and save up for it. He would also consider taking a leave of absence if his financial aid goes down.

Petersen is concerned about paying for Minerva next year because his dad just retired and South Africa’s currency is devaluing, both of which will make it challenging to afford his calculated family contribution.

Petersen got a full merit scholarship to one university and a partial merit scholarship to another. However, Minerva does not award any merit scholarships so there was no chance for that to offset the cost of tuition.

He thought he would get more financial aid from Minerva. He appealed and the revised amount he received was enough but still not comfortable. He also appealed the financial aid package he received for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year. But the reality of paying for the first year at Minerva lined up with his expectation from his revised package.

Although he has a vague understanding of the financial aid process, Petersen said he would like to know more about how Minerva calculates the expected family contribution. But he said he understands Ben Nelson’s rationale that if people know the formula they can game the system.

Petersen thought the application process was straightforward but some of the questions were vague. He also said: “It’s concerning that Minerva thought we could pay more than we thought we could pay. My parents needed their own money to survive and to save up and to pay off their own loans and whatever else and it felt like Minerva was saying ‘Cool, all the spare money you have you must contribute to your family contribution.’”

The process also took longer than he expected, but he thinks the timeline makes sense “seeing now that Melissa’s the only [full-time staff member] doing it.”  Petersen and other M’23s believe Minerva evaluates financial aid applications from oldest to youngest classes, which is why M’23 received their financial aid packages last this year. There has not been any communication from Minerva on this issue. 

“It got to the point where I enjoyed walking because it was fun and because it was free. But it started because it was free.”

Finances played a big role in Petersen’s day-to-day life in San Francisco. He walked everywhere: “It got to the point where I enjoyed walking because it was fun and because it was free. But it started because it was free. I would often be late for things because I would rather walk and be late than spend money and be there on time.” He didn’t go to cafes and saved aggressively so that he didn’t have to ask his parents for any money. From saving his work-study money he could afford to travel and get tickets to three concerts (two of which were canceled because of the pandemic).

Petersen’s tips for incoming classes are to apply early for financial aid to have time to appeal if necessary, have strong budgeting goals, and go to the San Francisco Public Library financial planning day.

He participated in the financial aid Day of Action and town hall and felt they were appropriate but focused on upperclassmen. As an M’23, he supported the Day of Action demands but felt he was missing some of the context to fully understand and participate in these events. He also felt that more M’23s would have participated in the Day of Action if it was organized and communicated to students with more advanced warning. He felt that it was rushed and would have been more effective if the organizers had waited a few more days. He also wished that the town hall was more of a two-sided conversation: “We could have been problem solving together instead of accusing them for their mistakes.”

If you are interested in sharing your experiences with money and financial aid at Minerva with the Quest, please reach out to Emma Stiefel ([email protected]), Erin Paglione ([email protected]) or any Quest editor.