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. 

Before she enrolled at Minerva, Tessa Owens (M’21) was a student at the University of British Columbia (UBC). As an in-province Canadian student, her tuition was low, and it was easy for her to support herself with on-campus jobs though she received no financial aid from the college.

She was excited about Minerva’s model but worried about how much the global rotation would cost her. Affordability was a significant factor in her decision to transfer — she told the Quest she left UBC in part because she was reassured that it was financially possible for her to attend Minerva. 

Owens said she received her financial aid package after she enrolled and was shocked to learn that she had been awarded no financial aid. She appealed, but no changes were made. Her focus shifted to planning for how she would afford her first year in San Francisco. 

“While everyone was supposed to be making friends and adjusting to San Francisco, I was job hunting,” Owens told the Quest. “I found a job in a gym by October. I still didn’t really have any friends in our class and then I didn’t make any friends for the months after that because I was just working all the time.”

Owens doesn’t know why her family received no financial aid from Minerva. She guessed it was because her parents were paid in the Canadian dollar, a relatively stable currency, and owned their home. “I feel like Minerva expects us to go to significant financial hardships such as remortgaging our house in order for me to attend the school,” Owens said.

“While everyone was supposed to be making friends and adjusting to San Francisco, I was job hunting.”

Tessa Owens (M’21)

Her family didn’t remortgage their house. Instead, most of her first year, Owens said, was spent trying to afford Minerva student life. After her first semester, Owens took out a student loan from a local Canadian bank — she had rejected a loan with Climb, the only form of financial aid Minerva offered her, because she didn’t think the terms were favorable. 

Though the loan helped, Owens continued to struggle with daily living expenses during her first year at Minerva, working hard and saving money to the extent that her quality of life suffered. If anything, she told the Quest, she wished that she had been given a work-study position.

While Owens earned money working at the gym, she would often have to work more than 20 hours per week, interfering with her academics in a way work-study is designed to avoid. A work-study assignment would have also spared her the time spent job-hunting at the beginning of the semester, and many positions are also valuable resume builders. With the approximately $150/week in income from a work-study position, Owens said that she would have been able to afford healthy groceries beyond the rice and potatoes that made up the bulk of her diet. 

In addition to struggling to eat, Owens also avoided visiting cafes and other fun but expensive activities some first-year students with financial means were using to make friends. She felt alienated from her peers and thought that many of her hardships were overlooked just because she was a student from a wealthy developed country.

“[The Canadian] economic situation is stable and [there is] a welfare system, so why would I struggle more than a student from a developing country?” Owens said. “But I really think that students from poorer backgrounds than my own were probably in a more comfortable [day-to-day] budgetary position than I was because they had money to eat and I simply didn’t.”

“I feel like Minerva expects us to go to significant financial hardships such as remortgaging our house in order for me to attend the school.”

Tessa Owens (M’21)

Over the past three years, Owens’ financial situation has only gotten more tenuous. Her mother’s disability, which developed a few years prior to Owens’ enrollment at Minerva, has meant that her father’s salary is what the family relies on as their primary source of income. After her second financial aid application was also unsuccessful, Owens and her family decided not to go through the tedious process of applying again for her third year. 

Owens thought she might have a chance at getting work-study in her last year, however, after there was discussion of making the program available for all students. She applied for financial aid one last time and was grateful but confused to learn that she had been awarded work-study and a scholarship. “Where had this aid been in the prior years of my study?” Owens wondered. “How did it suddenly materialize for my fourth year?”

Now that she is nearing the edge of her five-year college journey (one at UBC and four at Minerva), Owens is burnt out from constantly trying to balance student life with financially supporting herself, including working around the clock over summer break in order to save up for the next school year.

Owens advises new students in similar financial situations to defer their matriculation in order to work. Though she decided not to take a year off in order to avoid further delaying her graduation and her parents’ retirement, she knows that it would have helped. Ultimately, she told younger students to “save up a significant stockpile, like $20-30,000, to help subsidize costs and ensure that you aren’t starving in any rotation city.” 

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.

Update (July 20, 2020): This article was updated to clarify why Owens wanted a work-study position as opposed to a standard part-time job.