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.
This M’21 student asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of financial information. He is from a middle-class family in Europe — he told the Quest that they “aren’t super rich or even super comfortable, but it’s ok.” If a family like this student’s was employed in the best-paid part of the country, he said, they would probably make around $5,000 U.S. dollars a year. With his financial background and career aspirations in mind, this student knew that he wanted to attend a U.S. college where international students can receive full financial aid.
This student was admitted to a regional US college and received an external scholarship that required him to major outside of his intended field but would pay for all his costs, including flights. He also had the option of attending another US school, which has a good program for his intended major and awarded him a full scholarship. He decided to enroll at Minerva, however, because he wanted to experience more of the world and believed he would receive full financial aid.
Initially, this student said his family contribution was $1,000, a daunting sum — about 20 percent of his mother’s annual salary. But he thought he could pay it off if he worked and saved enough. This student’s mother was the sole income-earner in their family, and she was also paying to put his brother through college, so he planned to assume most of the responsibility himself.
“We had to pay for health insurance and then tax on top of [daily living expenses]. A lot of things that were not included when Minerva gave me what they called ‘estimated living expenses.’”Anonymous M’21 student
This student worked and saved as he planned, but soon realized he had underestimated the amount he needed to pay. “We had to pay for health insurance and then tax on top of [daily living expenses],” he told the Quest. “A lot of things that were not included when Minerva gave me what they called ‘estimated living expenses.’”
This student has tracked his expenses and financial aid in a spreadsheet, which he read from in his interview with the Quest. In the fall semester of his second year at Minerva, he said he paid the same amount as in his first year. His mom lost her job during the year, however, and he effectively had to pay more in the second semester given taxes and other necessary expenses, making his overall financial situation more difficult.
“Basically my expected contribution increased when the income of my family, which wasn’t able to support me to begin with, decreased,” this student said. “That didn’t make any sense to me. I think it was the turning point when I became super disappointed with [financial aid].”
This student filled out a form to appeal his financial aid, writing about the $5,000 USD in credit card debt he had accrued while trying to support himself, which resulted in Minerva applying his security deposit to his term bill. His latest financial aid package gave him an expected family contribution closer to what it was in his first year. “I think it’s still unfair, but it is the least bad,” this student said. He said he never received a full explanation for why his financial aid changed from year to year.
“Basically my expected contribution increased when the income of my family, which wasn’t able to support me to begin with, decreased. That didn’t make any sense to me. I think it was the turning point when I became super disappointed with [financial aid].”Anonymous M’21 student
Despite his consistent financial struggles, this student said that his daily experience hasn’t been significantly altered, in part because he’s found friends who are fine with low-cost activities. What has affected him, though, is the constant stress of working as much as possible, sometimes trying to find jobs outside of Minerva, and wondering how he will afford the next bill, plane ticket, or visa fee.
Given how closely he’s tracked his expenses and accumulating debt, this student knows that he will need to work in the US after graduation and take the best-paying job he can find. He hopes that, with a high enough salary and frugal lifestyle, he can become debt-free after three years of work. His first priority is paying off his debts, and until that’s done his career aspirations come second: he told the Quest he “will not take the job that would pay off the most in the long term, as a professional investment.”
This student advised prospective students with similar financial backgrounds to talk to as many upperclassmen on full financial aid as possible so that they have a clear idea of what they will need to pay and how difficult it is. He believes Minerva’s marketing to him as a prospective student, both through the website and Ascent programming, didn’t provide him with the information he wishes he’d had when he decided to enroll. This student didn’t say that he definitely would or would not have enrolled in Minerva again, but he would have had more realistic expectations of the financial planning required.
“I’d like to stress how important it is for people to have a full picture of the financial effort it takes to be here before they decide to enroll,” this student told the Quest. “There is no point in saying that Minerva has to give financial aid to everyone, but there is a strong point to make in saying that Minerva has to be fully honest on how much financial aid they can give and how much financial effort will be required from a student.”
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.