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.

Phoebe Meixner (M’20) is from the US and joined Minerva as a transfer student from the University of Arizona (UofA).  It would have been more affordable for her to stay at UofA because she had almost a full merit scholarship, and she would not have needed to take out any loans.  She decided on a “threshold” (that she did not disclose to the Quest), the minimum amount of financial aid she needed to attend Minerva. Her first financial aid package passed the threshold, so she decided to enroll.

Her family contribution and financial aid package varied slightly each semester.  Her scholarship covered between 27 and 43 percent of the term bill, and her family contribution subsequently varied by about $1,000.  “I was so confused all the time,” Meixner told the Quest. “It was impossible to predict when it would be $1,000 more or when it would be $1,000 less.”

Meixner managed to figure out how to afford every semester, but she often found herself scrambling to pay for tuition.  She worked every summer, had a part-time job at the time of the interview (during Manifest), and had work-study every semester.

Even with her work, Meixner primarily relied on external loans. Minerva offered her loans every semester through their partner, Climb.  She declined these loans nearly every semester and instead took out loans from other sources to get better interest rates.  She couldn’t always get an external loan, in which case she accepted the loans Minerva offered through Climb.

“It’s not real financial aid. It’s fake financial aid.”

Meixner’s opinion on loans

Meixner does not agree that loans should count as part of a financial aid package: “It’s not real financial aid. It’s fake financial aid.”  For students, loans are “delayed family contribution with interest.”  Meixner doesn’t know of “any criteria or catalyst for providing scholarship [versus] loans.” Because of this, she thinks it may be possible in the future for loan amounts to be even more unpredictable if Minerva treats them as equivalent forms of aid. She clarified that she trusts that Minerva is not trying to profit off students and that she did not have any substantial, unexpected, or unexplained increase in loans during her four years as a student.

As she learned more about Minerva’s financial aid, Meixner started questioning whether Minerva is actually prioritizing keeping costs as low as possible.  In particular, she thought Manifest was a deviation from this commitment.  Although she enjoyed attending events and activities with her friends and classmates, she doesn’t consider it necessary from an academic perspective.

“I question the need to have the Manifest classes, as well as the defense, as well as Consequent,” Meixner told the Quest. “I think the whole month is something Minerva is trying to do to give us a leg up in the world, but it comes at the cost of $4,000 for a month of programming.”

Based on her financial aid trends from her four years, she had expected to get financial aid for Manifest and was surprised and frustrated that the scholarship Minerva awarded her covered very little of the program costs.

When comparing finances at Minerva and UofA, Meixner appreciates that Minerva has much lower fees, especially for books and other supplies.  At UofA, there were significant fees for the gym, library, homework packets, textbooks, and others.

However, Meixner also highlights that traveling and living abroad is expensive.  It took some time to adjust to each city and find the most affordable options for groceries, transit, and other everyday expenses.  Her daily finances changed from city to city: some semesters she just needed awareness of her budget, while during others felt like she was scrambling to make ends meet.  While she could always afford groceries, the financial pressure sometimes made her feel like she couldn’t take full advantage of the Minerva experience.

Unexpected costs came up every semester for Meixner, so she tried to save an extra $1,000 in “flex funds.”  She used this to cover things like flights, taxes, visas, passport photos, phone plans, transportation to the residence from the airport, and other unexpected things like fees taken out of the residential security deposit.  She didn’t initially plan for these expenses as they are not in the term bill and expressed concern that if a student doesn’t have this money available, it might be very hard to afford a Minerva semester without creative fixes.

Some students rely on saving up work-study paychecks to build these “flex funds” as well as to support themselves during the semester. It was unclear to Meixner how work-study factors into the financial aid package, family contribution, and living expenses, especially given that students are not eligible for work-study if they go off rotation.  The amount earned through work-study also depends on how many hours a student works, which is influenced by a number of factors including how much a student chooses to work, how much work their managers give them, and how much time and energy they have available to spend on work-study.

In the fall of her fourth year, Meixner went off-rotation and spent the semester at home in Colorado.  She didn’t know how much financial aid she would get until after signing the enrollment and housing agreement when she committed to doing one semester remotely.  It was unclear which part of her term bill was covered by how much of her scholarship, so she didn’t know how to predict what her term bill would be when she went off-rotation.

She ended up paying almost the same family contribution for this semester as when she was on rotation, which was unexpected because she was hoping to save money.  She advised that students with a partial scholarship might not pay less than a typical on-rotation semester, although she pointed out that you save the cost of flying and visas.  Looking back, her family contribution ended up being about the same for both semesters of her fourth year.

Reflecting on her overall experience with finances at Minerva, Meixner said she would still choose to attend Minerva because she thought it was a great experience. However, “I wish that I had known that it took more money than I thought it would and that I would have had to end up taking more loans than I approximated.”

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.