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.

Kristin Hudson (M’20) is from a middle-class family in the US. For them, the cost to attend Minerva was a third or half of what they would have paid at most of the 14 other schools they applied to. As a National Merit Scholar, however, they were also offered a full ride at a US public university. Despite the possibility of free college, they decided to enroll at Minerva in hopes of a better overall experience.

“I didn’t want to do high school 2.0,” Hudson told the Quest. “That’s what I thought my social experience would be if I went to a state school. That, as well as the opportunity to travel so much, is why I wanted to go to Minerva, and because the academics would take me out of my comfort zone. It would be a better way to grow as a person.”

Hudson and their family wanted to limit their student loan debt to the $20,000 USD range. Based on their first-year financial aid package, they estimated that they would end up with approximately $25,000 in debt from both Minerva Climb loans and external loans. Hudson’s father initially thought $25,000 was too much debt to take on, especially since Hudson could graduate from another college debt-free. Hudson argued that the estimated debt was reasonable since it was around $4,000 below the US national average for student debt at the time and eventually persuaded their father that attending Minerva would be worth it. 

Now that they have graduated, Hudson’s overall student loan debt ended up being lower than they expected — they owe approximately $12,000, less than half of the $25,000 they originally estimated. Hudson was financially independent for their first two years at Minerva, which allowed their parents to save up extra money to help them afford their last two years, which they had thought they would need loans to complete. 

[The first year financial aid application] was the first time Hudson’s parents told them their income, making the experience more “emotionally uncomfortable and draining.”

In terms of the financial aid application process itself, Hudson remembered that “the first year was the hardest and most confusing, but that was because before we even enrolled they made us do the College Board form, so we had to give a lot more information.” It was also the first time Hudson’s parents told them their income, making the experience more “emotionally uncomfortable and draining.” 

After the first year, however, the application process was straightforward for Hudson. Their family contribution fluctuated slightly, as did their parent’s income, but their term bills largely remained the same. Hudson never appealed their financial aid package, though they were confused when it did not go up after their younger brother entered college. However, they decided not to appeal because their brother was able to pay for tuition himself at that point. 

Hudson was also confused and frustrated by Minerva’s policy for Manifest fee refunds after the program went remote in 2020. The refunds are applied to a student’s scholarship first, so a student on financial aid would only receive money back if their scholarship was less than the refund amount. Ben Nelson and Nikolaus Pelka, Minerva’s Chief Financial Officer, explained at the financial aid town hall that this was done to keep a student’s family contribution, the “anchor” of their financial aid package, constant.

While Hudson can follow the logic of this argument, they believe Minerva increased the family contribution to account for Manifest and that it should, therefore, be lowered as part of the refund. “It’s because we don’t know how they come up with these numbers that I’m skeptical,” they said. “In the first year, I was also very skeptical of their calculations because the family contribution was at least five times what my parents had in their savings accounts. I feel like they say they’re very generous but they’re actually just being slightly generous.” 

In their daily life, Hudson has often struggled to balance taking care of their health and meeting their financial obligations. They had expected to save money from work-study and summer jobs to pay their tuition. They rarely worked the maximum number of work-study hours, however, because of struggles with mental illness. Instead of using their Minerva paychecks for expenses, they had to rely on their summer savings. 

During their first year, they tried to save more money by being extremely conservative with their spending. They regularly visited cafes because they couldn’t focus on their coursework in the residence hall, but ate only rice and eggs for most of their meals. 

“In the first year, I was very skeptical of their calculations because the family contribution was at least five times what my parents had in their savings accounts. I feel like they say they’re very generous but they’re actually just being slightly generous.”

Kristin Hudson, M’20

In the years since, Hudson has “tried to be a little looser with my budget, mainly because of how much of an impact stressing about it has on my mental health.” They rely on credit cards to have more flexibility with their spending. They prioritize spending money on good food, sacrificing travel during the semester and skipping expensive cultural experiences to take care of their physical and mental health. 

Despite their struggles at Minerva, Hudson is happy they enrolled here. “I didn’t anticipate the amount of growing pain involved in growing as a person,” they said. “But I think it’s worked out really well. I opened my mind in a lot of ways that would not have happened at the University of Idaho [the university where they had a full ride].”

Hudson shares their reflections on Minerva and advice to prospective students on their YouTube channel. In terms of finances, they think one of the best things incoming students with a similar background can do is develop a relationship with their family that supports open discussions about money. 

“In a lot of cultures talking about money is pretty taboo,” Hudson said. “But the fact of the matter is in most cases you and your parents are in it together in terms of affording college. You have a lot you can learn just by understanding how they budget. It’s worth pushing through the initial awkwardness.”

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.