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’20 student from a middle-class European family asked to remain anonymous. If she had attended college in her home country, she would have paid nothing thanks to the consistent availability of full scholarships from local universities. This student was determined to go to school abroad, however, and decided to enroll at Minerva after her family received “a really good financial aid package we could actually afford” in the first year.

A major factor in this student’s decision was that she would not have to take out any loans to attend Minerva, a condition that was very important to her family. “They didn’t want me to have that American experience of having to live thinking about loans,” the student said. “That wouldn’t happen at home. They were worried I’d have to change my life decisions based on loans.”

After her first year, however, this student and her family noticed expenses were rising each year and struggled to find money to pay for Minerva. Recently, they had to withdraw money from their savings accounts they originally intended to leave untouched. Although they avoided taking out official loans, the student says they “kind of took loans from our own accounts that we’ll pay back.” While she had expected to be challenged academically at Minerva, the additional distress due to financial difficulties was shocking.

The student felt that Minerva was taking advantage of the “sunk cost” fallacy, which students learn about in their first year, to raise costs without losing students. After discussions with her family, this student concluded “[since I’m] halfway through and [I’ve] done all these things and paid this money, [I’m] not going to give up. So [I’ll] keep paying and they’re taking advantage of that.” She said that over her four years at Minerva her family contribution has “basically doubled,” though their financial situation is the same.

“[The Manifest refund policy] feels very wrong, and it’s something that wouldn’t happen in Europe. We have a certain expectation that when you pay for a service and you can’t get the service, you get the money back. It feels like we’ve been robbed.” 

Anonymous M’20 Student

“[The financial aid process] has been super confusing,” this student told the Quest. “It looks like they always ask the same questions, and the answers are the same, but then the financial aid packages keep changing.” She was especially confused by Manifest costs and refunds after the event went remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was disappointed that, as Ben Nelson explained to students at the financial aid town hall, refunds would be applied to scholarships first — students would only receive money back if their scholarship was less than the refund amount.

“It feels very wrong, and it’s something that wouldn’t happen in Europe,” this student said. “We have a certain expectation that when you pay for a service and you can’t get the service, you get the money back. It feels like we’ve been robbed.” 

In terms of daily expenses, this student told the Quest that her experiences varied depending on the year and her work-study position. In her first year, she “could get all of the hours [she] wanted,” so she had enough income to travel and live comfortably. In her second year, this student worked fewer hours, which she says was partially due to conflicts with her manager. She remembered, “India was cheaper, so I still traveled a bit, but it was harder.”

She struggled much more in her third year and told the Quest that if she hadn’t saved money from her summer job she “wouldn’t have been able to eat, pretty much.” She was paid for fewer work-study hours because she had a flexible schedule and wasn’t aggressive with seeking out work due to personal mental health struggles. She also relied on savings from her summer job to pay for basic necessities in her fourth year.

Looking back on the last four years, this student thinks that Minerva was “worth it in terms of the life experiences” but ultimately lost her trust when it came to financial aid. “I kind of believed the marketing stunt that they would make sure you’re able to afford it but then didn’t really follow through,” she told the Quest. “I do feel guilty that I chose to study at this college that doesn’t really have a history of how they handle financial aid.”

Asked about her advice to prospective students with similar backgrounds, this student’s short answer was “don’t go.” Instead, she encouraged students who need full financial aid to find a university that would guarantee them a full scholarship, such as the ones in her European home country. 

“I really like Minerva, but at the same time it was really hard,” she said. “The financial aspect is so sketchy. I feel like they’ve stolen money from students using sunk cost, and Manifest was the last straw. I’ve been pissed at the financial aspect of the Minerva experience the whole time.”

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.

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