Helpless? Hopeless? Hapless?

It is time, good people, for a rant. The source of this rant is?

The oppression of the poor, through the lenses of college students.

It’s something I know quite a bit about, and I think more people are going to need to get an idea soon-especially with the political situation.

There’s a food bank set up for the students at my university.

Each semester, I spend about $300 on textbooks as a social science student. My husband spends $400-$600. And there’s some math coming up, but no worries, I’ll help. I have insurance through my dad, but let’s assume it’s negligent here-because I have to pay more out of pocket than they cover. I have student loans (gasp!). And we’re going to get personal about that too. I work at the university, with work study money. That means I can work UP TO 20 hours a week-so long as my total amount of work study money is more than I have worked. I get $3000 a year, which equals roughly 9 hours a week available. I typically work throughout the summer at whatever job will hire me, but obviously it’s part time.

A little word though, before we begin. I cannot speak for everybody. These experiences are my own. I know that some people will take a different path here-and that’s OKAY. I just want you to get a rough idea of how a midwestern student with decent grades faces the realities of the financial aid system. I’m doing this in response to Betsy DeVos, and her unawareness at how it works. I’m going to break different areas up by header and then wrap it all up in a summary-I find that to be a little more helpful than just assaulting you with information.

Books

I started college officially January 2012. That was back when OSU was on quarters (meaning 3 regular sessions per year) and now we’re on semesters (meaning 2 regular sessions a year). That means I’ve had 12 sessions (I believe). Each of those sessions, as I mentioned, I pay roughly $300 in books. 300*12=$3600 in books. For my husband, it’s 500*12=$6000 (I just took the average cost. So together, we have paid almost $10,000 in books (and yes, we shop around for deals). PLUS-you have to pay for online access codes to your homework. Per course, that’s $60-$130.

To give you an idea of what the problem with that is, I have a recent event for you. We (Ben and I) were looking to make a little money to cover some purchases for the apartment. The only thing we have in large quantities are books. So we packaged up everything we had. This includes text books, books I picked up at the bookstore for pleasure reading, books we had from forever. Everything we could (minus the ones we need for this semester) was loaded into boxes. I looked at what Amazon would give me and then we hauled everything down to Half Price Books. Let me emphasize this. We took something like $8500 of merchandise to a resale place. And what do you think we got in payment?

$230. (And yes, that’s about what Amazon wanted to pay us.)

For the readers who are blown away by this, 230 dollars is approximately 2.7% of 8500. And that’s the most we could get. So we took it and made do-because what else are we gonna do?

Student Loan Payments

Ah student loans. The bane of so many people’s existence. I have 2 kinds: Sallie Mae and Federal. My Sallie Mae payment will be $670 a month and my federal will be $455 a month (according to http://www.aie.org-I’ll let you know what they really are when I start making the payments after law school). And that brings up a good point-these numbers are ONLY for my undergraduate degree, under the assumption that it will take me 10 years to pay everything off. So I will need to put aside almost $1200 per month just for student loan payments. Yikes!

Acceptance fees/loans for law school

Wherever I end up going to law school, I will need to pay a seat deposit (acceptance fee) of at least $250. That’s something I have planned for, and am well aware of. But when I enter law school, I will also have to pay money to take out my loans, and campus fees on top of my tuition. I also am aware of that. But it does not chance the fact that I will have to pay my own way to move to law school and then pay them to allow me to pay them (yes, you read that right) so I can go there. One of my schools has a fee of $910.

And since we’re talking about law school-let me fill you in on the application process. In order to apply for law school, you have to take the LSAT. It costs $17 per time you take it. And then, you have to order your college transcripts ($20). You also have to purchase the system they use to compile your application ($180). Then you have to pay for them to assemble your application per school ($30) and you have to pay an application fee per school ($30-$110). And this is true if you apply to one school or a hundred. I applied for the fee waiver (thankfully) so my costs were slightly different. But none of this includes test prep, which can be very expensive very fast.

working

As I said, I work part time. I use the money to add to my very small reserve of uh-oh money. I can make up to $1500 a semester. And that’s grand-my job is awesome, I enjoy it a lot. It’s just not a bunch of money. So there’s that. And yes, I am fully capable of getting a job. But I don’t live on campus and my husband has class 5 days a week, and we have a dog at home. So I could, yes, work over the weekend-this is true. But none of this accounts for homework time. As I mentioned above, I totally work during summer. That’s a no brainer. This summer will be tricky becuase of moving to law school, but we’ll see.

Oh-and I’m not allowed to work the first year of law school. It’s a law school thing.

apartment

My apartment is what it is. I pay gobs of money to live in a place where crime is low. I pay for safety and I know that. What I also pay for is a private electric company that charges me way too much for electric ($200 a month) and a door that sticks, gaps in the door that let cold air in, leaky outlets and a fridge that doesn’t stay closed. Also, they sent out an email saying that they wouldn’t salt the parking areas until it got really bad becuase they “like to watch it accumulate”. 

health care/insurance

As I mentioned, I have health insurance through my dad. That is all thanks to the ACA. And I know that. If I am hardcore screwed, I have options. It may take everything I have to pay that money, but I have options-ish. For example, last fall I went to the urgent care because of an ear infection which burst my eardrum. I paid $200 after insurance for the visit and another $100 for the medication. If the ACA is taken away, so is my insurance. As of right now, I go to the doctor if I have nothing else I can do. Because my health is a luxury I cannot afford. I have not been to the gyno in 3 years. I have not gotten my booster shots. I have not been able to go to the dentist in a great many years. I had to pay out of pocket for my glasses ($300 for exam and frames).

conclusion: What poor actually looks like

So there’s been a lot of disjointed information that’s come at you today. Let me provide a little structure for you.

I’m a first gen college student. My parents are hardworking farmers/pressman. I didn’t have my education paid for by my family (apart from $1000 my dad saved up and I am so grateful for). I pay $25,539 per year for my education. I’ve been in school for 5 years. Do some multiplication-you’ll see why I’m concerned about student loans. My apartment situation is paid for (in part) by the loans my husband and I take out. What we can cover with summer work is obviously done that way to alleviate needing to take out more loans. I have a credit card that I use for emergencies only and pay it off as soon as I get it. This is where I put my health care expenses, if I have any. And trust me, I try not to. Bills are still going to be there when I graduate from law school. And the $1700 a month we pay for everything, in addition to the $2000 a month for both my and my husband’s student loans terrifies me. It really does.

Not being able to afford regular doctor’s visits because of money is something that weighs on your brain a little. It makes you feel a little less than human. Being forced to choose between access to your homework and fresh food does things to your brain, makes you feel unvalued.

So when I said there’s a food bank on campus that’s for students, are you really so surprised? Because it’s not just food that we need. It’s so much more than that.

And that is why I cannot stand by and accept that our country’s education might be left in the hands of someone who has never even interacted with the financial aid system. I’ve only hit the big points-and not even all of them. Because none of this included the daily struggles, the weighing of options, the constant demands of time management, social and academic obligations, extra curricular activities or other facets. But maybe you see the reason why so many people with college degrees feel a little jilted at the system that was supposed to help us.

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