Financial aid. It has the ability to set you at ease and make you want to quietly scream into the nearest pillow at the same time. To set the record straight, I am so grateful for the financial aid I’ve received since I’ve been in college. And whether it’s actually true or not, receiving aid has helped me feel like I have a little more support on campus. Kind of like, hey, maybe there are people out there who are rooting for me. (And of course there are. I think all CAP students know that, even if sometimes you have to go out of your way to do so, you can almost always find a resource out there to support you and help you along your way, especially here in Pasadena where you have cool organizations like CAP and Day One. Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it. Sorry. Anyways.) This being said, however, navigating all the red tape involved with the financial aid system can be pretty confusing, if not frustrating.
Part of my financial aid package includes Federal Direct Loans and while I now feel like I’ve got the process of taking those out down pat, I wasn’t so confident the summer before my Freshman year. Really, the idea of loans terrified me. I knew how much I needed those funds, but I didn’t like the idea of already being in debt and the process of taking them out seemed so official and rigid that I was nervous I would make a mistake. But after talking to everyone at CAP and calling the financial aid office to ask a million questions, I started the process. I filled out all the preliminary information, completed Entrance Counseling, and decided to sign my Master Promissory Note online, since that seemed to be the easiest way to do it. However, when I tried to submit it, the website told me that it couldn’t process my MPN.
At this point, I was starting to feel a bit panicked. It was late in August, the deadline to complete loan requirements was fast approaching, and I was confused. I thought not being able to process my loan meant that I wasn’t eligible to take one out. Over the next couple days, I called the financial aid office five times, but no one was able to tell me why this was happening. It wasn’t until the last call that a representative revealed that the online loan system needed a credit history that it could link me to in order to verify my identity. He instructed me to print out my MPN, sign it by hand, and then mail it to the financial aid office since I had yet to hold a credit card. So I did that. I even paid to have it delivered within the next two days. Six days later I got an email from the financial aid office stating that my MPN was void because, according to the very small note at the end of the email, the bottom half of the page numbers had been partially cut off when I printed it. So I rolled my eyes, took a deep breath, printed and signed it again (this time with fully-inked page numbers), and had it overnighted to the financial aid office. A few days later I finally got confirmation that it had been successfully processed.
All this is to say, yes, the financial aid process, especially the loan process, can be extremely tedious, but it is navigable. I think sometimes people may get caught up in the confusion of it all and go, “why bother?” A lot of information isn’t always explicitly stated, or, at least, not in clear terms. There were a lot of points in the process where I wasn’t sure that the pain of taking out the loans was worth it. Now that I have, I can see that it was. Having those funds has definitely put my mind at ease. So to go back to the Harry Potter reference– I think that’s it. The asking for help, I mean. Not everyone knows what to ask or that they should even ask questions. It’s made me feel better to learn that, especially when it comes to financial aid, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. So, for anyone who may be a new borrower, I really recommend just asking away. In my experience, it makes everything so much easier. Also, I think it’s all about finding those resources on campus or in the community that you trust and know you can always go back to. For me, that’s CAP and the Scholarships Office on campus. Sometimes I pass the Financial Aid Office and head up to the Scholarships Office if I have a question about finances. I’ve found that even though they don’t always know the answer, they’ll go out of their way to connect me with someone who does instead of sending me to somebody else who will inevitably refer me back to the same place I just came from. Having those kinds of resources makes a world of difference and even if the financial aid process goes along without a hitch, it never hurts to have the extra moral support.
Genevieve Tikasingh is currently studying Linguistics at UC Davis. She will be a Junior this fall, and her goal is to go to graduate school for Linguistics after she finishes her B.A. She graduated from Pasadena High School in 2015 where she played on the Girls’ Soccer team and became a CAP student. Over the last few years, she’s volunteered at PEF’s Summer Enrichment Program and worked as a tutor at SKILLZ Summer Program. This summer she is very happily interning with CAP.