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One of my high school English teachers warned my class of thirty college bound seniors: “The financial aid office of any college is a game of Jenga: eventually it tumbles on a student.” He followed up his statement with a story about two of his previous students who had been valedictorians. They were set to go to college on a full scholarship. Halfway through the summer, they were notified that their scholarships were taken away due to an issue with their FAFSAs, resulting in them having to go to a community college to start their education. Like many youthful, teens the first thought to come to my mind was this isn’t gonna happen to me.
It can be very overwhelming deciding to take a financial leave of absence. After making the decision, it can be confusing as to what steps to take next. In reflecting on my experience, I thought about the steps I took and the steps I wish I would’ve taken in hopes of supporting any other students who may be going through a similar situation.
As soon as you’re notified of the situation (aid being taken away, loan falling through, etc.) go to the financial aid office to learn the reasoning behind it. Ask for any follow-up steps or paperwork to resolve the issue and fill it out in a timely manner. While it may seem like common knowledge, make sure to fill out all forms as accurately as possible. This will allow you to contact all parties you may need to (IRS, loan institutions, etc) as quickly as possible to help resolve the issue.
As with many other aspects of life, we have to find the right counselor that suits our needs. This may mean talking to different ones to see which is more likely to help you find a solution to your problem. There are also certain counselors specialize in working with specific population groups (first generation college students, students of color, veterans, etc.) and will most likely have more information on resources to find funding based on those needs. So don’t be shy in meeting with different counselors, the one to go above and beyond is in that office.
Set a timeline for how long you need to take a leave of absence for (a quarter, a semester, a year?). In that timeline, make a note of the things you need to accomplish in that amount of time. For example, if you’re paying off a debt to your institution, this could include the dates of payments. Use this to hold yourself accountable in your goal to return to school. It can be very easy to lose track of time or get off track when away from school, which is what we want to prevent.
While working as much as you can to save money for school is one of the top courses of actions to take, remember that the goal is still to graduate within a reasonable time period. Use this time to finish your general education courses or take electives at a more affordable price. In doing so you’ll save money when you return to your institution, and you’ll stay on track to graduate on time.
Communication with your counselor is key. Make sure to continue reaching out, whether it’s to check on the status of paperwork you have sent in; to check if there are any additional steps or paperwork that you need to take, or even provide updates on something that might be taking a little longer than expected to turn in. It is important for the school to know you are being intentional and proactive in returning.
I avoided meeting with my friends from university; I felt that I didn’t deserve to be around them. Looking back at it, I wish I had seen that at some point during my time away. It would’ve made the prospect of returning more of a reality as opposed to the dream it felt like. It also provides you with a support group as your friends provide you with either advice or even say something as simple as “we can’t wait til you’re back!”
Faculty care. They’re always looking for ways to assist their students with any problems or situations they may be going through. Let them know of your situation. The faculty you have close relationships to will offer possible resources for you to reach out to. They might also know of scholarships that might still be available either through the department or through other campus associations.
The summer before returning to school, I volunteered at a book fair where I worked with the coordinator of our Latino Alumnae Association. She informed me that LAA provided scholarships to students who identify as Latinx and demonstrate financial need. As I was preparing for my second year, I was still a little short on funding. I reached out to the coordinator explaining my situation and she replied saying that there were some funds still available to provide me with.
Many universities have these types of alumnae associations and they’re determined in helping students graduate by providing scholarships. Reach out and ask if there’s funding available or anyone else you can contact for support.
It’s very easy to let yourself fall into a cycle of feeling like you failed. But always remember that this mistake doesn’t define your college experience. Use it as a moment to demonstrate how strong and determined you are. As my mom told me during that time, “This is only temporary.”
Are there any additional steps to help overcome a leave of absence? Or any resources for students to access? Let us know in the comments!