For many students, managing a tight budget or dealing with stressful financial circumstances isn’t a reality that sets in after college—it’s a fact of undergraduate life. The good news is that if you know where to look, free assistance and social support networks are increasingly available on campus to help you deal with financial hardship.
FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE: GRANTS AND FUNDING
There are a variety of grants available to support you in your time at the College. The University has an emergency loan policy in case of sudden and unavoidable changes to your finances, and the Financial Aid Office can handle any concerns you may have about being unable to manage payments. The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) provides grants that can assist with the costs of study abroad, and the University’s study abroad website provides many more. Career Advancement is also a great provider of free resources that can help you make the best of your education and prepare for whatever comes next—they offer employment counseling appointments, networking opportunities, and professional training services available free of charge, things that are hard to find for free or cheap elsewhere.
If your financial situation becomes a problem, there are people who can get you financial assistance when you’re in a bind. According to Jacqueline Gaines, the director of College Academic Support Services, the first person to go to in case of emergency should be your College adviser. Gaines says that advisers “are well suited to put the students in touch with the resources that best meet the student’s needs,” and also “can help advocate for students as their needs change over the course of their time at the College.” Your adviser can access your financial aid information, get a sense of what services might be most useful to you, and direct you accordingly. If you’re not sure where to go for a first step, go to your adviser.
If you know that your concerns are isolated to financial aid, it’s a good idea to contact the office directly. The Office of College Aid has a phone line where students can ask questions about their financial aid or changes to their aid, and there are also in-person counseling services available. If you want clarification on your situation, go straight to the source, and ask for help—they’re ready for you.
PRACTICAL CONCERNS: TIPS FOR EVERYDAY
While there are plenty of resources that help you figure out tuition questions, there are also plenty more that help you balance other budgets. Whether it’s paying for Saturday dinners (dining halls are closed Saturdays after 2:30 p.m.) or for house trips, there are continuous small-scale challenges when it comes to funding student life. According to Danielle Wilson, a member of Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance (SDA) at UChicago (which aims to support low-income students, first-generation students, and those at the intersections), OMSA is a particularly useful resource when it comes to everyday practicalities, providing free laptops to borrow (in addition to those offered at the Reg, which are also free) and copies of books on loan for some core classes. Wilson also noted that SDA has put together a resource guide that gives students detailed information aimed at helping them navigate various costs of life in housing (this guide is available in hard-copy form at OMSA).
SOCIAL NETWORKS: COMMUNITY AND SUPPORT
Practical and large-scale financial considerations may not be the only barriers for you if you’re facing financial difficulty—oftentimes, students managing an emergency or tight budget are likely to feel socially isolated. Wilson says that students facing tough financial circumstances often may not want to ask for help, and SDA attempts to combat those feelings of isolation through the creation of open and honest discussions about class issues (of which there will be several this fall, including an event on November 18 featuring the president of First Generation Harvard Alumni). SDA perhaps best exemplifies the trend toward a growing support network on campus for low-income and/or first-generation students, as well as for students experiencing financial emergencies. Attend events, discussions, or groups aimed at fostering an environment of inclusion if that’s your cup of tea, while also bearing in mind that more private support is available through a financial aid counselor, your adviser, or the Student Counseling Service. The most important thing is to reach out somewhere if you’re feeling trapped or unsure—no student deserves to have financial worry eclipse his or her potential for wellbeing and success.