Submission: Losing Financial Aid During a Pandemic

Community Op-EdsOpinion

student looking in a sunset.
Andrea Rico / The Triton

Written by:

As a bright-eyed, 17-year-old high school graduate, I was immensely proud of my achievements that led to UCSD granting me the prestigious Regents Scholarship. I entered UCSD under the assumption that the combination of my scholarship, which gives a yearly honorarium of up to $8,000, and need-based financial aid would leave me debt-free by the end of my college experience.

My first year ended and without any warning, I received a new financial aid offer that was over 80% less than my initial package. 

My need-based financial aid had significantly decreased and as a result, my financial safety crumbled. I lost my trust in the financial aid system’s ability to help me afford tuition and living expenses. At that point, I had no choice but to start working. So, I did anything and everything I could to make ends meet. From doing paid research studies to finding a paid job as a research technician, I did everything in my power to make it work.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was hit by an eerily similar and gut-wrenching realization that aid for me might not exist. While others rejoice over receiving seemingly random bank transfers of grant aid, I constantly face the uncertainty of whether or not I will be able to afford rent or this month’s TRIP installment. Every time I heard about a new aid package being offered from the government or UCSD, I let out a small sigh of relief, thinking, “this time my needs will also be met.” But, with each time the government reached out a helping hand, it seemed to me that I was left feeling even more forgotten and left out. 

Many college students like myself who are considered dependent will not qualify for governmental aid such as the stimulus check. My financial aid is 100% dependent on my parent’s finances – a black box that has no utility for my personal budget. My parent’s finances exist in the grey zone of “too poor for college, too rich for financial aid.” 

My job has fortunately given me the honorific of “essential worker” and continues to help me to afford basic necessities and rent. Nonetheless, my income is not sustainable enough for me to make both rent and tuition payments on time. I find myself without any financial or governmental aid because the eligibility criteria don’t account for situations like mine. Yet, I still obsessively refresh my bank account and financial aid page, hoping that one day perhaps my accounts will receive a random monetary infusion. The deposit never comes. 

My initial reaction to the government’s COVID response plan was anger. Why are they not offering any financial aid to people like me? Above all, I felt so alone. I initially dismissed my own financial worries considering the problems that people are facing during this pandemic: when people are losing their jobs and businesses, am I entitled to feel disappointed? I’m lucky to have a job at all, right? My worries seemed to be an infinitesimal drop in the torrential downpour that is COVID-19’s typhoon of economic damages. 

Scrolling through Facebook one day, I stumbled upon the Forbes article titled “Most College Students Won’t Get A Stimulus Check.” It enumerated the reasons why college students do not merit the stimulus check. Some of the comments following the article were cruel and unempathetic. Angry college students even threatened to report their own parents to the IRS for misreporting their dependency status. However, some students voiced solidarity with others that shared their stories. Like the girl who allows her single-parent father to continue filing her as a dependent for a tax break so that he doesn’t have to worry. The essential student worker who works at a grocery store and cannot leave their job, but finds himself making less than the unemployed and continues to serve his community. It was comforting to hear that I was not the only person who didn’t receive aid in this time of need.

This piece is multi-faceted. It is my own catharsis of trying to reconcile myself with living in a world that seems to have forgotten students like me. It is a plea that governing bodies give an ounce of compassion to special circumstances like dependent college students when making blanket generalizations the eligibility criteria for aid. 

Above all, it is for those whose financial situation falls into a grey area and will receive little to no aid. I hope this resonates with the hard-working students whose struggles seemed to be lost in the fray of the pandemic – I hope you know that while aid may not be out there for you, you are not alone.

Catherine Nguyen is a student at UC San Diego.

The positions stated here do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Triton, any of its members, or any of its affiliates. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.