Working with Financial Services: A Roadblock for First Generation and Low-Income Students

When I started applying to college, I had no idea what I was doing. I had always assumed I’d probably go to a local community college or state university; these were all that seemed affordable. When attending a school like Bates finally seemed to be a real possibility, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. 

As I applied to NESCACs and other similar schools at the encouragement of a few high school teachers, I stumbled into what felt like an entirely new dimension filled with supplemental essays, SAT retakes, and CSS profile applications. I was beyond ecstatic when I not only got into Bates, but received an award letter with an amount that I could actually afford printed on it. However, it didn’t take long for the excitement to wear off, caused by exactly one consistent roadblock over the course of my Bates career: the Financial Services office. 

Due to being a child of two households, I have to submit two CSS profiles (the form from The College Board that allows you to explain your financial situation to colleges) every year. Anyone who’s ever filled out a CSS profile knows how frustrating and exhausting it can be. Filling out two applications and working with parents who never went to college and are financially disorganized feels nearly impossible. I work incredibly hard to complete the forms, but sometimes, certain aspects, such as receiving tax documents from my parents, are out of my control. 

Financial Services has absolutely no empathy when it comes to situations like these. They’re demanding about forms that seemingly don’t matter, especially with non-custodial parents. Even after finally achieving a compromise with them, I had to constantly remind them of this compromise, often by sending them screenshots of email exchanges as proof. 

Without these reminders, the compromise might as well have never existed. On a campus where we hear the buzzword “collaboration” at every turn, it is frustrating that the word ceases to exist as soon as we enter the realm of financial aid.

They seem to forget that first generation college students are often thrown into college life and responsibilities with little to no knowledge of how these applications work, and quite frankly, their uncaring attitude creates a huge accessibility problem for first generation and low income students. There are no opportunities on campus that I am aware of regarding education about and assistance with the financial aid application process. 

I work hard at these applications by myself and fight tooth and nail to get my parents’ messes in order because I want to be here, but I’ll admit I’ve spent many spring nights crying as I try to figure out which forms I need at the last minute and considering transferring to a state university. Students on this campus should not fear losing their need-based aid. It’s something that lingers in the back of my mind every single year without fail. When late April arrives and I should be focusing on finals and summer plans, I’m instead constantly wondering if my dad will send me the correct tax forms like I’ve asked him to for months, and being terrified of what will happen if he doesn’t. 

In the end, Bates doesn’t really care if I go here. They can fill my spot without a second thought. They don’t offer assistance or compassion because they don’t need me, but they know I need them. Wealthy students on this campus have no idea how privileged they are in not just being able to afford Bates without assistance, but in being able to just pay their bills and continue on with their lives every semester.