By Colette Boan -Towaco, NJ

Picture this: A college freshman with the car packed and ready to go on dorm move-in day. She gets to the school, eagerly awaiting to learn which dorm is hers and to start unpacking all the new dorm accessories she bought. Once she goes to check-in, she finds out she can’t move in because she’s not paid in full for tuition. There is only one thing left to do… drive back home and cry the whole way there.

The happy times, before Colette began the noble fight against financial aid.

That college freshman was me. Apparently, the school never received my financial aid documents so it was never able to disperse my aid. On the first day of classes, I went to the financial aid office and resubmitted all the documents that were missing. I got the okay to move into my dorm and start “the best four years of my life.”

Fast forward three months when it comes time for spring registration – There was a hold on my account making it impossible for me to register. After speaking with my advisor and the financial aid office I find out that my submitted documents were never processed and again my aid was not dispersed. I owed my school more than $10,000 that I did not have for the semester.

Without having paid the tuition bill I wasn’t able  to register for the next  semester. I was devastated. How could I possibly pay back that much money? I had been working since I was 15 years old, but that money went to buying a car before I even graduated high school. I seriously considered dropping out of school and never going back.

After telling a few people about my situation they told me I had to go back to school and encouraged me to do something about it. There was only one thing to do – work my butt off. I got a second job and worked as much as I possibly could. There were times when I went 18 days without any time off. I started my first job at 6:30 a.m. and got home from my second job between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.It wasn’t an everyday schedule, but days like those happened multiple times a week. I was exhausted, drained and discouraged.

Colette and her fellow co-workers getting their green on for St. Patty’s.

After a year and a half, I paid  my school the entire $10,000. After  the final payment my bank account was drained, empty and over-drafted. I was out of school for a year-and-a-half. During those eighteen months  which seemed like an eternity,  I went through a wide range of emotions. All my friends were off doing their own thing – they were away at school, studying abroad and moving on in their lives. I was stuck at home doing the same thing, day-in-and-day-out. While I was proud and so happy for all of them, I felt terrible about my own life.

I wanted to be out there doing what everyone else was doing, but not only did I not have time for it, I couldn’t afford to do anything. I went through a phase where I thought I just wouldn’t go back to school and I would continue working like I was for years to come. I was making decent money because of working so much, but every cent went to paying back the school.  But then a friend gave me some encouraging words –  I should be proud of myself for working so hard and to get myself back in school. He made me see that I can do better for myself and that I can’t give up on what I’ve worked so hard for.

After getting back into school and spending two semesters studying hard and getting good grades, I thought I was back on track. I had it all together. After processing my FAFSA it looked like I was going to get money from the government to help pay for school. This was such a blessing and I was stoked. But as luck would have it, I was unable to get the money. I was again stuck paying for tuition that I couldn’t afford. As I looked at the bill and my bank account, I started crying. I was an emotional wreck. After all the hard work I put in to have a better future, I was back where I started. After applying and getting denied for countless private loans my only option was to reach out to family and friends for help.

A family member (who shall remain nameless) called and offered to loan me money to help pay for tuition. She called while I was in class. I stepped out to talk to her and when she told me what she wanted to do, I started bawling right there in the hallway outside my classroom. I was so overwhelmed by the kindness and love she had for me. I couldn’t believe what she was saying.

Cause you ain’t got nothing if you ain’t got family.

My first thought was to say no, I couldn’t accept her money. It was too big of a gesture. But how could I possibly say no? After what I had to do to get an education for myself, I couldn’t stop now. All  I could do was thank her for what felt like the billionth time and promise to pay it all back asap! After I used that  loan to pay off my debts, there was still a balance remaining. I took all the money from my bank account and handed it right over to the school. For the second time, I found myself penniless.

Right now, I’m in school maintaining my 3.8 GPA and working, saving up to pay next semester’s tuition. Each semester I have to wait to see what happens with financial aid and if I can even attend classes, if I will somehow be able to afford tuition. The scariest part is that there is no guarantee any of this will pay off. There is no promise of what the future holds. All I know is that I want to make the most of my future and be able to provide for myself for the rest of my life.

As difficult as this process has been,  I’m thankful that I was able to learn from my experiences. They definitely made me grow up and shaped me into the person I am now (and showed me how to spend money wisely).