Free Lunchers

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There comes this time in your life when everything is almost at this standstill. When you hear news or open a letter that breaks apart everything you had. It feels like your breath is ripped from your lungs and you can’t even imagine moving on from everything that has just happened.

I had one of these moments recently. Being only 18 years old there has never been much financial stress that was directly my responsibility, but now there is. I can no longer find myself in the guidance office begging for someone to waive the fee of a trip my mother can’t afford to send me on, or help me get a used $100 calculator that was required for the math class I had worked so hard to get into.

When teachers look at you in high school and tell you all the work that they give you is to prepare you for college, they are not telling the entire truth. The hours of work they assign over the summer or over a break is not what prepares you in the least bit, what they should be doing is telling you how hard things are about to get.

Teachers should tell you how hard it is to even make it through the college that they all insist you end up at. What they should be warning us “free lunch” kids about is that we are all basically stuck.

In most school systems that kids who find themselves on a free lunch plan are the ones who have parents that fall below what they school thinks is “average” living standards. This also reaps other benefits such as reduced SAT amounts, only a down payment requirement for AP testing, and a slew of other seemingly great things. The only issue is as soon as this group of kids leaves the public schooling system all the benefits that made it possible for them to do much of anything in elementary school and beyond are gone.

When us “free lunchers” begin to apply to college they even allow a waiver on applications, and reduced fees in sending over test scores. Then we get in and they tell us not to worry because financial aid will come through and help make up the difference in what you cannot afford to pay. Everyone tells you from day one as long as you work hard and do the right thing everything will work out. So far I have found this to be overwhelmingly false.

Not only did the extensive forms otherwise known as FAFSA fail me, so did an abundant amount of other things. Now it is important for it to be known that I did not go to the state school that was probably the better option, but a smaller liberal arts college. I knew from the start this would be more money overall, but in my mind I had spent four years in high school proving myself academically, and I should have been able to go where I would be happy.

For an entire year of private education $7,500 seems small, and for many middle class families it is very plausible, this is what I thought. When I sat down to tell my parents everything that had happened my father looked me dead in the eye and told be we would need to split the bill in thirds.

Having divorced parents is an entire other issue. It means more paperwork and hoping your non-custodial doesn’t choose to lie, and claim he pays more then you have ever seen in your entire life.

When my father told me he could pay a third, I believed him. I worked all through school, and my mother picked up extra hours. Just when I thought I was safe and everything was being paid on schedule I received quite the letter.

To sum it up, if the $2,200 balance left on my account wasn’t cleared starting spring classes was not going to happen. That was when I did the math; that was almost an entire third of my bill. My father hadn’t been paying like he was supposed to.

Now it seems harsh that I knew it was my father and not my mother not paying, but in my situation, trust me when I say it was my father.

I still took a deep breath and called him, hoping there was a misunderstanding. There had not been. He told be he hadn’t had the money. It takes a lot not to implode at this point. So, I hung the phone up.

Panic. Sheer panic set in, as my education was so far up in the air it would take a NASA telescope to see it. I told my mother voice shaking, and I knew she wouldn’t be able to help me. She was alone and had just managed to pull of the holidays with all she had that was extra.

This is when I bring back the idea that schools should be helping kids who they float through understand that all of that help fades away. As soon as a diploma lands in your hands there is nobody to run to when you cannot afford something. When FAFSA tells you they can help finance your education, they only mean so far. It almost seems that we go through years of public schooling being told half-truths.

Luckily for me I had someone to turn to when my options were next to nothing. College is never going to be the same for me now, as I now can never count on one of the only people who you should be able to. The next few years will be spent commuting from home to avoid paying room and board.

I am grateful for the year I got to spend on campus, and for the college I am lucky to even be going to. Life throws these kinds of sick curve balls, and it seems the people who are barely standing are the ones who get knocked down. A lot needs to change when it comes to helping those who find themselves just above poverty. The people who are hardworking and just too proud to not take a job and find themselves on government assistance. It’s an issue, one that affects me firsthand.

Overall it seems that an education is mandatory to make it in life, yet without a pretty hardy college fund, it’s difficult to get one.

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