Living through the gap: When scholarships are not enough

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Christina Lopez, an English and international relations and global studies junior, received a scholarship from the Liberal Arts Honors Program to help cover tuition costs. She will not receive the funds until over a month after tuition was due in August.

Lopez said she has been awarded a $10,000 scholarship to be split between two semesters this school year. Without a timely tuition payment, students can’t be sure their classes are secured for the semester. 

“It’s kind of a struggle, when tuition is due and you’re on a payment plan,” Lopez said. “But you still have to come up with the money even though the scholarship is supposed to cover it.”

Most departmental scholarships follow a timetable similar to that of LAH. Until the twelfth class day, students are left to rely on financial aid or take out an emergency tuition loan from the Office of Financial Aid to cover their tuition. In Lopez’s case, her mother’s savings covered the bill last year, but this year, she must rely on her own. 

“In those first two weeks of school when you need supplies and books, it’s kind of hard because you’re stuck,” Lopez said. “I don’t know if they could maybe release a portion that would help students cover that financial burden.” 

For students who rely on student aid, such as Lopez, scholarships and part-time jobs to cover their rent and tuition, the situation gets worse in the classroom. Journalism junior Gabrielle Sanchez, who previously worked at The Daily Texan, said waiting for her scholarship to buy books last year put her behind in her classes.  

“My financial aid got me here, but I didn’t have anything left to actually start school,” Sanchez said. “This year I’m not in as bad a position. It’s still been really inconvenient, but I took out a little bit more in loans than I wanted to just because I knew that I would need that bumper.”

Sanchez said loans were the temporary solution to the problem created by the gap between the first tuition payment and the dispersal date of her scholarships. She said she is grateful to have been awarded her scholarships but wishes they were dispersed earlier so as to avoid excess borrowing and stress for their recipients.

“I would have been able to get my books,” Sanchez said. “I definitely appreciate the money. It’s going to go toward my housing and things that I need, and being able to work less so I can actually go to school.”

However, students who live on campus have a much later housing payment deadline. English and Spanish senior Mia Carranza said living on campus made the wait for her scholarship money more bearable. 

Carranza said she also received her scholarship from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese on Sept. 1, significantly earlier than many departmental scholarship recipients. 

“I also get financial aid, so that was dispersed first, and then this scholarship took care of some of my housing,” Carranza said. “For me, it came out pretty quickly, but I was also using it for housing and the first payment isn’t due until Sept. 15. If I lived in an apartment, I’d be in a world of hurt, because they have to pay on the first.”

Solutions proposed by both Sanchez and Lopez include releasing partial amounts of scholarships once attendance is confirmed. Sanchez also said she wishes she had known when the scholarships were going to be dispersed during her first application process, so she could prepare for the wait.

“Being financially stressed is such a different mindset and it really makes it hard to focus on a lot of other things when you are worried about money,” Sanchez said. “You’re worried about how you’re going to pay your rent, how you’re going to have food.”