Spotlight on Boston: Minimizing Future Debt Obligations

By: Kristin Ouellette | Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Each year our uAspire financial aid advisors start fresh with new high school seniors — a fact that can make connecting with students on sensitive topics difficult, but certainly not impossible. Mercedes McCurdy recalls her relationship with one student, Jason, that enabled her to help him make the best decision for him during one of the most difficult years of his life.

A friendly, outgoing student who always made a point to stop by and say hello in her office, Jason first met with Mercedes in the fall of his senior year. The two bonded over their mutual interest in communication studies, which Jason was thinking of majoring in at a school nearby in Massachusetts. Mercedes was able to answer his questions, share her personal experiences studying communications and give advice on the steps that might help him achieve his goals.

Over time, Jason trusted Mercedes enough to talk about his personal life, and how it had shaped his desire to go to college. Like so many American families, Jason’s struggled to make ends meet, relying on TANF and food stamps to support a family of 4 in metro Boston.

A few months into the new year, Mercedes discovered that Jason’s father had passed away in January. Mercedes admired Jason’s continued resolve to hold on to his college dreams even with this painful loss. The two sat down to discuss the best schools with Jason’s intended major, and which would be the best fit for him. Once applications had been sent and decisions received, the work of reviewing award letters began.

The package that Salem State University offered was the best financially — but Jason had his heart set on Suffolk University and the programs they offer, including the chance to study abroad his freshman year. The pair called the Suffolk financial aid office to see if commuting from home might lower his cost of attendance, and learned that it would be significantly less expensive, though it would still make Jason responsible for $4,000 dollars per year after financial aid.

A few weeks after this discussion, Mercedes heard that Jason had decided on Suffolk. Mercedes immediately reached out and set up a meeting with Jason– she was worried he wasn’t fully comprehending the financial aspect of his decision. When she met with him she encouraged him to do some digging into the extra costs and fees that would be factored into his contribution for studying abroad. They called the school together and found out that his first-year tuition would be $20,000 rather than the $4,000 he was prepared to pay — an astounding amount that Suffolk had neglected to communicate clearly. Some of Jason’s financial aid would not count towards the program overseas, and there were numerous extra costs Jason had not been aware of.

Once the reality of how much Suffolk would cost set in, Jason and Mercedes set to work on finding the next best option. They looked into several schools, but Jason was not thrilled with the experience they offered that differed so much from his vision for himself. Mercedes brought up revisiting the idea of a state school, Salem State in particular. Salem State has his major, he would be able to afford to live on campus, and there are many options for study abroad. At the end of the day Jason made the decision to send in his enrollment deposit and attend Salem State. He feels optimistic and excited about attending Salem State and does not feel that he has to give up the college experience he wanted. If anything he is gaining more financial flexibility and independence while he is in college, and will have less debt to worry about when he graduates.

Mercedes and Jason’s relationship and her commitment to helping him make the most informed decision is not unique to the two of them. All of our uAspire financial aid advisors strive to make stories like these a reality everyday because we believe that each student deserves to find the best and most affordable path for them, without sacrificing their college dreams.