Unfortunately for Emily Thompson, a 20 year-old sophomore from Wichita, Kansas, most of her time and energy is put into figuring out how she will cover the costs of the university that she loves.
“It's just really difficult,” Thompson said. “It's always money money money money, and it's really stressful.”
Thompson, an honors student pursuing a degree in Speech and Hearing Science, receives a substantial amount of money from scholarships, need-based financial aid, and student loans. But between herself and her single mother, paying the cost that is not covered by supplemental sources puts a strain on her family.
“[Freshman] year, it covered all but $9,000,” Thompson recalled. “But to my family, $9,000 is still a lot of money.”
Thompson, who describes herself as a “traditional 4.0 student,” graduated at the top of her high school class back in Kansas. She was one of the few students from Buhler High School who pursued a post-secondary education out of state. With her mind adamantly set on a Political Communications degree, Thompson knew GW would be the perfect place to pursue her passion.
“I knew GW was my dream school,” she said. “It was where I wanted to come... It was GW or bust.”
But reality quickly set in when Thompson and her family were confronted by GW's costs. Thompson's mother, who had been unemployed since 2011, was not able to contribute much to her daughter's education, but they managed to get by.
The mandatory freshman J-Street deposit and the growing cost of housing were two payments that were “more expensive than [they] were expecting.”
Fortunately, Thompson's mom was able to find a job in October of 2012. The unforeseen consequence, however, was that the new source of income would affect the amount of aid Thompson received.
“Now that she has a job, FAFSA is not so great,” she said. “It has bumped me into that value where she has a good job, but it's not enough to make up the whole difference. That right there is why I am unsure if I can stay.”
Making her financial burden even heavier is an additional $9,000 in hospital bills that Thompson must pay because of several visits during her freshman year. This amounts to roughly $400 a month, something the struggling student can barely afford. Thompson has had to take on a second job to come up with the money.
Between 17 credit hours of class, 30 hours of work per week, and the responsibilities that come with executive board membership in both the GW Roosevelt Institute and the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association, Thompson is simply “wiped out.”
“I don't get home until midnight and I go to bed around 3 or 4 a.m. most days and it makes having time to study and just doing homework really difficult,” Thompson said. “Last semester I didn't do so hot in some classes I should have done well in because I was always working.”
Living her life according to a work schedule makes it difficult for Thompson to fully enjoy her time as a college student.
“It's always an issue of 'I'm at work and I don't get off until midnight' so I have to forcibly carve time out of my schedule to have a social life, which sucks,” she lamented.
Sometimes the frustration just become too much.
“I have a job and I'm working my ass off and I make money, but my bank account never reflects that,” Thompson said. “That's the shittiest part.”
After several semesters of long hours and little sleep, Thompson believes it may be time to leave GW and enroll at a school that is less of a financial drain. Following an exhaustive search to find an affordable alternative, University of Kansas appears to be the best choice.
She is just waiting to see how much aid money KU will offer her, but she expects a significant amount considering her instate residence status.
For Thompson, GW simply cannot offer her an aid package that will make staying in Foggy Bottom a sustainable option.
“To them (GW Financial Aid) three or four thousand dollars is not a lot,” she said. “But to me that is a lot...Finances are everything.”
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