Tag: tuition

Loan of Irk

How confident am I of this title pun? So confident I’m including the image of the thing I’m referencing just to make it clearer. Oh, yeah.

Like most of the disappointments in my life, unemployment in college was painful, long-lasting and ultimately irrelevant because of a bunch of random stuff that happened concurrently.

You see, there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned about myself. Despite being an otherwise intelligent person, I have the unusual habit of making enormous mathematical errors, almost exclusively when it comes to estimating my financial health. I don’t know how or why this keeps happening, though I defend that while I have no better explanation, it (somehow) has nothing to do with just being very, very bad at math.

The gist being that I consistently underestimate how much money I have by hundreds or thousands of dollars, on a nearly weekly basis. As to the details, well, I’ll let the following example do the heavy lifting of explaining what I mean.

It was after my fruitless attempts to find work that things got just a bit worse.

Still reeling from my recent failures, I marched angrily into the Bursar’s Office, slapped my bill on the counter and demanded, “I already paid my bill in full before I even set foot on campus. Why do I still have a $1600 balance!?”

“There are a lot of factors that go into bills and fund availability,” the person – who I can only assume was an expert at “bursing” and had discussed these matters many times – said. “In any case, we can only apply the money we’ve received.”

“But I already paid all at once,” I argued, trying to make the issue clearer.

“Maybe the check bounced,” they said, and folded their hands atop the bill. “It happens when you have insufficient funds.”

“I have…” I smoothly corrected, “I had sufficient funds. More importantly, how can half a check bounce?”

“Well, it depends on…” They stopped suddenly, perhaps realizing that “bouncing half a check” was not a real thing. They then began studying the bill, which, despite leading to them making me look like an idiot in about half a second, was probably what they should have done from the start. They tapped the number on the bottom line. “Oh, I see. Do you know what parentheses mean?”

“Of course I do,” I answered, and made the shape in the air. “They’re like little ‘aside’ parts of writing.”

“No. In math.”

I like to think they didn’t see me mouthing, “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sue,” but I won’t pretend I was doing it very sneakily. “Um…you multiply the things inside by the things outside?” I ventured aloud.

The person at the counter (a “burse” or “bursarer,” I assume?) gave me a level look. “It means the amount is negative. A negative balance in other words, or a refund.”

I cleared my throat and stood up straighter, swallowing down several gallons of embarrassment. Despite the familiar taste I’d never quite gotten used to it. “Very good then. May I have my $1600, then?”

“You’ll receive a paper check by mail,” they answered. “I can look it up in the system if you’d care to give me your name.”

“I would not care to,” I said, snatching away the tuition statement that also contained that information. “I’ve taken up enough of your time,” I explained, though my real reasoning had more to do with not wanting a member of the school’s administration who knew I’d made such a boneheaded mistake to know my actual name.

It’s been quite a few years since then, and I can’t once remember leaving a room $1600 richer and feeling more horrible about it.

Now, I’m sure a few of you are more than a little confused at what’s going on here. After all, colleges aren’t renowned for handing over large checks to their students. If the rest of the college-going world had similar experiences to me, the flow of money is largely one-way, and often swift enough to create an undertow.

And yet refunds weren’t uncommon during my college years. One of the things people had neglected to explain to me was that some of the overflow from loans, grants and scholarships was intended to cover books, the things I’d practically bankrupted myself doing with my own funds. It wouldn’t be the last time someone neglected to tell me something so important, though it would be the single time the oversight involved me receiving an unexpected check.

Strictly speaking, I could have returned that money. And that was something I started doing in following years to keep my loans low(er)(ish). But at the time, I was young, stupid and too poor to afford even strip mall quality “Italian” takeout.

So that, in a nutshell, is how I went from an unemployed college student to…well, pretty much the same. Except by the end I had money again. Well, technically, the check didn’t arrive for another three days, so by the end I was alternating using the computer lab as the one place I could actually write anything and bothering the desk staff to see if mail had arrived for me at random points of the day.

My character arc really went full circle there, huh?


Fortune Favors the Old


I mostly take it for granted now that I’m a bitter, bitter old man, but being younger wasn’t easy. For those of you who’ve never been young, in fact, I can tell you that it made almost everything harder. And…wait. What?

How is that even possible? How were some of you not young? I feel like this is a far more interesting story than the one I’m about to tell.


All that aside, it’s only in hindsight that I sort of see the benefits of going to college later on in life. Of course, it wouldn’t be all that useful since it wouldn’t help you get a good job. And if you go late enough you’re the old person in class that people whisper about finishing a degree as part of your bucket list. Not to mention that waiting fifty years to go to college probably means paying about four to five thousand percent of what you would have right out of high school…

You know what? I take it back. College isn’t easy for anyone of any age.

But I’ve never been an old person at college. (Though I was starting to get close by the time my fifth year rolled around.) So let’s focus on what I’m familiar with – how hard it was for young people to do almost anything.

Everything from setting up a back account to getting a first job to avoiding credit card scams is a learning process. Luckily, I’m sure you learned all about that in hypothetical fantasy senior year in high school. You know, the one where you actually learned how to find work or do taxes instead of learning the math where they ran out of numbers and letters so they just started using made-up symbols.

“Couldn’t you just look online?” you ask, about ten years too late to be helpful. “Wasn’t there a YouTube video on it or something? Maybe a Facebook discussion group to ask for advice?”

It would be about there that I’d cut you off in the middle of your list of things that didn’t exist in 2002 by saying that, well, those things didn’t exist in 2002. The Internet in general wasn’t nearly as helpful as it is today. (Though there were a lot fewer advertisements.) For the most part it was just random blogs and personal pages where people complained about not having a unified social media platform where their complaints could reach all their family and friends at once.

But, as I do so often it may as well be the title of this story, I digress…

I at least had the foresight to have a bank account set up in advance. Unfortunately, the bank I’d been using since I was a teenager was located about a mile and a half off campus. Since walking that far even to be handed money was out of the question, this meant finding one on the main street where – and I wish there were more context to this story – a man in a clown costume ushered me into a PNC Bank.

Say what you will about their pitch, but that account had no fees and no minimum balance. Plus it came with a free savings account. I’m still using that account to this day. And in the case of the savings account, I even have money to put in it now.

A lot of other students weren’t so lucky.

I want to give people a little more credit. I really do. But far too many conversations began by someone pointing out they’d just gotten a free shirt. This was generally followed by a sly grin and a comment along the lines of, “All I had to do was sign up for a credit card for three years!”

Yeah. Score.

The talk would generally trend downhill from there when they explained the terms of the agreement. “Well, all I have to do is make purchases with it once a month. The rate is 11.97%. APB? APR? I think they said something about APR. Is that bad?”

I didn’t fall for the college credit card scam. In fact, I’ve never had one. Why? Because they somehow prey on the assumption that your poverty is a situation temporary enough that it’ll probably end in the next 30 days so you can pay off the balance interest-free. But not so temporary that you shouldn’t just wait to make the purchase with real, actual money that belongs to you.

I only learned sometime later that, yes, “APR” is bad. APR is the financial equivalent of writing “jk” after a text. “Your interest rate is 0%! Just kidding. It’s actually 17.99%.”

Or, in the case of “variable APR,” “Jk and sometimes I’m jk-ing more than others.”

And sure, it’s easy to judge those students. (I certainly did.) But how were they to know any better? Like your older relative who just can’t grasp that they need to stop opening e-mails from senders they don’t know to avoid viruses, this was entirely new information to them.

You could argue that anyone should have the common sense to stay away from questionable people giving away free shirts in exchange for signing financial agreements. Then again, if I hadn’t taken financial advice from an actual clown – who I can only assume worked for the bank in some capacity – I’d have been walking a mile and a half every time I wanted to deposit a check.

Okay. I’m rereading it again now. And part of me thinks that maybe there is something more to that clown story.

But it’ll have to wait, since my last point segues nicely into the last hard part of being young. Well, not the last point. The last non-clown point…you know what I mean. I speak, of course, of getting your first job.

Which, now that I think about it, is a topic so large I couldn’t possibly cover it in a separate section about being young only tangentially related to it.