February 07, 2006

Everything hits at once.

Sometimes I need to panic about things in order to calm down about them. I commented a couple of weeks ago about how surprisingly easy it was for me to suddenly be in school again. Not that I'm not doing required reading during every waking hour of every day (my current state of not-reading being a product of extenuating circumstances and not to be construed as indicating any non-busyness on my part), but that now, after all the panic of paperwork and deadlines and requirements and begging for special exceptions, there is no giant R for Readmit stamped on my forehead, no gods of tenuous studentia demanding to be appeased, no lingering mark of how barely I scraped my way back in. I'm just another student whose ID number is inexplicably lower than everyone else's.

I should, by now, know that there are indeed gods of tenuous studentia. At Berkeley there are always gods of tenuous studentia. I can't be the only one who doesn't know the proper rituals to keep them benevolent, but shall we say that I am highly skilled at drawing out their latent capability for malign action?

This morning in my email I got two messages from the Financial Aid Office. One was to say that this is my last semester of eligibility for aid, as the academic year 2005-2006 will see my ninth and tenth semesters of student status. The other was to say that I am not making satisfactory academic progress (possibly based on the assumption that I've been enrolled for all of 2005-2006) and if I don't remedy this I won't be eligible for financial aid for any subsequent semesters. Limited aid may possibly be available if I submit an appeal citing extraordinary circumstances; the example given is of being diagnosed with, I believe, leukemia.

I haven't been able to go and gibber at the Financial Aid Office yet, since it closed six minutes before I ran into Sproul Hall with the emails in hand. It might be okay. There's no method of counting that makes this anything other than my ninth semester of school, so if I can get someone to look at that fact and then discuss the academic progress issue with me, perhaps reason will prevail. After all, "graduation plan for next semester approved by major adviser" is pretty good academic progress, I feel.

So saying to myself, I went on to attempt my second errand for the afternoon, which was to interrogate said major adviser about summer field schools. The unspecific word I have from the professor whose field school I want to attend is, "there is a lab fee for this course". I walked into the department office intending some polite badgering along the lines of, "well, should I be saving up $50 or $500?"

There are two kinds of costs associated with field schools, as it turns out. For one there's the per-unit summer school fee, which is $205. Times six units, that's $1230. Then there are other costs for lodging, food, transportation, and so on. Maybe $500 here... $300 there... $350 here... between that and the summer school fee, you should probably budget about $3000 total.

I feel that this post, like a Victorian fairy tale, needs an unsubtle moral and summation to cap it off. So you see, children, if you (do or fail to do whatever it was that I did with regard to the ineffable forces this week) your summer fieldwork dreams will become a fiscal impossibility and you'll be declared ineligible for financial aid for your last semester, putting your graduation on the rocks for the second time, third if you count that business with your parents, just when you finally thought you might actually be allowed to finish college.

If you need me, I'll be out somewhere trying to read instead of cry.

Posted by dianna at February 7, 2006 04:05 PM

Theoretically, assuming you were to resolve the financial aid problem, can you get money from them for the summer? That seems like the sort of thing financial aid should pay for, in the best of all possible worlds.

Also, while the summer school fees are set in stone, my experience has been that schools tend to over-estimate cost of living to be on the safe side. You could probably get by on somewhat less, though likely not by much.

Hum, what else... Would it be possible to get some sort of short-term bank loan?

OR! Or... and I hate to suggest something as fiscally irresponsible as this, but do you still have your retirement money from your earlier days as a library employee? The whack they took out of your paycheck every month? I believe you can withdraw that for an emergency, and, unless I'm mistaken, post-secondary educational expenses for yourself and your family are included among reasons for withdrawal that exempt you from some of the financial penalties the government imposes for withdrawal before retirement. Fidelity handles UC Employee retirement acounts now; you can go to www.fidelity.com, click "customer log-in" then "New Registration." Enter your Social Security Number and follow the instructions; if you left the money with Berkeley, it should be in Fidelity's network. From there, they have all the information you need to make a withdrawal, if you choose to do so.

Posted by: Zach S. at February 7, 2006 05:19 PM

As long as we're making fiscally unwise but nevertheless feasible suggestions, if it makes the difference between you being able and not being able to do your summer work, there's also always unsubsidized loans. It's a dangerous game to fuck with those too much, but I've already had to dip in there when I budgeted badly last year, and I may again this year if I'm going to attempt to do my conference trip (since my departmental grant doesn't cover lodging or any of the extra travel I'm trying to do).

At any rate, you may very well have subsidized loans left over from this year, depending on (a) if you can talk to someone and get them to straighten out this enrollment-number-of-semesters-crapola business, and (b) how much you've already taken this academic year. Even if you're maxed out there, that generally means that you're maxed in terms of subsidized loans, and there's an amount that you can take out on top of that (per year) in unsubsidized loans, AS LONG AS YOU ARE ENROLLED IN SOME MINIMUM NUMBER OF UNITS IN SCHOOL THE SEMESTER THAT YOU TAKE THEM (usually a reduced load for summer). For me last year, that amount was about $4,500. If you will be enrolled in some magic number of units for summer AND you have loans left, you should be able to tap into them then; if not, you'd want to get on it Spring semester (and just claim that you're taking them for that semester; they don't care as long as you do it during that semester, and usually the deadline is toward the end of the semester anyway, so you'd have a little while to get on it).

That's just another last-ditch option, but I'd be surprised if it weren't there. And yeah, it's dumb to take unsubsidized loans, but it's less dumb (I tell myself) than not getting to do the shit that you're in school for in the first place.

Posted by: katie at February 7, 2006 05:35 PM

The one thing that I didn't mention earlier (because I was wallowing, damnit, as is my god-given right as a self-pitying neurotic) is that I have about $4000 of unused loans for this semester. That is, I was offered enough in grants that I didn't need to accept those loans. If I need to take those now and hang on to the money to use for either summer or fall, I think I can do so. That's not my best choice for fall because it would double my student debt and still not quite allow me to pay for rent and groceries without dumping costs on Jacob (which is bad for domestic harmony). But if I can get fall worked out normally, misusing loans for field school costs might not be the worst thing.

Obviously, the best case is that I can get financial aid for fall and summer separately and can deal with them both in a straightforward fashion. The worst case is that I can't get any more financial aid from Berkeley ever, and have to forego summer field school and scrape by on misused loans for fall. Put like that, it doesn't look quite so bleak. I can probably stop trying to sell my soul on Craigslist for tuition money now, although if anyone would like to make an offer I'll still listen.

Posted by: Dianna at February 7, 2006 05:47 PM

Ha! Stop that! You snuck in and stole my thunder! And now everyone can see that it takes me more than 12 minutes to write a comment, since I didn't see yours show up.

Posted by: Dianna at February 7, 2006 05:48 PM

Oh, and Zach, for at least one particular field school in which I'm interested, lodging is in university dorms and is probably therefore a pretty fixed fee. If food is also dorm-provided, then I should make an extra allowance to procure food which I can actually eat.

Posted by: Dianna at February 7, 2006 05:55 PM

i'm selling my soul on craigslist. i totally applied for a job writing papers for people who will pay. i felt so dirty after i sent away my sample essay.

i took all my retirement money out of UC Berkeley a couple of years ago. so i can recommend that as a way of fucking over your retirement. two thumbs up.

Posted by: michele at February 7, 2006 10:14 PM

I felt such a strange cognitive dissonance reading your dire warnings about unsubsidized loans, Katie. This is not to say that unsubsidized loans are wise or responsible; far from it. It's just that, in my situation, I'm financing law school and life entirely with student loans, with no grants, no help from parents, no money saved up. So I've not only blown past the limit for subsidized loans, I've also maxed out unsubsidized loans and taken out an additional $40k (per year!) in private loans at ostensibly generous rates (but unsubsidized and not so generous as actual government student loans).

So my point is: You probably shouldn't take advice on fiscal responsibility from someone who's set to be in hock $150k+ to the Access Group.

Posted by: Zach S. at February 8, 2006 06:54 AM

Zach, although this was almost surely not your intent, you've just made me feel better about being set to be $100K in debt to the US government. Of course, a major difference is that you are in law school, which apparently leads to some kind of career, while I am stupidly getting a PhD in literature, which leads to people pointing and laughing.

But the other difference is that once you have learned the law and sworn to uphold it, you will be morally prevented from using my Plan B, which is to fake my own death, default on my loans, and get a job teaching Nabokov For Nurses* at one of those unaccredited med schools in the Bahamas.

See, Dianna? You have so many options.

Posted by: katie at February 8, 2006 02:11 PM

*or Proust for Phlebotomists.
or Dante for Dental Hygienists.
or Orwell for Otolaryngologists.

Posted by: katie at February 8, 2006 02:18 PM