My father died from pancreatic cancer last month after an eight-month illness. I took an extended leave of absence from school to be at home with my family while he was sick and lost my financial aid package because I took too much time off. So I’m saving up for a round-the-world trip later this fall. I realize how unexpected life can be and want to travel and clear my head. My mother wants to take out a second mortgage so that I can finish my last year, but my dad was the primary breadwinner. I don’t know what my rights are regarding financial aid and don’t have the energy to investigate something that I might not even want. Do you think I’m making a huge mistake leaving school?
I think the only huge mistakes are making decisions without having all the available information and taking out second mortgages for things you aren’t sure you want to do.
I feel you on the exhaustion front, I really do. But you either need to muster the energy for two phone calls, or find someone you trust to make them for you. One is to your school’s financial aid office to explain your situation, discuss possibly appealing your loss of aid and find out what the process is for regaining eligibility, or even a larger aid package based on your changed financial situation. The second is to your school’s Dean of Students (or your college advisor, if you have one), to see how long your leave can be extended or if there is any re-enrollment process you would need to go through if you took more time off.
Unfortunately, you aren’t the first college kid to go through this (the death of a family member is listed on FAFSA’s website as a reason for appealing a loss of financial aid), but the upside is you might (operative word) find a helpful and empathetic person on the other end of the phone line. Once you have this information, I think your decision about school will be clearer, not that I envy you needing to make one at such a traumatic time.
Full disclosure: My babies are just that – babies – and already the idea of them not finishing college makes me nearly break out in hives. Of course your mom wants you to finish: not only are you close to the end, but it’s a “safer” and more familiar environment than the Big Bad Wider World when you’re in a fragile state. Hitting the road while grieving may be cathartic for you, but it’ll be worrisome to those who love you. That said, college really is a thing that you get out of what you put into it. (I say this as someone who did not put nearly enough in and would have been much better off with a year’s respite to get my act together.)
My two cents: Map out each scenario. Where you’d live and what classes you’d take, versus what countries, cities, sites you want to visit, and in what order. And what your school plan is for after that. It doesn’t have to be set in stone. If nothing else, this exercise will help your mother see that, should you choose it, your around-the-world idea isn’t just escapism.
Meg Tansey hails from New England, where talking about your feelings is frowned upon. She has lots of life experience but is not an actual therapist. Meg has a MFA from The New School and currently lives and writes in New York City. Send Meg your questions at email@example.com (subject: Ask ML).
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