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Students are unsure when financial aid information will become available, even though classes started on Wednesday.

September 3, 2020

Semester Price Tag Still a Mystery to Some as Financial Aid Delays Continue

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Students crisscrossed the Arts Quad and logged into Zoom meetings as the fall semester kicked off on Wednesday — but for some students, the question of how they will pay for the upcoming semester still remains unresolved.

As classes begin, many students have said that they still don’t have financial aid, raising concerns about whether they will have the help they need to pay tuition and avoid being put on financial hold. The deadline for the first tuition payment is Sept. 7, less than five days away.

“I have not yet received my 2020-21 financial aid offer. When can I expect it?” is on the  Financial Matters FAQ list for Cornell, indicating that financial aid delays may be a widespread concern.

The administration has not yet explained the slowdown, which has compromised some students’ ability to pay tuition for the upcoming semester, although it offered some advice for students still waiting on financial aid.

“The financial aid office and partners across campus are dedicated to serving students during this period of economic uncertainty,” a University spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Sun.

According to the Bursar’s office, Cornell has implemented more lenient policies for waiving financial charges since March, and students should keep requesting waivers if they are experiencing circumstances beyond their control that would inhibit them from making payments.

“Students will not be responsible for paying late fees or have holds for unpaid balances while they are appealing their financial aid award,” according to the Bursar’s office.

Notably, these financial aid delays are not normal — in previous years, many students reported receiving their financial aid offers for the fall semester during the previous spring semester.

And those delays can prove to be costly. Students unable to pay for tuition may have to deal with a hold on class registration, according to a financial responsibility agreement signed before enrollment, as well as difficulties dealing with the costs of living in Ithaca.

Tomás Reuning ’21, one of the students who has not yet received his financial aid, says the delay could jeopardize his ability to pay rent. Reuning said he has not been given a reason for the delay.

Some students initially received insufficient financial aid packages, like Olubunmi Osias ’21, who was not told what had caused the error. Her aid was subsequently corrected to reflect her role as a West Campus residential advisor by not requiring work study or student contribution.

Nick Cicero ’21 just got his financial aid package resolved on Sept. 2. Although he is relieved to have received his aid before the billing deadline, the process was piecemeal, time-consuming and frustrating.

He first received the information that he had documents missing from his application in mid-August. According to Cicero, he called the office every day for a week to get questions answered and struggled to get clear information in a reasonable timeframe.

“There were some days where they would answer right away, and somewhere I would be on hold for over an hour,” Cicero said. “They wouldn’t give me an exact date as to when I would have a decision. I just said, ‘how am I supposed to pay my tuition by Sept. 7 if I don’t have my financial aid by then?’”

Cicero finally got his financial aid on the first day of classes, just five days before his bill is due. According to Cicero, he would often provide the office with additional documentation only to be told the office required even more paperwork from him.

“It was frustrating that they couldn’t just tell me all at once what was missing. If they had told me at first everything I was missing, I wouldn’t have just gotten my decision today,” Cicero said.

Update, Sept. 7, 4:18 p.m.: This article was updated to include a statement from Cornell.