New York State VTA and Financial Aid Hell

CCNY Queue Ticket, F085 8/23/16 9:50 AM

Going Back to School

A few months ago I started thinking about how I could best go about finishing my Master’s Degree. I had this idea that I could keep working and just take classes in the evening. I had a 9 AM to 6 PM job and if I was patient, I could take one Master’s Class at a time. I would need to pick one that began at 7 PM, to hopefully give myself enough time to make it. Hopefully, I would be able to deal with work, the fatigue from work, class, classwork and the field papers (in lieu of a thesis) all at the same time. I was planning on doing that, because I’d become accustomed to having plenty of spending money available.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized it wasn’t going to happen for me. I did take a class after work in the Fall of last year and I got a 4.0, but it was exhausting and I was frequently late, which really bothered me. I had to apologize profusely to the professor and explain what was going on. I didn’t want to go through that again. I didn’t want to rely on having a professor that was flexible with attendance and that would only grade me based on the work I turned in. I wanted to do it right. Also, I was at a point where things were getting out of hand at work. There was a change in management and the work requirements were spiraling into a micro-managed Hell, so I decided to move on. Today is going to be my first day of classes this semester. Pacific War, 4:50 PM. I’m looking forward to it.

The last few days have been mostly about winding down and getting ready for the semester. My last day at work was Monday. I tried to put in full effort, but by then I was more interested in forwarding emails and documents that I thought were worth keeping to a private email address. You never know when you might need copies of performance indexes and reviews after all. I did a little grocery shopping yesterday, but mostly tried to relax and decompress. Leaving that job… I felt like I’d been wearing a dirty blanket for a year and I’d finally shrugged it off my shoulders. It felt like I was actually feeling the sun for the first time in a long time, and that I was feeling life again. There was a lot of stress involved in what I was doing, but that’s a story for another time I suppose.

Why hasn’t my VTA been applied to my CUNYFirst balance?

This past Tuesday, I had to deal with a Financial Aid issue. I had applied for the New York State Veteran’s Tuition Assistance through the HESC website. I did it while doing the TAP application. Apparently, we made too much last year for me to qualify for FAFSA or TAP, but VTA is something I’m entitled to as a Veteran of the US Military. I kept checking my school’s student portal, CUNYFirst, but the award wasn’t applied towards the total balance due. I thought that somehow, they might have overlooked it and didn’t apply it, so I went up to City College to get in line to talk to someone in the Financial Aid office.

I got to the administrative building at 9:45 AM and pulled a ticket for F085 at 9:50 AM. A few minutes after I sat down, F020 was called. I didn’t think I would be there that long. I figured, an hour or so tops. Two hours and twenty minutes later, I was still sitting, and the number being called was just F037. I have no clue how they were managing the queues. There was a machine that printed out a ticket with a different letter number based on what your issue is. Some queues were being called very quickly, but an “F” queue number was only called about once every 20 minutes. It was absurd. I decided to go have lunch at the Chinese place on Amsterdam Ave.

Just by chance, I decided to eat my lunch in the Veterans’ office in Wingate Hall. While I was eating, the receptionist asked me if I needed any help. I briefly explained what was going on and she recommended I talk to Chris, the Veterans Adviser. Talking to him hadn’t crossed my mind, because I was out of Post 9/11 GI Bill funds. I had burned through them finishing a BA with a double major and most of my MA. I figured it couldn’t hurt, though. Even if he told me I just had to go wait, maybe he could pull some strings and get things done more quickly for me.

Chris let me know that VTA isn’t like TAP and it won’t show up as an award in CUNYFirst. It is something that he should be made aware of so he can send an email to a person who handles those awards. He said that awards for VTA are usually applied about halfway through the semester and whatever the difference was, I would be responsible for. I asked him if he had any suggestions for how to handle the balance due against my account right now. He said not to worry about it. He said that because I’m a Veteran, my classes won’t be dropped during this process. He did remind me that I would be responsible for any difference between the award amount and the tuition due, and it would impact my ability to enroll in classes in future semesters, but that makes sense anyway. It was a weight off my shoulders and I can walk into this semester focused on just getting my degree done.

Perhaps most importantly, Chris let me know that I didn’t have to go back to sitting in that ridiculously long Financial Aid queue. I could save the rest of my day and head home. I still can’t get over the queue only going up by 17 people in two and a half hours. Another reason to be thankful to the Veteran’s Administration, I suppose. I don’t have to deal with that. /salute

The Takeaway

If you showed up here trying to figure out what’s going on with your New York State Veteran’s Tuition Assistance, don’t go to your Financial Aid office. VTA is applied halfway through the semester but is more than likely going to require some input from your Veterans Adviser. Go directly to him or her. Otherwise, you might spend 7 hours in a Financial Aid queue just to be told to go talk to your Veterans Adviser. Check with your adviser regarding your school’s policies about carrying a tuition due balance and dropped classes in regards to Veterans and Veteran tuition awards.

Wine, Cheesecake and Winter Break


Today, my wife and I had a relaxing dinner at home followed by cheesecake and wine. The cheesecake is from Veniero’s Italian Pasticceria downtown on 11th Street and 1st Ave. The place is pretty famous and attracts a lot of tourists. It’s been there since 1874 and it lives up to its reputation. We used to eat at there all the time when we lived downtown. Maybe it’s a good thing we’re not close by anymore, though. It’s hard to meet fitness goals with this big a temptation right around the corner. I could eat their desserts every day!

A week ago, I was rushing to finish a paper at the last minute for a class I had this past Fall semester. I was rushing, doing classwork up until the last minute. No matter how often I tell myself I’m not going to get bogged down by class-work during the last week or two of the semester, it never works.

Oddly enough, now that I should have time to relax, I’m even busier than I was during the semester. I’ve been out all day, every day, trying to take care of errands and chores that I’ve been putting off for four months so I could focus on school. It’s a lot to get done, but it’s getting there. I have new glasses and I’ve done some much needed shopping. I still need to get some winter boots.


One of the things I’m most excited about is that I have time to go back to the gym now. I’m hoping that’s a trend that will last into next year and next semester. I’m taking it easy for now, and trying to build up my distance walking first. I kinda miss when I was running 6 miles in an hour.

Anyway, I’m hoping my rushing around now pays off and I get to spend at least two weeks just sitting around doing nothing (except going to the gym) before I start preparing for next semester.

I’ll still be an officer in the CCNY History Society, but I’ll be taking it easy, relatively. Last semester I took Arabic 3, Hebrew 1, Jesus the Jew, a graduate Historiography & Historical Methods, and an Independent Study. In the Spring, I’ll only be taking four courses: Hebrew 2, Sacred Objects, Art of Jerusalem, and a graduate history course on the Arab-Israeli Conflict. They all sort of tie into each other, and I’ll be spending a week in Jerusalem as part of my course of study, so it should be a very cool and very fun four months.

Keeping Busy This Semester

A page from Al-Kitaab, Part One, Lesson 6
A page from Al-Kitaab, Part One, Lesson 6

Fall Semester started and, as expected, the amount of free time I have available has dropped to next to nothing. Of course, that’s partly expected, and partly because I’m taking five classes again to get the most bang for my GI Bill buck.

This semester I’m taking:

  1. Arabic 3
  2. Hebrew 1
  3. Jesus the Jew: a course that looks at the historical situation surrounding the time of Jesus in first century Palestine.
  4. Historiography and Historical Methods: a graduate history course on how to examine and understand historical writing.
  5. Jewish Studies: Independent Study

So far, the classes are pretty good. Arabic 3 is difficult, but not impossible. Hebrew 1 is easy, because basic Hebrew is similar to basic Arabic. Jesus and first century Palestine are fascinating to me, so that’s probably my favorite class this semester. The independent study is just that, so the freedom to choose what to research and write about is outstanding.

The only class that’s not rocking my world this Fall is the graduate history course, and it’s not because the course is bad in any way. I just don’t know anything about American history beyond the rubbish I learned in highschool, so I feel like a fish out of water in the discussions. All of my studies have focused on Middle Eastern and South Asian history, with few exceptions. Nothing wrong with broadening one’s horizons though, and the professor is definitely excellent.

Going Back To School After Almost 12 Years

Townsend Harris Hall, City College of New York campus.

My educational record is a little crazy, I suppose.  I took classes part time from both Park University and UMUC while I was in the Army.  Between those classes, the CLEP tests I took, and the college credit value of my military training, I have about 50 or 51 credit hours.  I also have a 3.7 GPA.

I recently heard about the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which is a VA benefit that will allow me to go to school full time, have the tuition and books paid for, and even receive a living allowance (BAH (ignore the warning, the site is legit) at the rate of E-5 with dependents).  I realized that’s a pretty good deal, getting paid to go to school, and I wanted to jump on it as soon as possible.  It’s time to finish my degree!

So, what to do?  Well, I applied for CUNY to start with.  I figure I’ll start out with them and then perhaps at some point in the future I’ll move to another school.  I don’t know.  I suppose it depends on how I like the place.  CUNY is the City University of New York, and is a university that encompasses a large number of colleges scattered around the greater New York City area.

CUNY is also a public college.  It’s not a private school.  I didn’t think I’d have any bumps in the road getting admitted.  So far, though, it’s been nothing but a pain in the ass.  First off, I applied for admission past the deadline.  I wasn’t even back in the US when the deadline passed, actually.  So, my initial application for Hunter College was rejected.  Hunter was already filled and closed to new registrations.  So, I chose CCNY, City College of New York, from the list of schools in the CUNY system that still had openings.  I went to the school and did a direct admission.

This is where things got complicated.  I understood that the other school was full, but when I yet again received a rejection letter from CCNY, stating this time that it was based on my “academic record”, I was more than a little agitated.  Besides the fact that I was running out of time for enrolling, my academic record was more than good enough.  I thought about it, but I just couldn’t figure out what the problem could be.  The only thing I could guess at was that it had something to do with my CLEP tests.  That couldn’t be right though, because CCNY accepted up to 90 credit hours for transfer students.

I decided to go up to the school to figure out what the problem was.  When I got there, I described the issue to the girl at the counter and she went and brought out the person that had sent me the rejection email to better explain what the problem was.  Turns out, it has nothing to do with my academics, per se, so much as the lack of evidence for my math ability.

Eleven years ago, I knew for sure that I was going to join the military and I knew for sure that I was just going to go ahead and do twenty years and retire from it.  I knew I should take the SAT and ACT, so I did, but I didn’t put any effort into them, so the results were crap.  I didn’t really care back then.  Now, something I did eleven years ago has come back around to bite me in the ass.

Since I haven’t taken any college level math courses, my SAT and ACT scores were crap, and I went to high school out of state, meaning they can’t check the regional math score, I was up shit creek in regards to admission as a matriculated CCNY student, 3.7 GPA or not.

The next thing was to discuss options.  There are almost always options and ways to work around things like this, and this situation was no exception.  The VA counselor knew just what to do, and less than 40 minutes later he had me out the door, still on track to start school at the end of January.

You see, I can start taking classes at CCNY as a non-matriculated student, take an online math course from another university, and then have the transcript sent to CCNY.  I could continue to take classes during the summer as a non-matriculated student, but officially enroll and declare a major in the Fall.

This was really the best solution, because it keeps me from wasting time doing a dead end job between now and Fall, it gets me started on my education, and it’ll still allow me to collect on my VA benefit payout.

Hopefully this is the last bump in the road.  I’ll be receiving an email in about two weeks, hopefully, letting me know what to do next in regards to starting classes at the end of the month.  I wish it were sooner, so I could register for classes, get text books and get a head start on studying.