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.


“When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death.”

Clarence Darrow (The Essential Words and Writings of Clarence Darrow)

Just something I found meaningful recently, while thinking about my first few months at a new job. We were getting ready to do a team shuffle, something the company does regularly. I’m not sure if shuffling teams really builds camaraderie, except in the sense that we extend our personal networks over the entire floor, rather than becoming insular as groups. Maybe that’s the point? Either way, it’s an opportunity to meet new people and hey, I have a window seat now. Granted, I’m looking back into the concrete canyons of the financial district, but at least there’s fresh air and no one on my left. It’s quiet, too. Hopefully my new team is just as great as the last.

Opportunistic Freelance Filipino Parking Attendants

That’s the best way I could think of to describe this particular practice in the Philippines.

Parking Attendant in front of Antipolo McDonald's

The guy in red is trying to direct cars on how and where to park at the McDonald’s I was in when I took the photo.

Depending on where you go, there might be a parking lot available for your car.  Most places you just have to park along the street, but the franchise establishments usually have at least a few parking spots, like Max’s Chicken and McDonald’s, where the above photo was taken.

These restaurants don’t hire people to stand out in the parking lot and direct people about where to park.  This opportunity, however, has been coopted by people looking to make a buck doing whatever they can.  So, it’s not uncommon to see randomly dressed people standing in or near the road trying to direct people as to where they can park.  Then, they try to use hand gestures to tell you how to park and later, when you’re leaving, when it’s safe to back out into the road.

For this service, they expect a tip.  Is their service necessary?  Probably not except in the most bizarre of parking arrangements.  What they’ve done, however, is position themselves so that you feel like a complete jackass if you ignore them and drive off.

So, as an addition to the other costs of owning an automobile in the Philippines, you can expect to feel obligated to dish out a few pesos here and there to people who have become self-appointed parking attendants.