This article is for prospective students, as well as their families and friends. It’s also for current students who may be struggling, or my friends who want to understand a major part of my life. I have struggled with whether or not to write this article for years. I’m a very positive person, and this story contains many negative elements. I also don’t want to alienate my many friends and family members that have attended Miami. However, I believe it is necessary to tell this story, in order to prevent these same circumstances happening to other people.
Among the many things I had to overcome, unfortunately Miami itself was a major obstacle. The biggest challenge they presented occurred the semester I dropped out. I stopped going to classes the second day of class, but didn’t officially withdraw from the university until the second week of classes. This is because I was dropping my classes individually, and doing so during my scheduled class hours because I knew the professors would be around then. It wasn’t until I went to drop my last class when that professor told me I was withdrawing incorrectly. When I officially withdrew from the university, they charged me for half of the semester, instead of the 10% that I would have been responsible for had I officially withdrawn the same day I stopped going to classes. When I explained my situation to the bursar’s office, they told me I needed to prove my absence by providing attendance records, knowing that professors at Miami rarely take attendance. It took me 2 and a half years to pay off that debt and get back into school.
That was the unfortunate moment that Miami showed it cared more about money than it did about its students, or at the very least, more than it cared about me. I have tried several times to resolve the situation, but Miami has repeatedly shown that it cares more about money than it does about doing the right thing, at least when it comes to me personally. There are many more details which are very pertinent to my experience, which make Miami’s adversarial stance much more pronounced. It is a bit of a long tale, but I believe it will be worth it if you are choosing a college, or know someone who is.
My college experience actually begins about a year before I started attending Miami University. I was 15 years old, attending Talawanda High School, when my mom passed away from cancer. Before she passed away, Miami University had actually offered her a job, which would have meant free tuition there for myself and my siblings (Vanderbilt also offered her a job, which would have meant free tuition anywhere in the country). My junior year at Talawanda, I was on the high school basketball team, took the hardest class schedule possible, was dealing with the death of my mom, and I was working 8 hours a week at McDonald’s as a 15 year old. The $4.25 an hour, or approximately $35 per week, was the only income in the household, aside from my grandmother’s social security retirement income, which barely covered her bills. I could only afford one application fee at the time, so I applied to Miami. I thought my 3.8 GPA, 31 ACT, 1400 SAT (800 Math, 600 verbal), as well as my extra-curricular activities, and my impoverished conditions, would result in a substantial scholarship to Miami, possibly even a full one. However, the only scholarship I received was a $500 annual scholarship from Kiwanis Club for being an outstanding Talawanda Graduate. Thank you Kiwanis Club. I genuinely appreciate it to this day. A week after my 16th birthday, I started receiving social security checks for being a minor and surviving the death of a parent, and was able to quit McDonald’s. The $300 monthly check was enough to feed me, and while I was living with my grandmother, that’s all I truly needed. However, application deadlines had already passed, so the increase in income came too late for me to apply to additional colleges.
Also, the $300 a month I received from social security counted as family contribution towards college, so I was ineligible for a Pell Grant. I don’t know if that particular clause has changed or not. I sincerely hope it has.
My senior year at Talawanda, I took all of my classes at Miami through the post-secondary enrollment options program. I did well in my classes because I wasn’t completely stressed out about money all the time. My freshman year at Miami was actually smooth, and I hoped that would continue. When I started matriculating at Miami, they misread a digit in my social security number. Because of this, I received a letter stating that Miami couldn’t prove I was a U.S. citizen, even though I had completed a full year of classes there. It took 3 visits to the registrar’s office, with my father because I was under 18, to clear this up. If this had happened today, it would probably be much easier to clear up because of the internet. At the time, I probably should have taken it as a sign.
The following fall is when I withdrew from the university. After the experience with the bursar’s office overcharging me for the semester, I wanted to transfer. However, Miami withheld my transcripts because of the money I owed them, so this was not a viable option. Instead, I began delivering pizzas, with a 1985 Mercury Grand Marquis that my father gave me. The car had cost $1500 at the time, and I was very thankful to have it. I started saving money while living with my grandmother, but she had a stroke when I was 19, and Medicaid took her house in order to pay for her medical bills. I was forced to live on my own, making it very hard to save money. I was also still 1 credit hour shy of being a junior, as I had 63 credit hours at the time I dropped out. That made me eligible for $3500 in financial aid based on my FAFSA that year. If I had had 64 credit hours, I would have officially been a junior, and my eligibility would have increased to $5500 for the year. Tuition at the time was $5400. So, I took one class at Cincinnati State Technical College because the tuition was very inexpensive. I transferred that 1.5 credit hour class to Miami, and received enough financial aid to cover my tuition. I finally went back to school 2 and a half years after dropping out, as I had paid off what I owed to Miami, and was getting enough aid to pay for part-time tuition. I still had to work full time to pay my bills, so I only took 8 credit hours that spring. That fall, I also worked full time while taking classes part time. I even worked 58 hours the week before finals.
The following spring, I was lucky enough to get a little extra financial aid, and didn’t have to work. This is because if you only took out financial aid during second semester, you were still eligible for the full year’s aid. If this is still true today, and you find yourself in a similar situation, try taking 1 or 2 classes in the fall, and then going full time in the spring. The extra financial aid may be enough to get you back into school. For me, the extra financial aid meant I was able to not work for most of the semester, giving me one semester of having a normal college experience. It was blissful, and makes me understand why people love college so much. Many people consider it to be the best time of their lives, and based on my one semester of having that experience, I understand why.
My senior year was not so easy. I had to go back to working full-time, and after everything I had been through, I was really ready to graduate. I had already seen 3 graduation days come and go, the first being my original graduation date. Instead of celebrating graduation myself, I was delivering pizzas to people who were graduating, and celebrating with their mothers. Graduation back then fell on Mother’s Day, making it extra painful for me.
I worked 35-40 hours per week both semesters of my senior year. The first semester I took 20 credit hours. Second semester, I took 19. The summer following my graduation, I still had one class I needed to take. It is quite awkward taking a class after graduation.
I finished, though. I accomplished something that should have been challenging because of the academics, but instead was challenging for a combination of unfortunate circumstances, including Miami valuing money over its students.
Last summer, before I moved from Oxford to Cincinnati, I reached out to the Miami University Alumni Association about my bad feelings towards Miami. I really did, and still do, want to like my alma mater. I explained my journey to the director of the alumni association. He had me come in and talk to him in person. Unfortunately, he did nothing to actually reconcile the situation that Miami caused. He offered a halfhearted apology. He did say that if something like this were to happen now, there are student advocates that could help resolve the situation. If you run into a similar situation, I hope they actually do help you. He also told me that if I wanted to like my alma mater, I should get involved with the Cincinnati chapter. This was insulting, and consistent with the attitude that Miami has repeatedly shown me, as a student, and as an alumnus.
I tried one last time to reconcile with Miami by writing to the Office of the President this week. They told me that they empathized with my situation, but could not offer any financial recourse. A refund of the semester they overcharged me, or a retroactive scholarship to cover the $45,000 in student loan debt I still have, were both long shots to begin with. They are certainly both within Miami’s power, and would be the right thing to do, but I held little hope Miami would suddenly want to treat me well.
Unfortunately, I do not like my alma mater. That is something I cannot change at this point, short of devaluing myself by allowing the university to treat me poorly and liking them anyway. I will spend the rest of my life being proud that I overcame my obstacles, including the ones presented by Miami University, instead of being proud of my alma mater.
I do not know which universities in the country are better suited to deal with students in similar situations. I imagine these kinds of things occur at campuses all over the country. I simply tell my story so that you can avoid the same mistakes. If you are dropping out of college, don’t withdraw from each individual class. Proceed immediately to the bursar’s office. Make sure you get there before 5 p.m. so it doesn’t count as the next class day, or you may be charged for a much higher percentage of the semester. You can view Miami’s fee schedule for withdrawing here. It has changed slightly since I attended school there. You can now drop out before 5 pm on the 8th day of the term and only be responsible for 10%. If you wait until after 5 pm, though, you will be responsible for 50% of that semester’s tuition.
If you still have time to apply for college, and cannot afford application fees, you can get those fees waived for up to 4 colleges. Had I applied to 4 colleges at the same tier as Miami, I’m certain one of them would have offered me a full scholarship. Find out more about application fee waivers. I only took the ACT once. I thought my 31 would yield a scholarship. Had I scored a 32, I would have received a scholarship. If you think your score is high enough, take it again anyway. My SAT scores weren’t even considered for potential scholarships. This may vary based on each university, so I’d take it anyway, and score as high on it as you can.
There are still aspects of my situation I don’t know how to resolve. I couldn’t get personal loans for college, as I had no credit, and I wouldn’t have anyway. Private loans tend to be awful. At least government loans tend to be very flexible and carry low interest rates. There is nothing I could do to convince the federal government that receiving social security survivor benefits should not count as family contribution towards college. I have been unable to convince Miami to do the right thing and refund my overcharged tuition. However, I hope that this article has helped you in your decision making process. I hope it helps you apply to multiple colleges and attend the one you really want to go to. I hope you are able to receive a scholarship. I wish you luck, and I very much hope you enjoy college.
If you happen to be a Miami alum, I hope your experience was far better than mine. Oxford is a perfect college town, and will always be my home. I grew up there, and lived there for over 30 years of my life, and am very happy that I did. I may yet move back there. I’d love to have a family of my own and raise my children there. Depending on your own situation, Miami may even be the perfect school for you. If you go there, I want you to enjoy it. Good luck to you.