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Campus independent students discuss financial aid, social support at town hall meeting

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FEBRUARY 22, 2015

Fifteen independent UC Berkeley students — meaning those who don’t need to disclose their parents’ financial information to apply for financial aid — held their first town hall meeting Thursday to discuss their struggles pertaining to financial aid, and social and mental health support.

The main items discussed at the meeting included financial aid, soliciting student loans and the dorm experiences of transfer and freshmen independent students — such as having to leave the dorms during winter break — among other topics. At the meeting, attendees had an opportunity to talk amongst themselves and share their experiences as independent students.

“Recognizing that independent students have a unique struggle — that it may not be your typical 18-year-old just out of high school leaving home — is important,” said Briana Mullen, a UC Berkeley senior and independent student who helped organize the town hall.

There are less than 2,000 independent students on campus, according to Anthony Abril, campus junior and head organizer of the town hall. Of those students, Mullen said, hundreds do not receive help from the Cal Independent Scholars Network Program or the Transfer Re-entry and Student Parent Center, two sources of support for independent students.

A student is classified as independent on his or her federal financial aid application if he meets one of several criteria. For instance, if a student is older than 24 by the end of the year he applies for aid, married, working toward a degree higher than a bachelor’s degree, or a veteran, he may qualify as independent.

Circumstances earlier in a student’s life may also play a role: Applicants whose parents died after they turned 13, who are unaccompanied youth at risk of being homeless, and foster children may also be designated independent.

“Many independent students deal with significant bureaucratic blocks when seeking financial aid help,” Mullen said.

Mullen and Abril said that unlike some of their peers, independent students have unique challenges. Additionally, finding a financial aid counselor who knows how to understand the kinds of issues independent students are dealing with and how to resolve them is difficult, Abril said.

“What we are trying to do from the town halls is make students visible,” Mullen said.

The organizers of the event will have a second town hall Monday. Abril said that at the next meeting, the discussion will focus on how the group can institutionalize the activities at the town hall and brainstorm ways to sustain the independent student community.

“We hope for (the) sustainability of this network,” Abril said. “It’s lonely to be an independent student, and it’s important to be connected with one another.”

Contact Lenin Silva at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @LeninSilvaNunez.
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FEBRUARY 23, 2015


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