The gruelling process of applying for OSAP

The reason social workers consider poverty and homelessness to be a ‘cycle’ is because when you live in poverty, your entire life becomes about survival. Your next meal and where you will be sleeping become the first things you think about, taking priority over the longer term goals that could eventually get you out of the situation.

Applying to a job is difficult if you still haven’t found a way to feed yourself that day. Even if you get the interview, you then have to find a place to bathe yourself and have clothes that look presentable, which you probably don’t have.

Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is incredibly difficult when you don’t have stability in your basic human needs.

The government of Ontario has a program for students to keep them out of this situation—OSAP.

It’s a great program in concept, but it leaves much to be desired in execution, as most applicants learn when they try to make sense of it.

Every year they talk about how much simpler they will make the process for students and every year there are still massive problems that cause real stress and anxiety. It’s not easy to be an effective student if you are always anxious about your tuition actually being paid.

But it really goes all the way back to the application and all the asinine problems and complications that can arise, simply because we’re human beings rather than a computer program. And for a bonus, some of these can hit you in your wallet too.

The first example is year of study and reduced course loads. In my years at Laurier I only succeeded at taking a full course load for one term. Between working and volunteering and managing my mental health, taking five courses a term negatively impacts my marks, so I don’t do it. So this year I will be in my fifth-year as a student while being in my fourth-year of study.

For me and all students starting a school year who have been out of high school for more than four years, we are not eligible for the 30 per cent off tuition grant (unless you have permanent disability status).

And that’s not all. Laurier penalizes you for this because of how it determines tuition, giving you a 50 per cent discount on your fifth course in a term. So students who need extra time completing their degree are penalized by both the school and the province. And for the cherry on top, if you apply for OSAP any year after your fourth, you have to submit a letter of academic progress, to justify why you are taking more time than ‘normal’ students.

Parental income is the next issue. I don’t know about everyone, but I assume that most people have a complicated relationship with at least one of their parents. For some people, especially those whose parents are separated, a complicated relationship can actually mean no relationship at all, with no contact or financial support.

Furthermore, there are people who have no contact or financial support from any family members. If this is the case and you happen to be applying for OSAP, the odds are not in your favour.

If you didn’t already have some kind of formal documentation declaring your separation from your parents, you will run into unpredictable trouble. In the online application, you may be able to get away with only listing one parent. But if you can’t list either parent, there is a long list of documents you have to submit to prove that you are estranged from your parents.

Next? Changing information in your application. For some reason, after you have submitted your application, there is only one way to submit changes or provide additional information that has been requested of you: paper forms. You can’t edit the information on your own. You can’t just go into Service Laurier and talk to someone who can change it online. You need to fill out the paper version of the OSAP application and submit that separately.

The fun doesn’t stop there. If the additional information being requested of you concerns parental income, you need your parent’s signature. Good luck to you if you live away from your parents.

And then there’s predicting your income. This might just be my favourite. When you are working while being a student, you are forced to predict your future income on your OSAP application. Don’t have a job for the school year yet? Don’t know how many hours you will be working at a job you do have? None of that matters, you still have to make a prediction and then during the year you have to submit updates to your income. This begs the question, what happens if your estimate was off? Well they don’t tell you that on the application, but your imagination can do the work for you.

The worst part of the entire OSAP process is the psychological toll of waiting. Even when you’ve filled out the application on time and all the information is correct, the school still sends you reminders that your tuition is due on a date before your loan money will arrive at the school.

And then the date comes when the OSAP website says your loan will come in and … nothing.

Your money may not come on the day listed, it may not come the day after. I’ve had friends who have had to wait weeks or months. During this time there are late charges piling up on your account. These will be erased once the loan finally comes through, but it’s still unnerving.

During this time, you will also be waiting for the rest of your loan to arrive in your bank account so you can pay for your books and school supplies and rent and food and any of the other things a student needs in the first months of school.

And this brings everything back around to the cycle of poverty. Students are, for the most part, in pretty good shape when it comes to the basic necessities of survival. But the way the government has systematized assisting students financially creates dozens of opportunities for creating the mentality of poverty. The psychological effects of not knowing how you are going to survive can be devastating and are fundamentally counterproductive to creating student success.

And we haven’t even talked about finding a job after graduation, in order to pay off that loan you worked so hard to get.

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