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Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Starting Out Strong: FA Suspension

by Zachary Woolard

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. My best laid plan started several years ago as I worked to complete my decade-long dance with my Bachelor’s degree. Life, as if often does, got in the way the first time around and I found myself living in an abandoned dorm, renting a room from my professor, and doing my best to eke out enough credits to move towards my Master’s degree. Not the path I had first intended, but you do what you must.

Detour #1. Flash forward to last August, my first semester at Liberty University Online. I started the quest towards my Masters with a resounding thud.

I was initially rejected.

Those eked-out credits I mentioned earlier resulted in a not-so-stellar GPA that left me short of the admission requirement for my program. I would need to increase my GPA within the first 12 hours of my program in order to pursue my teaching license.

Detour #2. One of the unsung benefits of online education is avoiding the burden of commuting to campus. Often times, degree completion is completely independent of one’s transportation—but, as I would soon learn, not always. 

Two weeks after I started by first courses, a less than reputable individual became smitten with my Honda Civic. It was pinched from the parking deck behind my church while I was inside running sound for the worship band. Thankfully the car was recovered a few days later without any damage, but also without any trace of my laptop previously stowed under the front seat. My online education quickly went off track.

Detour #3. A few weeks later my great-grandmother passed away. I remember her memorial service as feeling more reminiscent of a family reunion or holiday than a funeral. In fact, I recall spending time with my cousins as we used the crayons and coloring books provided in the back of each pew. The pleasant company of my family was quickly met by a harsh reality of loneliness when I returned to Richmond. I soon felt isolated and withdrawn, in a way that I had never before. I am the only member of my immediate family that moved away and I became all too aware of the impact of the distance.

Detour #4. I started to have trouble making ends meet. I now realize I was living beyond my means but I was too proud to admit it.

I filled my days selling outdoor sporting goods to families that always seemed to be on vacation. I found extra work at night stocking produce for a local grocery chain. At the end of each day I was exhausted. Most nights I could hardly keep my eyes open as I made my way up the stairs to my bedroom. The time I could commit to homework dithered away.

It all came to a head when I withdrew from all my classes. It was the final week of courses and I was facing a failing grade in each of them. I felt the full brunt of the consequences for a total withdrawal including financial aid suspension.

My detours had ended in a roadblock.

But I learned about one possible remaining option: a Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) Appeal. The concept was fairly straight forward—if I described the difficulties I had experienced, provided professional documentation, and established a plan for improvement, I could potentially have my financial aid reinstated. But I would have to come clean about how I had been struggling.

I would have to open up with my pastor, my girlfriend, and my parents. I would have to expose the lie that I had been living since I began my degree: the lie that I was strong enough to do this all on my own, that I didn’t need any help or support along the way.

It has hard. I’ll admit that there were tears, difficult conversations, and more than a few sleepless nights. But in the end it was all worth it. I was able to complete my appeal and, upon review, my financial aid appeal was approved. I would be able to continue completing my degree on probation.

I tell you this story of my own experience in hope that you find encouragement, that you will realize that you are not alone in this fight, that there are those of us who have struggled along with you and have come through on the other side of the storm. If you are in the midst of facing Financial Aid Suspension I encourage you to ask for help, to overcome the obstacle, and to join me as we together take one step closer to graduation.

Posted at 3:43 PM | Comments (1)