Thursday, January 9, 2014

"If you can't get your financial aid set up, how are you smart enough for college?": an illustration of twice exceptionality.

This post is going to be detailing how my strengths and weaknesses interact to make a tragicomedy of errors in regards to going to university. These events are all true, all really happened, and all happened in the past few months-most in the past week.

It starts last school year, when I applied to a dual enrollment program with a university and a community college in my city. They advertise it as an easier and cheaper way to do school-you can do your lower division courses at the community college at community college prices and take your upper level courses at the university. Best of both worlds!

And your financial aid? Because if you are exploring this option, money is clearly an issue? It's so easy, it will be disbursed in a lump sum still, through the institution that you're at the most!

Hahahaha no that is not how it works.

Making financial aid actually work? Has been a baffling process that I have no faith actually worked. There are never ending streams of one more things and paperworks and new tidbits of  info that might make sense to someone but certainly aren't intuitive to me.

So this term, less than a week old, has had my aid bounce back and forth between institutions, varied from "not enough for even part time at the community college" to "totally set for the term" to in between (I do not know where it is at right now, my last phone call was 3 hours ago. Supposedly it is fixed).

You know that way people have of telling you that what they're telling you is simple, and if you don't understand you just cannot possibly expect to function in any domain? But without using those words? Did you know there are a lot of ways of indicating this? I do! It has been my last week.

Things that I was supposed to understand and didn't:

-You need to do a new co enrollment agreement every term, even if you are not switching your home institution.

-Your home institution just means the place where you get your financial aid. Or maybe it means something more significant. Maybe it just means the place where you take the most credits. Oh but what those credits are matters too. But you definitely have to be 3/4 time there or your aid will be effected. You might also be selling them your soul and leasing it back from them. No one could really tell me the significance.

-Regardless of how many hours you are taking, you are shit outta luck if you're trying to collect financial aid all through the community college and are taking 300 level or above courses at the university. Even if the ratio is 10:4. That is not my ratio, but if it was I'd be somewhat screwed. There is no reason for this except "we're a community college". Unless it has to do with that soul thing. Maybe they can't own the parts that have taken upper division courses?

-That last thing? For some reason this is so patently obvious to everyone else that it took 8 phone calls for it to occur to anyone.

-The online paperwork for the university only has "I am not doing co-enrollment this term" and "I am done registering at the community college" as options because if you are getting your aid through said college, you have to go get their form. Not the university's form.

So this whole process has been really daunting, to the point where I was trying to figure out how little nutrition I could get by on for a term to avoid picking up the phone and finding out yet another teensy weensy self evident little detail that actually totally changes everything.

And yes, more than one financial aid person has asked me if I am sure I am ready for university.

Well. Academics are not everything even a little, but they're what you're talking about when you are talking about university. I got a 3.7 GPA last term. My in major GPA is a 3.5 or so, in the other potential major (double majoring ftw) is a 4.0.

My brain may not understand the financial aid nonsense. But the things I do understand? Well, I've had profs just go with it when I assert that the minutia in one of my areas of abilities is what it is, because they aren't convinced that they understand but they trust that I do. There are all sorts of things I grok deeply even though they aren't on the syllabus of any course I have taken, because I get interested and then I go deep with my investigations. Or at least as deep as I can until I run into a paywall, a language wall, or having to do 700 pieces of paperwork and deal with a few dozen "one more thing" details.

This is how twice exceptionality manifests for me. I can do the work, understand the work, but the process to pay for the privilege of doing the work is as mystifying to me as the minutiae of, oh, how epilepsy drugs work is to everyone else.

I can't just apply the part of my brain that's really good at patterns or details to doing beaurocracy. That isn't possible. It's not just about being smart. It's about having the abilities called for by the task. Those are not abilities I have, even if I do have more than I need in other areas.  It's not like a computer, where you can allocate memory to different partitions. The processing power is all decided all ready. If I could move it around, I wouldn't be twice exceptional. I probably wouldn't even be particularly once exceptional.

"Are you prepared academically for the university?" is the wrong question here. "What supports do you need to make the process as painless as possible?" would be the right one. Both my gifts and my deficits are relevant to the issue.

That's how twice exceptionality works: gifts matter. Deficits matter. What the person wants matters. Not what the weakest deficits allow. No. What I can do with my strongest strengths, with support for even my most dire weakness, that matters.

...which is why I cried with relief when someone at one of the offices sat on the phone with me and went through every detail I needed, including waiting for me to do the things I could do on the computer right that second. Proper support happened. Now I can do things I am actually good at.


  1. EXACTLY WHY I refused to do summer school back in Kansas City and try to transfer the credits to Georgia when I was in college. To everything you describe, add a university system known for blatantly lying about how much of its credit was transferable.

    I told my parents that if they were so enamored of trying to transfer credit across state lines, THEY could give it a try, but I was staying in school in Georgia for the summer.

  2. Just so you know - financial aid offices are a tangled mess for EVERYONE!!! I'm neurotypical and nearly went to war with my college over the nonsensical policies and forms. The same thing happened when my very intelligent and also college-educated husband and I had to fill out forms for MediCal assistance for my son with autism. We are both very, very good with language and couldn't understand the forms whatsoever! Even the people who were supposed to "help" us got it wrong. So please don't ever worry about your procedural brain and how it will trip you up. Your persistence is worth far more. Eventually, if you hang in long enough, you'll find someone who not only knows what they are doing, but can communicate it to you. I think that the type of communication training that my son recieves should be taught to EVERY person. So many people considered to be neruo-typical are lazy, un-empathetic communicators. Try turning the tables on them and explain to them (in the overly-patient, condescending tone they employ) that, "you are not being very clear in your communications. Perhaps you should try slowing it down and being more specific. If you are unclear, we should stop and look it up." See how that flies!

  3. Plaining how to get financial aid then be prepared for answering. Your financial aid will be determined by how you answer certain questions on your FAFSA form.Very few people plan their FAFSA strategy in advance.