How I’m Paying for College: Columbia Student Harmony Graziano

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Columbia University's generous financial aid package made it a top choice for a student with financial need.


Harmony Graziano was a pro at applying for financial aid before college was even on her radar. Growing up in Hawaii, she attended public school at first, but was unhappy and searched for a private school for her high school years. She couldn’t find any nearby and didn’t want to ask her family to relocate, which meant boarding school was her only option. And it wasn’t a cheap one: Harmony remembered the costs as “$46,000 a year or something ludicrous.”

The private high school couldn’t meet her family’s full financial need, but fortunately a merit scholarship kicked in. After the high school experience, “Columbia’s financial aid has been a huge walk in the park,” Harmony said. “They breathe money,” she said, referring to the Ivy League school’s large endowment.

“It was a huge gamble to apply to Columbia early,” she said, but “I knew that I would get more help from a hard school to get into.” (Columbia’s acceptance rate hovers around 6 percent.)

“I like to say the only the thing I had to pay for at Columbia was the application fee,” she said. “I have taken out federal loans for the student contribution each year, but that's it.” Columbia is one of a few dozen schools that have committed to no-loan policies, although Harmony still borrows a bit each year as part of her student contribution.

She gushed about the financial aid packages which can include room and board (“They're not going to feed you to the sharks of New York real estate”) and quality health insurance (“It's like superhero insurance!”).

“I know that I'm super super lucky,” she said about her aid package and the thoroughness of the Columbia financial aid office.

“There’s something about financial aid in college that really really intimidated me early on,” Harmony said. “[There] was nothing a 10-minute phone call couldn't clear up.”

The financial aid office was so helpful Harmony even interviewed her counselor when writing a paper on the history of American poverty. “It's better now than it ever has been to be a financial aid recipient,” she said. And at Columbia, conditions for work-study students are improving as well: Students recently successfully protested to raise their minimum wage, which benefits Harmony at her own campus job.

“I have felt hugely freed in my own life.... I’ve never felt crushed by the weight of my [student] loan debt,” she said, noting that she knows peers who are deciding their majors and career based on the threat of hundreds of thousands in debt. Instead, Harmony can follow her passions: She’s studying linguistics and Italian and is considering graduate school.

“I don't feel burdened by my loan debt because it's so little compared to the cost of what this education is,” she said. “Someone giving you this much money without asking questions is pretty much unprecedented... I’m very grateful.”


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Photo by Angela Zhao on Flickr.

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