Financial Aid: "the Lifeline for What I'm Doing"

November 2, 2017

By Kim Szarmach, Communications Intern 

For students underrepresented in higher educationevery dollar counts when piecing together a financial aid package. And their ability to obtain those dollars and succeed in college depends on policymakers establishing a Streamlined FAFSA and approving increased, sustainable funding for need-based aid like Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, as well as programs like Federal Work-StudyAmeriCorps, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  

Samps Taylor's future was unclear until he found the tuba.

"When I was in high school I didn't really participate in a lot of extracurriculars," Samps said. "I kind of just came to school, did what I had to do, and then left. In 10th grade I was looking for something to do so I thought, 'What about band?'"

Playing music became not only a hobby for Samps, but a potential career. After facing lots of discouragement from people who said majoring in performance arts would never lead to a job, Samps met a coordinator and mentor at the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA), Khristopher Hobbs, who told him otherwise. 

"Most of the time people tend not to major in music because they think they can't make a career out of it," Samps said. "But really it depends on you and the amount of work you want to put in. That's why when I told Khristopher I wanted to major in music, he wasn't one of the people who told me, 'That's probably not a good idea.' He actually supported me." 

Now Samps is a sophomore studying Instrumental Performance at Alcorn State University. He plays tuba, piano and snare, tutors students in music theory and instrumentation, and arranges his own pieces for band. 

Samps knew Alcorn State would be the perfect place to study music when he visited to audition in high school, saying the assistant band director was friendly and put him at ease – and complimented his performance. 

For Samps, the audition was the easy part of getting into music school. When it came to applying and filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), he needed some help. 

Luckily, LOFSA came to his school and provided him and other students with the information they needed to get into college and receive financial aid. Samps, who receives a Federal Pell Grant and a few scholarships from Alcorn State, said he wouldn't be at college were it not for the aid money.

"It's like the lifeline for what I'm doing," he said. "If I didn't have financial aid it would be almost impossible for me to do anything college-related because the costs are so high.” 

Still, Samps struggles with the college costs that aren't covered by financial aid, especially since his band scholarship was cut by $600 this year due to university budget cuts, he said.

"When I applied and did my first year, everything was covered, like room and board and tuition," he said. But Samps is still responsible for buying his own school supplies, books, dorm essentials, and extra food, which can all amount to hundreds of dollars. His sister has been able to help him cover these extra costs, but there are some things they collectively can't afford. Samps has had to go without some of the books he needs for class.

Samps said he has had some ups and downs, but overall, he loves college. He ended his freshman year with a 4.0 GPA – the highest in the band – and won an award for Best Freshman Tuba Player. 

When he graduates, Samps either wants to purse a master’s degree or join a military band. Either, way he wants to keep playing music and improving.

"I want to keep raising the bar on my level of performance," he said.

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