A native of Santa Barbara, Samantha Alvarez earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at UCSB. She has worked extensively with area nonprofits since high school, and became a Scholarship Foundation program advisor in June 2016.
What is the most gratifying part of your job?
I truly enjoy helping students and parents who are having difficulty with their FAFSA or Dream Act application. Whatever the problem may be, I enjoy the challenge of solving it, and their genuine relief and appreciation are always very gratifying. I also enjoy helping students facing especially difficult situations – a parent has died or they’ve been in foster care and now want to attend college. It feels as if we provide a sense of hope.
Do you ever hear back from the people you have helped as an SFSB program advisor?
Some students and parents come back year after year. They may have questions about their loans and the process of accepting them, or need help understanding their financial aid packages from colleges. It’s always great catching up and hearing about their college experience over the years. It’s especially fun to hear from students who have gone on to attend college in different cities and states.
How did you come to work in student outreach services? Is it something you have always wanted to do?
I have always enjoyed working with students, but I never imagined I would be a financial aid advisor. Following my graduation from UCSB, I participated in AmeriCorps for two years, the second of which I served as a volunteer recruiter for Partners in Education. We helped organize mock job interviews and other events at local schools. During a career day presentation, I heard a program advisor speak about what she did at the Scholarship Foundation, and immediately felt it was something I would love to do. Towards the end of my term with Partners in Education, a program advisor position opened up. It was perfect timing!
What would you say to students or parents who may be reluctant to pursue financial aid counseling?
You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain! Please do not be reluctant. I love to help all students and parents, no matter their level of knowledge about financial aid or college. I’ve worked with a variety of students and parents, from first-generation families to parents who are sending their third child to college. Rules and processes are continually changing, so even experienced parents can benefit from counseling. I was a first-generation college student, so I understand that perspective. Regardless of your background, I will be happy to guide you and explain as much as I can about financial aid. Plus, we are bilingual!
What is your most memorable experience as an SFSB program advisor?
Our summer programming students often say funny things. During a recent United Way Fun in the Sun event, one participant asked a visitor, “So did you have to take out loans or did you get scholarships for college? I’m going to get lots of scholarships!” This was an elementary school student! It was clear our messaging had resonated. We are changing mentalities and lives, providing students with information they would otherwise not have.
What is the most common misconception about financial aid?
A very common misconception is that the “cheapest” schools are the most affordable. A school’s price tag does not necessarily reflect what students and their families can afford. Many private schools ostensibly cost more, but offer larger financial aid packages, for example. A school that costs $50,000 but offers $42,000 in financial aid is a better deal than one costing $36,000 but with just $20,000 in financial aid. It’s important for students to be informed about such distinctions when picking a school.