Employee at the Lehigh Financial Aid office,  Jennifer Mertz, is more than familiar with the challenges and the struggles that first-generation college students face, as she was one herself. 

Mertz said going into the college process knowing her parents were blue-collar workers, she knew that the cost of the institution would likely be the final determining factor of where she decided to choose to spend the next four years. 

Completely unaware of how the college process worked, Mertz said she applied to two colleges without touring them based on where she knew she could get into because the application fee was not insignificant for her family. 

One was an expensive private school in Philadelphia, and the other was a public school. She found out during her application process that she could apply for financial aid. She did, and received a package that would make it more affordable for her to attend the private school instead of the public one. 

Thanks to this generous financial aid package, Mertz said she, despite never actually seeing the school, decided to become a LaSalle Explorer. 

Mertz said at the time that she was a student, she didn’t realize how different her college experience was compared to her classmates. She said her mother was working two jobs to help pay for tuition, she worked all summer to be able to afford the books and other expenses throughout the school year. She said she even recalled having to drop a class due to her inadequate performance and she was extremely worried about not going to be able to graduate on time and cost her parents more tuition money that they cannot afford. 

She said she was constantly riddled with financial stress, and thought that she couldn’t do anything that other more financially fortunate students could. 

Now working in a financial aid office, Mertz said she knows all the options she could have had at the time to expand more on her educational interests, and that she makes it her mission to make sure students now have the knowledge she didn’t. You can find frequently asked questions about financial aid answered by Mertz, here