“Oh…did you need money for school too?”
July 9, 2012 § 2 Comments
Skjalg and I were on it when it came to filing for student loans. We sent in our applications online the same day that I received my acceptance letter from Semmelweis and sent in hard copies of our transcripts the following day. We were notified that the expected handling time was a little less than a month.
Last night, we were looking at apartments and trying to figure out what we could afford, which is difficult to do when you don’t know how much money you are getting. We’re operated under the idea that we will get about 6.000,- kroner each ($980) per month, as this is the lowest value we obtained while using the student aid calculator on lånekassen’s website.
This morning I decided to log into my account and see if there was any development in my case. There was an email waiting for me and the news it bore sent me into a bit of a premature panic attack. I’ve translated the e-mail here:
Before Lånekassen can handle your application, you need to send in:
documentation that shows that you have lived in Norway for a consecutive period of at least two years in the past five years before the start of the education period. See §33-5 of loan regulations.We would like you to note that bostedsbeviset (essentially the address you have registered with the tax office, in this case, they mean the official form I received when I first moved to Norway) is not sufficient in documenting that you have lived in Norway for a consecutive period of at least two years in the past five years before the start of the education period.You have taken your high school education in USA.
The documents received do not show that you have met the general education requirements in Norway. In order to do this, you must satisfy the Norwegian requirement. More information about how you can satisfy the Norwegian requirement can be found at: samordnaopptak.no/info/utenlandsk-utdanning/amerika/usa/krav-til-utdanning.You must send in this information before the school year or course you have applied for is complete.
I read it several times until finally calling over Skjalg to confirm if I had understood it correctly. Are they saying that my education in the states doesn’t satisfy the general education requirements here in Norway!? Are they going to deny me student aid!? Do I have to stay in Norway another year and pay for another year of college out of pocket!? My innate tendency towards imagining the worst case scenario kicked in pretty quick 😉
As Skjalg tried to figure out what they were trying to say, I ran to the bedroom desk and snatched up every document I could find. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but couldn’t think of anything else proactive enough to satiate my anxiety. Back in the living room, I began organizing the documents into three piles: medical school related, lånekassen possibilities, and other.
There is probably a little background that is needed to understand why I got so worried. Getting to the point where we are now has not been an easy one. There has been much trial and error, many half-traveled paths and some unnecessary steps. One of these half-traveled paths concerned my sending in my high school and college transcripts to NOKUT (Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education). This agency is responsible for receiving transcripts from international students and determining the Norwegian equivalent of their degree. They take about 8 months, sometimes up to a year, to process your application and are very particular about the documents they require (for example, a certified/sealed/stamped copy of a transcript is not sufficient – they need it sent directly from the foreign admission office to their office in Oslo). I attended Santa Monica College for 2.5 years. Santa Monica College offers 2-year degrees, but is most popular for being a transfer school. Almost every student I met there attended SMC for the first two years (to save money) and then transferred to a 4-year university to finish their degree. Since I was putting myself through school, this was the best option for me. The reason it took me longer than two years, was because I took a semester to study graphic design, as it interested me at the time.
When NOKUT had finished processing my transcript, I was informed that the Norwegian equivalent of all my education in the states was: a high school diploma and 1 semester of higher education. They had taken my 2.5 years at SMC and downgraded it to 1/2 a year. At the time I found this out, I thought that I would need to do everything over again: biology, calculus, chemistry and physics – and in Norwegian! After many phone calls and meetings, it ended up that I only needed to take physics; which I completed in Fall 2011. (Later, when applying for med school, I would discover that I didn’t even need this class :/).
So, back to the reason I was worried. In order to meet the general education requirement in Norway (and be eligible for student aid/loans), a student from the US would need to have a high school diploma, one completed year of higher education with a grade average of C or higher, and documented competency of the Norwegian Language. I sent in my college transcripts as a formality, thinking that my high school diploma would be sufficient. When I got this email telling me that I didn’t meet the requirements, I thought it meant that they were like NOKUT in that they considered my entire time at SMC to be worth nothing more than half a year.
I called Lånekassen and asked what documents I needed to send into them. Once I had explained, I was told that I actually needed to call Samordnaopptak (the government agency that coordinates all university applications and determine grade point averages, etc). He told me that they are the ones responsible to determining whether or not I have fulfilled the Norwegian requirement for general education. So I called Samordnaopptak and explained everything again. He told me that he had no idea what the guy at Lånekassen was talking about, that he had never heard anything like this, and that it had nothing to do with them. When I called back to Lånekassen a second time, I got the same guy I had spoken to before. I repeated what I had been told by the guy at Samordnaopptak and asked him if he could tell me what I needed to do to get my application processed. He started apologizing for giving me the wrong information and then told me that he had to set me over to someone else.
After finally talking to someone who knew what to tell me, I discovered the following:
- My high school diploma, plus 1 year at Santa Monica College satisfied my general education requirement. Apparently, the first year of college in the States is equivalent to senior year in high school for Norwegian students. So, in my case, my first year at SMC counted towards my equivalent of a high school diploma in Norway. The “1/2” year credit that I had gotten from NOKUT was from 1.5 years being cut down, rather than 2.5.
- I have satisfied the Norwegian language requirement, it just hasn’t been registered yet – and this is the only thing I was really missing. I logged in to a website that displayed the results of my exam and took screen shots to send in to Lånekassen right away. I then sent an email to the organization responsible for the exam, requesting a hard copy that I could send in later.
- In order to document that I have lived here consistently for 2 years in the past 5 years, I need to send in tax documents or a letter from work, really anything to show that I have been here.
In the end, it was all just a false alarm. I’m frustrated that they didn’t list these missing documents along with those that I had to send in when I first submitted my application. When I filled out the application I had to mark a box stating that I had lived here for a consecutive period of at least two years in the past five years and they could have very well added in a line or note stating that I would need to submit proof of this.
I’ll be more settled when my application is finally handled. I sent in a follow-up email confirming what had been discussed on the phone and attached the screenshots showing that I had passed my university level Norwegian exam and my tax records for the past three years. I hope that they start processing the application now even though I have sent screenshots instead of the official confirmation of my exam results. Norway pretty much shuts down in July because everyone takes their vacation then and it means that things are moving a little more slowly than normal. (Norwegians get 5 weeks of paid vacation a year. July referred to as fellesfeire, which essentially means “same vacation”. Banks and grocery stores close earlier and many businesses close for the entire month.)