‘Rich’ College, ‘Poor’ Student: Getting In Is just the First Challenge

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For many students at top-tier schools in the U. S., things like weekend flights home or spending a semester in Europe are as much a part of university life as studying all night for exams and choking down dining hall food. But for students that come from a lower-income loved ones, such activities are not only these are not only luxuries beyond their means, but also a component of a near-taboo topic: wallet size.

A recent Forbes statement notes that many pixels and much ink has been spilled on the topic of having high-achieving, low-income students through the Ivy-covered gates of America’s top schools. And indeed, the focus on improving the economic diversity of college admissions is necessary; a recent Brookings study found that just 8% of low-income college students applied to a “reach” school and just 34% of high-achieving students with this group attended one of the country’s 238 most selective universities. (The research defined low income as being within the bottom fourth, income-wise, of families with a senior in high school. With regard to 2008, the year studied, low-income intended a family income below $41, 472. )

Not surprisingly, while poor kids are underrepresented upon elite campuses, the wealthiest children are overrepresented. At Harvard, 45. 6% of undergraduates come from families with incomes above $200, 000 — in other words, incomes in the top 3. 8% of all American households.

Yet for all the research and attention paid to ways to get more low income students on to America’s top campuses, there’s little discussion (on or off campus) about what life is like for those college students after they win admission.

In a guest column for Fight it out University’s student newspaper that recently went viral, senior KellyNoel Waldorf addresses how isolating it can really feel as a low-income student at an elite university. “Why is it not OK for me to talk about such an important portion of my identity on Duke’s campus? Why is the word “poor” associated with phrases like lazy, unmotivated and misleading? I am none of those things, ” she writes. “Why has our culture produced me so afraid or embarrassed or embarrassed that I felt like I couldn’t tell my best friends ‘Hey, I just can’t afford to go out

Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA), a scholarship organization that helps high-achieving, low-income students gain admission to America’s top colleges, identifies part of the issue stems from the fact that a majority of campuses are set up for your average upper/middle course student, one who comes to school having a certain set of “soft skills” that disadvantaged students still need to learn.

As anyone who’s actually subsisted on ramen noodles for the purpose of weeks on end knows, the effects of an empty wallet can pervade virtually every aspect of life. Students I spoke with talked about how, despite full educational scholarships that cover tuition, space and board, difficulties arise with everything from affording on-campus student occasions (such as musicals or concerts), to missing out on Greek life, in order to eating alone in at the dining hall on a Friday night whenever friends are eating out somewhere they can’t afford.

Also something as simple as a trip to the laundry room can serve as a tip of the income disparities. Christian Ramirez, a LEDA scholar who was raised in Queens and is currently a junior at Harvard, remembers a time during his freshman year whenever his mother came to visit and decided to help him with his washing. They both noticed piles associated with clothing on top of the washing machines in the dorm’s laundry room and Ramirez realized that he had seen those exact same piles a week or two prior to. The realization—that someone would simply forget to pick up his clothes –took both Ramirez and his mother aback. “When I do laundry, I actually make sure I have every single sock with no piece of clothing is left behind, ” he says in the Forbes piece. “I personally cannot afford to replace them, ’’ he says.

Clothes can be one of the most conspicuous indicators associated with wealth, and more than one lower income student noted the developer threads peers wear serve as consistent reminders of the wealth gap. Yasmine Arrington is a Jack Kent Cooke scholar – the recipient of a prestigious scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, so named for that former Redskins owner who left his fortune to high-need, high-achieving students — who now attends Elon University, a southern school where guys favor khakis and several girls wear the preppy Lilly Pulitzer brand. Arrington remembers the girl reaction when she discovered exactly what an average Lilly Pulitzer piece may cost.

Nightlife offers its own set of dilemmas. Those whose wealthier friends don’t mind footing the bill for a night out — in the name of friend-group unity, perhaps — find accepting such financial assist can introduce a certain level of sense of guilt.

Maureen Mahoney, the dean of the college at Cruz College, and Barbara Cervone, chief executive of the education non-profit What Children Can Do both told Forbes that medical problems — particularly lagging dental care or undiagnosed learning disabilities — can cause significant snags for the purpose of poor students who might already be reeling from the academic tradition shock. Cervone remembers one higher achieving student from the Dominican Republic who, in her freshman year at Wellesley, found she had several rotting teeth, which could not be fixed because the university’s health policy wouldn’t cover it. Following a petition to the college president, the policy changed and the student was able to get the care she needed and continue with her studies. But the situation highlights how proactive college students have to be to procure the funds and care they might need.

Some colleges, like Smith, and scholarship foundations, like LEDA, attempt to spread awareness of the academic and financial support resources available to low-income students. At Smith, this assistance includes a (limited) extra fund accessible to students in emergency situations, so if a family emergency arises and a last-minute flight across the country becomes necessary, a low-income student can make the trip. Not all campuses or scholarship organizations provide this feature, so it’s crucial that you check with the office of student lifetime and/or the financial aid office to obtain a full list of student benefits and resources.

While many from the students interviewed say that life being a low income student at an elite campus got progressively easier as they got older and carved out their own niches, Duke’s Waldorf informed Forbes that her low-income position adds additional pressure to one from the more trying parts of senior year: hunting for a job or applying to graduate school.

“I do not have money to pay for transportation for interviews. What if my phone gets shut off right before an interview? ” she says. “A lot of the Duke population is not thinking about, ‘is it difficult for the purpose of my neighbor to job lookup because they don’t have nice interview clothing? ’”

To be sure, the solutions to these issues vary on a campus-by-campus basis. Some student career support centers — like Barnard’s — have a suit-borrowing program from which college students without business-professional clothing can lend a donated dress suit with their student ID, at no cost. Other campuses, such as UNC, have a stipend college students can apply for that can help pay for interview clothes. Likewise, some colleges and graduate programs (William and Mary’s Mason School of Business can be one) have stipends available for job-hunting transportation costs.

Graduate school application costs – which includes prep courses, prep books, check fees and school application charges – are so high that is not unusual for a low income student to choose the costs are prohibitive. Instead, they might graduate and work for a few years in order to save money and then apply to graduate school. The good news is that there are fee-waivers available for low-income test takers of the GRE, GMAT, LSAT and MCAT; the bad news is that because different testing boards run each exam, the eligibility requirements and application process for the fee waivers vary from check to test, so it’s important to read the fine print before you count on receiving discounted examination fees.

There are a number associated with stipends and scholarships available for low-income students who wish to pursue unpaid internships and research opportunities earlier within their undergraduate careers — opportunities which are frequently limited to their higher-net-worth equivalent. College Greenlight is one such source of these scholarships: a division associated with scholarship search engine Cappex, it dedicates its algorithms to finding resources specifically targeted to low-income or first-generation university students (often one and the same). One of the scholarships currently available on College Greenlight is a $10, 000 award for the student interested in broadcast journalism or digital media; a $25, 000 award with a potential spot within Merck’s summer program, specifically for an African American college junior; and 4 consecutive paid summers at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California.

Jonathan April, College Greenlight’s general manager, told Forbes that many colleges offer their own internship stipend programs, so it’s crucial that you supplement a Cappex/College Greenlight lookup with visits to the financial aid workplace and the career services office. (The dual visit might be a pain, yet it’s better to leave no rock unturned with these things. )

Ultimately, it’s spreading awareness of resources like these — and not being afraid to have discussions about economic disparities on campus — that will assist low-income students feel more at ease at elite universities, students and adult experts say.

Low income students “need to become assured that they’re as entitled to all the resources of a Smith education as any other student here. It is often not so much about direct treatment so much as exposing them to all of the incredible opportunities we have here, and to make sure they know these possibilities are for them, ” Smith’s Mahoney says.

Breger echoes these sentiments. “You’re getting an education valued at a quarter-million dollars and you should milk every dollar you can, ” she says. “Get the most bang for your buck whether it’s your money or not. These resources are portion of what make these campuses therefore phenomenal. It’s not a sign of weak point to ask for help; if anything it is a sign of strength. ”

If hearing advice through adults doesn’t help, take it through someone who’s still navigating this often tricky terrain. Harvard’s Alfredia Ramirez remembers feeling alone being a low-income student at an Ivy Little league institution at first, but slowly realizing there were many other students like your pet and it was okay to ask one of them, or an administrator, for the purpose of help.

The write-up ‘ Rich’ College, ‘ Poor’ Student: Getting In Is just the First Challenge made an appearance first on Inexpensive Schools Online .

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