As a child, I only imagined the day my acceptance letters would land in our mailbox, and in what felt like the blink of an eye I was already submitting college applications. Suddenly, the day I thought would never come became a reality. I woke up to a few new emails, but one in particular caught my attention. The subject line read “CONGRATULATIONS.” Four years of hard work had all paid off because I was going to college.
So I got into college, and the news comes with a strange mixture of relief and an overwhelming sense of impending adulthood. Part of me is excited about finally being on my own, but I am honestly terrified of the responsibilities that would go with being a college student. That includes the financials. A recurring joke among college students is the mountain of student debt they’re living on, and I’ve always told myself I don’t want to be one of those students. I don’t want to be a slave to my debt.
Recently, my friend shared her financial aid packet with us. She is only going to pay $3,000 out of pocket at a private, out-of-state university. To me, this was insane. I knew of the benefits that came with attending a private university, but I had always planned on attending a Cal State or UC, which my schools have always encouraged. The whole first semester of my senior year was devoted to preparing our UC applications. I was only asked whether or not I would be applying to private schools once and it was never brought up again.
Once I did apply, I realized I was so uninformed that I didn’t even complete the most import part for financial aid, which was submit my parents tax returns. It was only a few days before the deadline that I realized I needed to do this and even then I didn’t meet the deadlines.Oddly enough, this situation was very common among my friends. In my group of friends, the three of us that did apply to private schools did not send in tax returns. Growing up in Latino households, we were encouraged to attend college but our parents didn’t go to college. We found ourselves on roads without signs directing us where to go because we had no one at home to guide us. In this way we were extremely disadvantaged because our resources are limited to our school.
From my own financial aid packet I learned that I will have to take out several loans to ensure I can make my way through college. I was always told that I never had to worry about money while in college, but here I am. Because I come from a low income household, I would rather not burden my family with even more expenses. It seems now that my only options now are take out the loans or forego college. The latter is not an option I’m willing to take, so I will fill the role of the stereotypically broke college student. Had I been accepted to a private institution, I know the cost of attendance would have been the least of my worries.
I don’t blame my school for my not having met my deadlines. I do believe though that giving students all of their options when it comes to their own future is not only necessary but students’ right to know. What has to be made known to high school students living in low income communities is that public universities are not the only options and your low income status can give you an advantage if you decide private universities are the right path for you.