For some incoming freshmen, the summer before the start of college would be filled with family vacations to Europe, “personal enrichment’ backpacking trips through Asia or sightseeing adventures in New York. For some like me, one word would sum up the entire summer experience: work. Work became less of a word that I took pride in, as adults clapped me on the back and proclaimed my newfound maturity in taking charge of my own money. Work became more of an acceptable burden as I took on two summer jobs to make a dent in the college tuition that I eventually had to pay off. Coming from a middle class suburban city, the daily grind to make one’s own money was common – everyone had some form of employment and was striving to get somewhere or invest with the money they made. I was not a special case. However, when pulling up my financial aid documents, seeing e-mails about my student loan disbursements or constantly stressing about finding an on-campus work study job, the question of “Is this all really worth it?” reverberates in the recesses of my mind.
In the past three years of my high school’s history, I was the only student to choose to attend the University of Southern California. I was aware that in recent years, many college students had been complaining about the hiking tuition costs of the institution, and with the 2016-2017 school year, the expected tuition has exceeded $67,000 in overall costs for a freshman living on campus. This number has been met with pure outrage and protest, as students and their families are afraid to add another $2,000 to their average loan debt upon graduation. Studies conducted in 2014 already revealed that over 50% of college students graduated with an average of $29,000 per borrower – a looming number to just an 18 year-old receiving a biweekly paycheck of $450. With the rise of college tuition, doubts about the price tag of higher education likewise rose and I began to find myself caught between the conflicting arguments presented by both sides. Critics claimed that “college is not for everyone” and calculated fervently how the risks of submerging into debt beyond graduation were far greater than the experience of higher education. Meanwhile, shocking statistics continue to be published revealing the percentage of student defaults and delinquents on loans.
I was more nervous the day I received my financial package for USC than the day I received my admission statement. When I think about that moment retrospectively, I realized it speaks a lot about the financial circumstances that many low income students face in affecting their final decision. I’ve always seen articles of kids getting into prestigious institutions, even the Ivies, yet they were unable to financially make the cut. To some, my financial package appears to be a blessing. To my family, however, it was difficult, but manageable. “It was manageable,” my dad reaffirmed after I scrolled to see the Estimated Family Contribution on the bottom of the screen. It was a take it or leave it decision: choose to enroll into one of my top choice universities with a respected journalism school, or settle for something with less prestige but a whole lot cheaper. There was no obvious decision at the time, as I was stuck between two options that could potentially alter my future.
I took a risk – a huge, uncomfortable one that I was not ready for on decision day. I had researched USC’s potential job markets for its graduates, the career center, and the networking connections they provided for the journalism and communication students. Some level of reassurance and comfort was breathed into me, but with more and more orientation events, I gradually allowed myself to trust the institution and the opportunities it extended to its students. Not many students are as lucky as I was to be given a manageable financial package or even a choice in their decision. Now, after completing my first week of classes as a Trojan, I find myself more at home with such a diverse circle of peers. Some, like me, are struggling financially, but we are struggling together in the hopes that the Trojan Family and its network of alumni and mentors would not let us down.
Lead Image Credit: Sam Dean Photography