Financial aid was the number one component when compiling my college list. I didn’t care much about academic programs (because the school itself would not have altered my passion to become a researcher, professor, or a doctor), but rather whether or not the school can support me financially without having to depend on a myriad of scholarship programs. Since my family income was a little below $35,000, I had to be realistic about the monetary contributions my parents could make towards my collegial endeavors.
I remember Googling “colleges with the best financial aid programs” and finding websites listing the plethora of private colleges that promised to meet 100% demonstrated need—and that narrowed down my list! Because this meant that regardless of how much the school charged, I would receive enough financial aid to attend the university without suffering too much financially. Even so, many first-generation students still don’t know what this means. Many applicants are ignorant to the large endowments of private colleges and what this could entail in terms of financial assistance.
For example, let’s assume I got into Brown but had no outside scholarship help whatsoever. Brown’s Cost of Attendance for the 2014-2015 academic year is $62,694, and my family’s income is $35,000. That would mean to study for one year at Brown, my parents would have to work for two years just to fund that. However, that would mean ALL of their income would have to go towards school, but in reality there are bills to pay, mouths to feed, and the miscellaneous costs. In short, I would not be able to pay a dime.
Thankfully, that is not the case all thanks to the generous financial aid policies implemented at numerous colleges. Because Brown is one of the schools that promises to meet 100% demonstrated need, this means that they would offer me enough financial aid that my family needs to attend every year. Every. Year. No outside scholarships needed (though they do certainly help).
There are many, many schools that offer generous financial aid packages based on the contribution your family can make. Schools such as Brown, Harvard, Amherst, Bowdoin, and so on are willing to give student aid to attend through grants (ergo: free money.) QuestBridge is a phenomenal program that does a remarkable job to send this message out to students in need. As a Quest Scholar myself, I can tell you that if it weren’t for this program, I probably would not have applied to any schools outside of New Mexico, because I, too, did not know how to even afford ~$60,000 a year without selling my kidneys.
Looking at the financial aid and not merely the school’s COA, I was able to focus my attention on the quality of college applications and not spreading myself too thin by the amount of scholarships to be won to pay for college. Furthermore, this meant that any outside scholarships that I did win went to supplement other finances that the college doesn’t cover (e.g. a much-need laptop). So always remember: while a school may seem out of reach in terms of affordability, always check their financial aid policy, because what may look like $62,694 can actually be $2,000 or maybe even $0. In any event, never let finances serve as a barrier between you and a college education.
This blog was previously posted on the I’m First! Scholarship Blog Series and recently migrated here to my personal site.