When the shot falls short
Considering cost in college admissions
April 23, 2019
Calling the foul
Opportunities hang in the balance inside each college financial aid package, according to senior Bella Birkeland. She said her first priority upon receiving mail from schools is to see how much money they can offer.
“All of us were just afraid of getting those student loans and not being able to pay for it because all of us have come to the point that we can’t rely on our parents to help us pay for this. This is essentially all on us, and we just don’t have those extra supports,” Birkeland said.
According to Birkeland, a cohort captain of College Possible, the biggest determining factor in her college decision making process is the price. She said prices for college add up, making it difficult for low-income students.
“Typically, for someone of color, you usually have a lower economic status and in some cases, like a lot of our families, our parents are immigrants,” Birkeland said. “The main thing we’re concentrated on is how much money we’re spending and how many loans we have to take out.”
Birkeland said College Possible offers ACT prep, payment for tests and help with each student’s individual college search, but not all students have access to these resources.
“I think if I didn’t even have College Possible or my college coaches to support me, I don’t even think I could be where I am now,” Birkeland said.
Suzy Ferguson runs a tutoring company for high school students that includes individualized tutoring and ACT prep work. She said although she has a comfortable lifestyle, she can’t afford her own services because of their high cost.
“It absolutely is an industry that is geared toward the upper middle class,” Ferguson said. “(People) in the Twin Cities, it’s the western suburbs and it’s families (with) means.”
Birkeland said she feels students of lower socioeconomic status, especially first generation students, don’t get guidance from their parents, but need support because the admissions process is confusing and ever-changing.
“I really wanted to take it on and receive that higher education and make my family proud,” Birkeland said. “But if I can’t pay for it, I can’t essentially do it.”
Julie Sweitzer, the director of the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota, said her job aims to increase the number and diversity of students who graduate high school ready for success in post-secondary institutions. She said one of the biggest challenges for students in the application process is a lack of information, which can be overcome by reaching out and asking questions.
“The barriers are not roadblocks that prevent you from going down that road,” Sweitzer said. “They may make it a little more complicated, but a student should never be afraid of advocating for themselves on getting the information and then doing the same once they get to college and making sure they’re finding the resources there.”
Going into overtime
According to Ferguson, the competitive atmosphere of the college admissions industry can be demotivating to many students.
“Adults have forgotten and students have never known a time when it wasn’t so cutthroat and it wasn’t so expensive,” Ferguson said. “The whole process of college admissions is overwhelming. It’s time consuming, it’s stressful, and I feel a lot of people feel like they’ve failed before they’ve even started.”
Birkeland said, like many other students in College Possible, she would be the first in her family to go to college. She said she worries about how her college decisions might affect her mom, who is a single parent.
“There’s certain types of loans that are taken out of your parents’ paycheck, and I’m absolutely not doing that because this is the choice I made, and I don’t want to burden anyone else,” Birkeland said.
Sweitzer explained post-secondary planning dialogue is a critical component to helping students think about college as an option available to them.
“Some kids grow up knowing they’re always going to go to college. They know that before they have any idea what college means,” Sweitzer said. “Other students don’t have that conversation, so developing that college-going identity, which we do know from research matters. Thinking that people like me go to college — that’s an important piece.”
Senior Aisha Abdi said she plans to join the U.S. Army as a nurse to help pay for her post-secondary education, which she plans to pursue at Augsburg University.
“I’m not financially stable to go to college and go to medical school, so I am not trying to live a life where I have to pay-off some kind of government,” Abdi said. “I chose to go to the Army for them to pay for my college tuition and pay for my medical school.”
Making the basket
According to Birkeland, College Possible would be helpful for all students but only 50 students can be a part of the organization at Park.
“I wish it could be something almost everyone could take because the college admissions process and everything leading up to college is something that’s very important and very difficult for people to navigate,” Birkeland said. “I would totally take College Possible over advisory.”
Abdi said the ability of Park’s counseling team to effectively help students navigate the college process is limited by the large numbers of students they serve.
“If there was other college counselors and other people that could actually help the other seniors, the college process would’ve been quick for me,” Abdi said. “If there was other counselors available to help you, that could send your transcript and talk to you about the college process it would’ve been way better than just one person getting pressured.”
Sweitzer said many students have subconsciously subscribed to a specific college pathway, even though this is not the best option for all students.
“This pressure that’s out there — to find the perfect college, the right college, the best college — there is really no perfect or best college for all students. There are a number of colleges that are probably going to be a great fit and if we’d look at it with that attitude, it becomes less pressure and there are reasonable options out there,” Sweitzer said.