In my freshman year at the University of Arizona, I was in a math class. While waiting for class to begin, some classmates and I were talking about the cost of college. Everyone was talking about how much they pay a semester: “My parents pay $8,000” or “Oh yeah, well my parents have to pay $13,000.” When it became my turn to share, I felt majorly uncomfortable as I knew I was not paying even half of what my peers were paying. I brushed it off and said, “Well I get a good amount of financial aid, so I don’t pay too much. I am also an in-state student.” After my response, I was met with comments such as, “Wow you’re so lucky you even qualify for financial aid. My parents make too much money.” After this interaction, I wondered to myself if my peers knew what makes one eligible for financial aid.
Everyone is eligible for some type of federal aid, whether it is federal grants or low-interest loans. All students are able to obtain some form of aid. When people say, “I couldn’t get aid; my parents make too much,” they are most likely talking about federal grants. Grants are “for students attending college or career school. Most types of grants, unlike loans, are sources of free money that generally do not have to be repaid.” I am a federal Pell grant recipient as well as a university grant recipient. One of the requirements for these grants are “undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need." Exceptional financial need means that folks who receive this, including me, are from very low-income families. These grants cover about 90% of my tuition, making what I pay per semester manageable for my family and me. One thing that bothers me the most when people say “you’re so lucky that you get financial aid” is that being low-income is not “lucky." Being low-income is hard and stressful.
The experience as a low-income student is a universal one. Across the board, being a low-income student means having to master the skill of balancing. Balancing not only work, but also succeeding in school so that we can keep our aid, working anywhere from 25-40 hours a week and making time for friends and family. This balancing act often leaves students burned out and overwhelmed as there is little time to slow down and take a break in the routine that we follow. Being a low-income student is so demanding, not “lucky." It takes hard work which is a direct response to being poor; we work hard to succeed in college to better our financial situation.
At the University of Arizona, tuition alone currently costs about $6,300 a semester for in-state students and about $18,300 for out of state students. The median family income at the University of Arizona is $104,500 with 47% of the student population coming from the top 20 percent. It is majorly undeniable that college is expensive for everyone whether you are low-income or not. But being a federal grant recipient is not a luck of the draw; these grants are an attempt at equity, making college more accessible to those who otherwise would not be able to afford it. The fact of the matter is that if I and so many other students did not receive grants, we would either be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt or simply would not even attend college. Yes, these grants are nice and financially helpful but are also extremely necessary in allowing college to be accessible to everyone.
Being low-income is not “lucky," but it is the path that I and so many others are on, which is okay. I am not ashamed of it. Although being a low-income student is tough, it is comforting to know that I am working towards a tangible goal. Graduation is the finish line and for all low-income students who make it to that point, I am proud of you.
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Geraldine is a junior and is majoring in journalism. She likes to bake and read in her free time.