I’m Supporting Myself Through College

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 By Bethany Reynolds> Sophomore> Journalism> Boston University> Photo by flickr user emdot

Usually financial forms like the FAFSA and CSS profile induce stress, but my mom and I have a ball with it: “Is this another no?” “Do you not know the answer to this one? It’s probably no.” “Zero, zero, zero, zero, zero… sure this one’s a zero? Yeah? Okay, zero.”

Neither of my parents were ever well off, and I always knew that I would be more or less on my own for college. Instead of choosing a state school that offered a lot of aid like my sister did, I chose one of the most expensive private universities I could, packed my bags and hopped on a late-August plane to Boston. It never bothered me much, because although my family was never financially well-endowed, we are some of the happiest people I know. My mother’s love and guidance throughout my life has taught me more than a college education ever could, and I learned from an early age that possessions — even houses or cars — are not what makes a person happy.

The only major disadvantage of being financially “disadvantaged” is that it’s hard to fit in at a place like Boston University. The vast majority of students here are well-off — one of my freshmen roommates paid $26,000 a year for her high school — or at least middle-middle class. Because nothing about me immediately screams “IMPOVERISHED YOUTH,” people assume I am also from a cookie-cutter bourgeois family, and the social expectations are different. I doubt that half my friends even know that I pay whatever tuition my aid doesn’t cover, on top of plane tickets home and back, textbooks and anything else I need. It really wasn’t until college that I realized just how expensive being alive is, especially in a city.

I spent my adolescence in a fairly affluent neighborhood, so I’m accustomed to the disconnect between my friends and I when it comes to financials. It’s new for my college friends, though, and I’m beginning to have to go through the same excruciating routines: explaining that I don’t want them to pay for me just because I sometimes can’t pay for myself; explaining that I can’t donate money to this or that because I still haven’t bought all my textbooks; and, I love you, but Christmas presents? Forget it, I have to drop $250 for tickets home.

I have a work-study office job that gives me a weekly stipend of about $75, sometimes a little more or less, depending on the week. It never seems like enough, but the wonders of online banking and my stress about money has made me much more efficient at saving a portion of each paycheck. I also worked as a waitress over the summer, saving what I could to cover the rising cost of tuition. It helps that I’ve inherited my mother’s craftiness and find ways around spending exorbitant amounts of money: the Goodwill, Southwest Airlines, Amazon. And for someone who, like me, loves going to shows? Being a journalist, especially as a music writer for a college magazine, works wonders on getting me into gigs for free.

If paying for college has taught me one thing, it’s to not make assumptions. Not everyone has the same background, and just as it frustrates me when my friends assume I have enough money for something, I can’t assume that they understand my situation.

I have heard people wonder what they would do without their Blackberry or iPad, and I can’t help but remember the hilarity of filling out the FAFSA with my mother. I can only think to myself: “Laugh about it.”



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