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I Was a Low-Income College Student. Classes Weren’t the Hard Part.

Dave_BerryDave_Berry 492 replies2534 threadsCC Admissions Expert Senior Member
"Night came early in the chill of March. It was my freshman year at Amherst College, a small school of some 1,600 undergraduates in the hills of western Massachusetts, and I was a kid on scholarship from Miami. I had just survived my first winter, but spring seemed just as frigid. Amherst felt a little colder — or perhaps just lonelier — without the money to return home for spring break like so many of my peers." ...

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/10/magazine/college-inequality.html
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Replies to: I Was a Low-Income College Student. Classes Weren’t the Hard Part.

  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 12750 replies236 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I think it's largely because of his heads-up that dorms and the dining hall do not close over breaks anymore. At all.
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  • dropbox77177dropbox77177 263 replies0 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited September 10
    I remember not having enough to eat regularly, and being "trapped" during breaks as an undergraduate.

    The classes were literally nothing. I was shocked how easy they were. Graduated summa cum laude. School is currently rated in the top 3 USNWR and was then too.
    edited September 10
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  • Rivet2000Rivet2000 1052 replies2 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
  • dropbox77177dropbox77177 263 replies0 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Yes, very well said, @Riversider, especially the part about being grateful.

    Believe me, I was happy as a pig in $*&*@ for the opportunity I was afforded. Ran around campus like I was on cloud 9 despite only having two pairs of pants most of the time.

    And having been in that place, I can recognize BS when I see it, and Anthony Jack is serving it up by the shovelful in that piece. Among many things, I flat out don't believe him when he says that he could not afford an SAT test prep book. Not with his background of magnet and later private high school, one of the most elite in South Florida. BS.

    I'd be curious to hear from others who were very low income and went to elite schools. From my perspective, the most difficult adjustment - not understood until much later - was the change from a culture of low-income strugglers to that of high income strivers. Especially the adjustment to the non-academic part of the culture.

    Even as a poor person, one always hears, "it's not what you know, but who you know." However, that is not consonant with what gets the low income student to the elite school in the first place. It very much is what she knows, rather than who, because believe me, no one back in the neighborhood has any idea of what it is like to be at an elite university.

    Ultimately, the challenge is to come to understand that the "who" has changed in one's life, yet the truth of the adage remains the same. An entire childhood and adolescence spent around a very different culture makes that challenge daunting, no matter how intelligent the student is. One of the primary benefits of an elite school is socialization, and it can be difficult for the poor student to fully participate in that.
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 22703 replies15 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I agree that a lower or middle class student, especially at a doesn't meet need school, feels it a lot more. I didn't have room and board paid for, so it wasn't one week in March when things were tight and there wasn't food available for free, it was every week of the semester.

    It doesn't seem to have stopped him from reaching the highest levels in his career.

    This is kind of how I feel when watching the presidential candidate go on and on about how they suffered with student loans and debt - they've all made their situations work, all have jobs and have been able to pay their student loans along the way. Sure, we'd all have liked to go to Miami on spring break but getting the college degree is the most important thing and sometimes it takes a little suffering along the way.
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  • EconPopEconPop 119 replies2 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited September 14
    Great article.

    Everyone has difficulties. Not everyone has the same difficulties, or the same number of difficulties.

    An upper-class male student at an upper-class campus can experience difficulties. One difficulty he cannot face is being a female on campus.

    An upper-class female student from a two-parent household at an upper-class campus can experience difficulties. One difficulty she cannot face is being from a single-parent household.

    Take that girl and place her in a lower-income family headed by a single parent who struggled to survive in a lower-middle-class neighborhood. Yes, more difficulties.

    That kid can experience difficulties at an upper-class campus. One difficulty she cannot face is being from a lower-income family who was raised in the poorest of slums surrounded by abject poverty and violence.

    Take that kid, make her an URM and yet more difficulties mount.

    Take that kid, give her diabetes or make her a rape survivor or add any other difficulty to her life, and she will face yet more difficulties than the student in the line above.

    The point is not that "everyone" endured "hardships." The point is that some endure greater and/or more hardships.

    I have no problem admitting I endured greater hardships than most others at my university. And I have even less difficulty admitting that many students endured hardships far greater than I endured. Hardships that might have broken me, but did not break them. It does not make me lesser to admit that others have overcome greater hardships and succeeded beyond me.

    I'm proud of what they have accomplished. I'm proud of what I have accomplished. I'm happy the Anthony Jack overcame his difficulties and hardships and achieved some professional and financial success in this life that exceeded any reasonable expectation for a youth in his situation. I experienced some of his hardships. I was fortunate enough to not experience all of his hardships. I'm thankful for that.

    I'm certainly not about to doubt his trials. He was raised by a single mother who worked as a security guard, who asked him for financial support while he was a college student. Why anyone would doubt that this family could not afford SAT study guides is beyond me.

    Thanks for the link to the article, Dave.
    edited September 14
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  • CU123CU123 3543 replies65 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I find it sad when a Harvard professor has to complain about not getting a free ticket home for spring break, pales in comparison to life for many young adults who lack such opportunities as this professor had.
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  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 12750 replies236 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    CU123 wrote: »
    I find it sad when a Harvard professor has to complain about not getting a free ticket home for spring break, pales in comparison to life for many young adults who lack such opportunities as this professor had.

    Well he was just a student then, not a professor. I don't think he complained about not getting a free ticket either, just lamented his inability to afford one.
    Amherst felt a little colder — or perhaps just lonelier — without the money to return home for spring break like so many of my peers.
    --
    Amherst provided no meals during holidays and breaks, but not all of us could afford to leave campus.
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  • austinmshauriaustinmshauri 8843 replies325 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    FA kids aren’t the only one avoiding eating out, dress up events, entertainment, flights home, ski trips, etc, others do that too and they can’t even look at system for help.
    Why would upper income families look for subsidies to eat out and take ski trips? And what does that have to do with low income students not having access to food on campus or the resources to buy it?

    The article does a good job describing the challenges faced by low income students at colleges that don't take their backgrounds into consideration. Case in point: colleges with healthy endowments sometimes send students to professional conferences. They pay for flights, hotel reservations, and the conference registration fees up front and reimburse them $x/day for meals. That's great for the kids who can afford to eat. Not so much for the students who can't. Should those colleges ignore the fact that some of their students can't afford to eat?


    Gratitude helps but if instead of being grateful for what great opportunities we got, we keep comparing ourselves with more privileged and complaining about how system could’ve done more for us, it only makes us entitled.
    So low income kids should just be grateful for the opportunity to attend college and ignore the fact that their more well to do classmates get to eat every day? Eating every day should be a basic right. I wouldn't call students who have that expectation "entitled".
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  • dropbox77177dropbox77177 263 replies0 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited September 15
    So low income kids should just be grateful for the opportunity to attend college and ignore the fact that their more well to do classmates get to eat every day?

    I was. For low income kids who've had to do without growing up, skipping a few meals is no big deal.

    I'm still stuck at his statement that he couldn't afford an SAT test prep book. This is a kid who was in Head Start; then a gifted program throughout elementary school; then went to one of the very best magnet middle schools (George Washington Carver, less than 10% black back then - today, less than 3% black); then finally to one of the most elite prep schools in the area, Gulliver, where test prep books are there for the asking. But he couldn't come up with $20 for a couple of test prep books? While his family was paying for DirectTV the whole time? Not. A. Chance.

    He got a 1200 on his SAT despite all the resources that were invested in him starting with Head Start, and finally at Gulliver (around $40K per year today), and yet they let him into Amherst with a full ride. He should still be jumping for joy.

    Jack has been in the media for a while: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/27/education/27grad.html
    edited September 15
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  • dropbox77177dropbox77177 263 replies0 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited September 15
    He is certainly not a failure. But he has an agenda to deemphasize standardized tests, one that is shared by the NYT, which first profiled him while he was still at Amherst. One that benefits someone who was noticed early on - from Head Start through a free ride at a top prep school like Gulliver - but hurts all the other smart but poor kids who have few other practical means of distinguishing themselves in the eyes of admissions officers besides scores.
    edited September 15
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  • Rivet2000Rivet2000 1052 replies2 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    There is growing narrative being built against standardized testing, and I agree w @dropbox77177 in that the downside to smart but poor kids is great.
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  • EconPopEconPop 119 replies2 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited September 15
    I'm still stuck at his statement that he couldn't afford an SAT test prep book. This is a kid who was in Head Start; then a gifted program throughout elementary school; then went to one of the very best magnet middle schools (George Washington Carver, less than 10% black back then - today, less than 3% black); then finally to one of the most elite prep schools in the area, Gulliver, where test prep books are there for the asking. But he couldn't come up with $20 for a couple of test prep books? While his family was paying for DirectTV the whole time? Not. A. Chance.

    We should not forget that he was a child at the time. The decision to pay for DirectTV was not his. As was said in the article, he was never even aware that the DirectTV was in his name. His mother decided the family would benefit from DirectTV. His mother decided to put it in his name because his SS# did not have bad credit.

    As a teenager, he felt as if an SAT study guide was too expensive for his family to afford. That was his reality as he understood it, as his teenage self understood it. The family struggled for food, struggled to pay the rent, struggled for anything financial. It is entirely natural that he felt, as a teenager, that an SAT study guide was not within his family's budget.

    Maybe DirectTV was the one extravagance his mother considered worth it. Maybe his mother decided it was better to have cable television to keep her sons inside watching television where it was safer, than outside on the rough streets of poor Miami where every hour spent increased the odds of being involved in a violent act and/or a criminal act. We don't know her reasoning, but it's obvious his was a very poor family.

    And to be blunt, paying for DirectTV was not the reason the family was living in poverty. To focus on cable television is to choose to not see the entire picture.



    edited September 15
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  • austinmshauriaustinmshauri 8843 replies325 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Colleges don't need standardized tests to pick their applicants. Why are people so afraid of eliminating the tests? It seems like colleges could actually increase the number of low income kids they take if they didn't have to pass that bar. Of course, that would mean less room for kids from middle and upper income families who would likely be top scorers.
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  • austinmshauriaustinmshauri 8843 replies325 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @dropbox77177: For low income kids who've had to do without growing up, skipping a few meals is no big deal.

    This is not okay. And that's one of the points of the article. Instead of fixating on perceived failures this man made as a low income 16-year-old maybe you should try focusing on the message he's trying to convey.
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  • 1NJParent1NJParent 1274 replies35 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Colleges don't need standardized tests to pick their applicants. Why are people so afraid of eliminating the tests?
    So how do they evaluate an applicant's academic ability? Based on grades alone? There're nearly 30,000 high schools across the country, with varying levels of course rigor and grading policies. Or do they just ignore academics all together?
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  • CU123CU123 3543 replies65 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    OHMomof2 wrote: »
    CU123 wrote: »
    I find it sad when a Harvard professor has to complain about not getting a free ticket home for spring break, pales in comparison to life for many young adults who lack such opportunities as this professor had.

    Well he was just a student then, not a professor. I don't think he complained about not getting a free ticket either, just lamented his inability to afford one.
    Amherst felt a little colder — or perhaps just lonelier — without the money to return home for spring break like so many of my peers.
    --
    Amherst provided no meals during holidays and breaks, but not all of us could afford to leave campus.

    Nope I was a low income kid on scholarship and I was happy for what I had. I don't lament anything about it. If you decide to go to a college where there are a lot of rich students, deal with it. Stop crying about how hard it was on you. Pathetic.
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  • CottonTalesCottonTales 1224 replies21 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    CU123 wrote: »
    OHMomof2 wrote: »
    CU123 wrote: »
    I find it sad when a Harvard professor has to complain about not getting a free ticket home for spring break, pales in comparison to life for many young adults who lack such opportunities as this professor had.

    Well he was just a student then, not a professor. I don't think he complained about not getting a free ticket either, just lamented his inability to afford one.

    Nope I was a low income kid on scholarship and I was happy for what I had. I don't lament anything about it. If you decide to go to a college where there are a lot of rich students, deal with it. Stop crying about how hard it was on you. Pathetic.

    @CU123 Wow, I hope you don't judge all people you don't know so harshly! My daughter knows Tony Jack, and from everything I have heard about him from her as well as others that know him, he NEVER was crying about how difficult things were for him. Quite the opposite, he was and is always trying to uplift others through his optimism, while not sugar coating that there are speed bumps along the way for low income students.
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