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What is going to an Ivy as a poor student like?

sikemajorsikemajor 2 replies1 threads New Member
Two of my dream schools are Ivies (UPenn and Dartmouth), and I will also likely apply to Cornell and Stanford. No matter where I go, I will be funding it almost completely with grants and scholarships. One thing I'm worried about is what the culture is like at these universities and if many people are snobbish towards people with very little money. Is there a huge spending culture at these colleges? Are poorer student ostracized?

Also, for those that attend any of these schools, were there any significant unexpected costs after getting there? Are they things that some scholarships might cover, or things that would be completely out of pocket? If it matters, I am a junior right now, so I'd be going in 2021 (if I manage to get in, obviously.)

Thanks in advance!
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Replies to: What is going to an Ivy as a poor student like?

  • AlmostThere2018AlmostThere2018 1545 replies58 threads Senior Member
    edited January 8
    Agree not just Ivies.

    While on campus, you may not be able to go out to eat and see movies like some other students, but honestly, college is a bubble and most students spend the vast majority of their time on campus where most things don't cost anything extra.

    In terms of the basics -- like food and transportation -- if you find yourself in a tight spot then it's important to ask for help from college staff. Or, if your laptop breaks or you can't pay for printing -- they will help! They want you to be successful and, frankly, can afford what to you is a big expense but to them is not much. The key is asking for what you need -- don't be shy or embarrassed.

    Many colleges have places where any student and pick up free snacks and other food. Take advantage of that so you can save a few dollars for ice cream or coffee with friends.

    Block out the fancy trips students share photos of during breaks. It may seem like 'everyone else' can afford those expensive trips, but that's not true -- most like you will be working and seeing family during breaks. And remember that your financial aid should follow you to study abroad so some awesome could experiences await you as well!

    Good luck!
    edited January 8
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  • Happy4uHappy4u 275 replies2 threads Junior Member
    Actually, with their massive endowments, many Ivys have larger percentages of students with financial need. One of the biggest predictable expenses is transportation to and from school. Will you have to fly and/or how far is airport from campus. Does the school offer a free shuttle or is there an expensive uber/taxi ride each way? Good luck!
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  • LindagafLindagaf 10119 replies555 threads Senior Member
    That may or may not be true @Happy4u , but to my knowledge, financial aid at Ivy League schools doesn’t include spending money, apart from costs for books and supplies.

    Most students don’t advertise their financial aid status. You will make friends with kids who are rich, poor, or somewhere in between. Sure, many private colleges host a lot of free events, but I can’t think of an Ivy League school where kids don’t want to go off campus and spend a little money.

    I don’t think you’re going to be ostracized. But if you get into one of those schools, you WILL definitely be mixing with a lot of affluent kids who can’t relate to your upbringing. Kids who attend an expensive private prep school as full pay won’t easily understand what it’s like to struggle financially. Read the book I mentioned above. One thing Cedric Jennings discovered is that he ended up gravitating towards kids who came from similar backgrounds to him. I think that still holds true for a lot of students.

    But that, of course, won’t always be the case. A good friend’s kid attends HYP. Become good friends with a student on huge financial aid, and they decided to move off campus, to a pretty run down area. My friend’s kid could afford a lot more, but the other student could not. They are making it work in the bad neighborhood and are still good friends. My own kid attends a private LAC and is good friends with a student who lives in a notoriously bad part of a major city. I don’t think they ever talk about money, but they know where the student comes from and try to be mindful of keeping things affordable when they go off campus.

    Btw, nothing wrong with having dreams, but try to let go of the idea of a dream school. You need financial aid, so your primary goal should be finding colleges that you can certainly get into, and which will meet your financial needs. Be realistic when you make your list. The colleges you mention above are high reaches for all and plenty of kids with financial need will be applying. Your competition will be fierce. Good luck.
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  • tdy123tdy123 1040 replies18 threads Senior Member
    Issues at IVY for low income full financial aid kids are mainly related to the student contribution portion of the financial aid package.

    Student summer and term time earnings expectations requires working, that can limit the time for EC's and activities as well as making unpaid summer internships more difficult to afford.

    Some colleges (Yale in particular) have grant programs to make it possible for low income students to take unpaid summer internships.

    They've also added start up grants for things like computers and winter coats/boots.

    You won't be part of the Canada Goose jacket or Birken Bag crowd. - Think that counts as a good thing.
    You won't be flying to Ibiza for a weekend, or jetting off to Paris because they're having a great sale at LV.

    Son recently graduated Yale. Had friends there who dressed shabbily, were very active in movements to improve financial aid for low income students, would always meet friends for coffee in dinging halls so no issues on spending a few extra dollars - and were embarrassed by and did their best to hide that they came from immensely wealthy families.



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  • TigerInWinterTigerInWinter 32 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Princeton's alumni magazine had an interesting article not long ago about how students navigate class/wealth issues in social situations. Enter the terms "Princeton Alumni Weekly" and "class on campus" in the search engine of your choice and you should find it.
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  • Mwfan1921Mwfan1921 3766 replies69 threads Senior Member
    You also might google the guide 'being not-rich at U Michigan'. It has some good tips for living frugally, some are specific to UM but not all. They have also written guides for more schools now as well.
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  • mommdcmommdc 11858 replies31 threads Senior Member
    I don't know about the issue of being poor at a school with rich kids, but a classmate of my D went to UPenn, was a top high school student, but struggled academically when he first got there.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 80910 replies726 threads Senior Member
    @GoBears2023 (from lower middle income family, attends Stanford, but also posted impressions of an admitted students visit to Harvard) may be able to give some insight.
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  • besttobebesttobe 16 replies2 threads Junior Member
    @sikemajor: This is generic advice.
    It's wonderful that you have the confidence to aim for the best schools. Keep it up! I'm sure you know it won't be easy to get in, but you won't know until you try:) So work hard and stay focused.
    I'm sure that at the Ivies, there are students who will be like you - maybe not exactly but close. And remember not all rich kids are snobby. You will find your own tribe. If you haven't already, read the book written by Michelle Obama. She felt the same way when she applied to Princeton.
    Dream big and work hard! Anything is possible. Try to prepare as best you can. Good luck!!
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  • one1ofeachone1ofeach 888 replies17 threads Member
    I would go so far as to say that most rich kids are not snobby. They might be totally unaware that your financial situation makes things hard for you. Especially if it's things or expenses they've never had to give a second thought to.

    Be okay telling someone that you can't afford to go to starbucks. It doesn't have to be a big deal. Yes, it kind of sucks that the onus is on you but that is generally the way this cookie crumbles. Most likely they will not look down on you but be embarassed by their lack of awareness. Hopefully they will be more mindful as they get to know you.

    Many of the kids at these schools are very sicially aware and active so it's possible they are rich but also possible they are already very aware of ses differences and struggles.

    One caveat, you will be surrounded by people who can afford more things and more trips than you can. If that will be hard for you then yes, any exclusive college might be hard to take.
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  • TiggerDadTiggerDad 2088 replies74 threads Senior Member
    edited January 13
    And the landscape has changed quite a bit since Michelle Obama attended Princeton, not just at Princeton but at its peer institutions where the latest trend's been to open themselves up to greater access to all socio-economic status. At Princeton, for example, 16 percent of students in the class of 2023 are the first in their families to go to college and 24 percent of students qualify for a Pell grant. Princeton and its peers are actively competing to increase these percentages each year.

    While the majority may still be made up of wealthy students at the Ivys, it's no longer the case that the students from poor economic background would experience isolation and be subjected to classicism.
    edited January 13
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  • BookLvrBookLvr 207 replies5 threads Junior Member
    First, a statistic:
    31% of students nationally are receiving Pell Grants. Most elite schools have fewer than 31% of students receiving Pell Grants and are thus slightly under-represented relative to their occurrence in the college-going population. They certainly are not over-represented.

    It is true, though, that relative to the number of Pell Grant recipients at these elite schools 20 or 30 years ago, there has been a marked increase in economic diversity.

    A relevant book by a Harvard University professor who was a poor student:
    Anthony Abraham Jack, The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students.

    I highly recommend looking at a review of the book or an interview with the author (easy to find via Google search), which would give you a sense of some of the issues covered.

    His subjects include:
    -The "hidden curriculum"
    -Policies which can be tough on poorer students, e.g., if the dorms close for Thanksgiving, but the student's family does not have money for two trips home in such close proximity (Thanksgiving and winter break), or optional pre-orientation sessions which cost extra money.

    My overall take: I don't think deliberate snobbery and ostracism will be a problem at any of the schools you have identified, but I also think any student walking this road needs to be prepared for culture shock. Social class is a lot more than having available spending money.

    Elite colleges are starting to wake up a little more on these issues--in part thanks to the work of scholars like Anthony Abraham Jack--but there is still room for growth.

    I would not let this hold you back from applying to your dream schools! Best wishes to you as you continue to research your choices.
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  • Ella1104Ella1104 3 replies0 threads New Member
    I am the mother of a "poor" student at Columbia. She says it is difficult because she cannot do what her friends do (eat out, go on Spring Break, etc.) so it is difficult to maintain these friendships. However, the positives outweigh these struggles. She told them honestly she cannot afford these things, but values their friendship. They are thus far understanding (in year one). Most rich kids just do not realize what it is like to be poor. As someone once told me, you cannot blame someone for being born into a wealthy family. Give them a chance to know and like you as you are and do not pretend to be something you are not. Tell them it is okay for them to go wherever without you and do not show judgement on them for doing that. I think it can still be a great experience. They also may be interested to learn about your life and what it is like to not have wealth.

    As for campus activities, Ivies are very behind in accommodating students on financial aid in areas of club activities. Clubs are well funded, but feel the need to charge admission to everything to give the proceeds to charity. This is a big problem as $10 here and $15 there to attend a talent show or meet and greet make these activities off limits for a student watching a budget (there can be several such activities per week you may want to attend). It is a sad reality that hopefully will change in time. The clubs are well meaning, but do not realize how their efforts to help the poor through collecting admission fees to give to charity hurts the non-wealthy students among them. Just pick and chose your activities.
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 6429 replies10 threads Senior Member
    I am going to recommend that you read the book "Privileged Poor". It's relatively recent. For someone in your shoes, it may give you an idea of the questions to ask of a school that is "paying your way". Many of the issues raised in the book were addressed (at least partially).

    I would definitely ask what support, besides financial, they provide to students in your position. Many have special advising and special groups so that you can work through situations you may be facing that your wealthier classmates are not. (It can be something like how to negotiate decorating a dorm room or what to say when your study group wants to meet off campus at a place where it's expected that you will order food or drink.) The good news is that most schools are doing much better on this front than they used to.

    I think most students, even full pay ones, encounter kids who have much more money in college. As do most adults at some point. It's important to learn how to articulate your budget to others.
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  • spano30spano30 12 replies0 threads New Member
    Best of luck to you! Hopefully I can provide some insight as a middle-class attendee of Yale (2013-2017). Everything mentioned above rings true. You will quickly realize that many of your peers are in entirely different stratospheres when it comes to financial well-being. With that being said, I can't say that there were many students that went out of their way to be "snobby" or look down upon students from humbler upbringings. A lot of students simply have a lifestyle that is unattainable to some of their peers, which means you may not be able to enjoy all of the same privileges as them (eating out 7 days a week, weekend trips all around the world, luxurious off-campus apartments, etc.). However, Yale has a decent amount of their student-body receiving some kind of financial aid (can't remember off the top of my head, maybe somewhere around 30%) and I'm sure the schools you mentioned are in the same ballpark.

    I don't think your experience at the school itself will be vastly different due to your background, but I do think you may have to work a little harder than some of your peers in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. You may need to take up a student job (which are usually plentiful) to have some spending money and you may need to be a little more frugal with your earnings. If you are in social circles that ostracize you because of your socio-economic background (possible, but not extremely common in my experience), then you might be better off finding a new group of friends who value who you are and enjoy spending time with you, regardless of how much money you spend. I don't think you will have trouble finding like-minded friends at your dream schools. Most students at these schools are extremely motivated to succeed academically, athletically, and in various extracurriculars that they do not have time to criticize other students for their financial/social statuses.

    Focus on your education, gravitate toward good people, and consider working a student-job during your time at these schools and you will be well on your way to securing financial security for yourself upon graduation!

    P.S. I believe that being surrounded by people from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds can actually lead to a very positive and enjoyable experience. You will learn many things about the world you may have not known before and many students from these wealthier backgrounds tend to be extremely driven, goal-oriented, and compassionate people.
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  • rickle1rickle1 2404 replies21 threads Senior Member
    Interesting topic. Maybe this will shed some light on the realities as I expect it's fairly common. S attends expensive private (non ivy - meets 100% need, need blind, 50 -60% full pay.) He has many friends and they represent a wide socioeconomic spectrum. We are in the middle but he has friends who are on complete need based grants and others who come from extreme wealth (8 and 9 figure net worth).

    You know what? They all get along. They don't discuss money. They're friends. They do what friends do. They hang out together. As someone mentioned, college campuses tend to be a bubble full of opportunities for everyone. Now the wealthy kids tend not to work during the semester and my S (also a condition of ours to earn spending money) and the others do, but no one cares. The biggest difference is likely how they spend breaks. Wealthier kids may do international travel while you go home for a summer job, but again, no one cares. In fact last spring break, one wealthy kid in S' group suggested spring break in the Bahamas. Unrealistic for half the group so they settled on a beach house on the Alabama shore and had a blast. (no flights, home was dirt cheap for 10 to split, everyone paid for their own food which was pretty cheap - S saved up for it during the semester). They'll remember that trip for a long time. The previous spring, 6 of them came to our house and used it as home base (couldn't wait for that week to end :smile: )

    There will be some elitists and snobs. That's life. But you'll find your tribe, and when you do, it'll all work out just fine.
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  • Jon234Jon234 405 replies10 threads Member
    That last paragraph x2. You will find your tribe.

    One of my kids is at Yale. We’re a working class family, she gets fantastic financial aid. She has a campus job that gives her a degree of independence. She works a couple of hours a day. They won’t let kids do excessive hours. Her social circle is made up of kids from many different backgrounds and levels of family wealth.

    She said the only time you’re ever really aware of one another’s wealth is when they talk about what they did during the holidays. For her group at least it’s a none issue.

    If you are admitted to such a school you may find yourself on a completely free ride.




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