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

sikemajorsikemajor 0 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?

  • LindagafLindagaf 9671 replies521 threads Senior Member
    There’s a great book that will give you insight on this issue. A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind is the true story of a very poor student who attended Brown. The book was published in 1998, but it’s still relevant.

    Be aware that most private universities and colleges will likely have a lot of wealthy students, so this isn’t just an issue at Ivies. You are putting the cart before the horse though. Wait and see where you get accepted. If this issue does cause you concern, consider applying to more public schools where you might find higher numbers of students on Pell grants and not quite as many well-off students in general.

    I don’t think it’s snobbishness as much as the daily realities of hanging out with students who have money when you don’t. A lot of private colleges have wealthy kids who don’t give a second thought to going out for meals, coffee, movies, skiing, and the like. They may not have to get a job over breaks, and they may not have to worry about how they are going to get to an from campus on those breaks. Paying for a load of laundry or printing poster presentations isn’t an issue for wealthy kids. There are many incidental expenses and they add up.

    My D is at a private college with a lot of well-off kids. She always orders the cheapest options when she goes out, because our kids have to earn their own college spending money (to be clear, that’s a condition my husband and I have set.) Many of her friends order whatever they want. My S is at a public U with free laundry, which saves him some cash, but he still goes out a lot with his friends. Trips to Walmart to get snacks, Ubers to downtown, the occasional splurge at Chipotle rather than another dining hall meal...it all adds up.

    If you want to be prepared, start saving money now, well before you get to college.
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  • AlmostThere2018AlmostThere2018 1424 replies56 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 246 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 9671 replies521 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 1000 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 4 replies0 threads New 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 2953 replies49 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 11647 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 79681 replies712 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 525 replies13 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 2040 replies73 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 177 replies4 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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