by Mena Mohamed

Throughout four years of high school, students lacking in financial resources can have a difficult time with testing costs, application fees and school dues. At the end of the tunnel, however, for those who are lucky, a shining letter of acceptance from a prize university comes in the mail with promise of a full scholarship. Although this seems like a one way ticket to success and accomplishment, some low-income students are experiencing just the opposite at the nation’s premier universities.

There is no doubt that a college education can be expensive. College Data reports that the moderate cost for a private American university can be summed up to around $46,300 per year. Needless to say, not every student can afford this ticket price. “College education is so important in this economy and this country, and it can’t just be for the rich,” career counselor Carol Kelley said.

The whole American dream is predicated on the fact that you can rise above your station if you work hard. So if you limit education to those who have money, you’ve created a permanent underclass.”

This is where financial aid saves the day, or so it seems. Top universities are now, because of their ballooning endowments, able to offer practically full scholarships based entirely on need. For example, Harvard expects $0 in contributions from families with an income of $65,000 or less. Georgetown can shell out over $60,000 per year on any student who fits into low-income criteria. Amherst was the first university in the nation to remove loans from need-based aid packages.

With all these grants and scholarships for low-income students, the question of how a high-achieving but poor student can afford a good education seems to be answered. Now the question is becoming how those students can adjust to their new lifestyles at these affluent universities, where they can find it difficult to fit in.

“A lot of times it can be difficult for those types of students to find a home at these colleges where there is so much economic difference between them and their classmates,” said College Partnership Program coordinator Virginia Justis.

Upon acceptance, poor students at these types of schools can face a myriad of problems, regardless of the financial aid they receive. Traditionally coming from underdeveloped school systems, their college workload can come as a surprise. Expenses outside of tuition and housing can be significant, with dining and book expenses at times totaling up to $3,000 per year, according to College Board. Simple lifestyle differences between them and their peers can lead to a clear class divide.

Accommodating for racial diversity has become a controversial trend in the past decades, but with these shifts in financial status, should economic diversity receive the same attention? According to the Wall Street Journal, with only 20% of enrolled low-income students reaching college graduation, many universities are answering yes by making sure financially unstable students apply, accept enrollment and graduate on time to battle expanding dropout rates in the country.

Whether it is done by having socioeconomic diversity programs, mentoring initiatives or low-income student support organizations, elite universities are making the change to include and retain the nation’s low-income students. “I know what it feels like to be put in that type of situation,” junior Christine Phan said. “I hope colleges keep doing this type of thing because it can honestly give some students a better chance at doing well and graduating.”

All in all, it is still highly encouraged for low income students to cast their application net as wide as they possibly can as colleges across the nation make these changes for more inclusive campuses.

“I always tell my students to apply as high up as they can, despite their economic situation I was in that same boat at a richer school, and you just have to overlook money sometimes and try to connect with the people around you,” concluded Justis.  “Remember, money isn’t always everything.”