I always dreamed of going to a prestigious school and chatting with goofy academic types in cozy coffeehouses. Instead, I ended up at Southwest Missouri State University. This was a huge disappointment for me, but I tried to accept it for the sake of my family, which could not afford to send me anywhere better.
I first learned of the University of Michigan when I visited it with my then-boyfriend over the summer. Though it was too late to apply as an incoming freshman, I wanted to go there. However, I expressed uncertainty as to whether it was economically feasible, seeing as my parents are not rich. They have cars that need fixing, are still trying to pay off the house they bought the same year I was born and hope to retire in the next 15 years. Regardless of what the government may believe, paying roughly $37,000 per year for me to attend college is impossible for my family. My boyfriend still insisted that if I wanted to go to the University, I could find a way. I was skeptical but applied anyway.
I had never thrown myself completely into anything before, and it seemed unfair to me that, because my parents aren’t rich, I couldn’t go to what swiftly became my dream school — a school I was accepted to and desperately wanted to attend. And so I set out on a crusade to make it to Michigan.
I researched student organizations, housing on and off campus, course requirements, German study groups and even the local squirrel population. I started reading the Daily, well, daily and became more loyal to the University than my own college despite being over 500 miles away. I started thinking of myself as a future Wolverine.
Once my allegiance to was established, I began work on the money problem. With no savings, I am financially dependent on my parents for college, but they refused to tap their savings or risk their retirement for a loan. Filled with defiant determination, I came up with a complex financial plan including scholarships, financial aid, part-time and summer jobs, as well as medical studies for me and the dreaded loans. Then, to explain my devotion to the University and my plan to pay for it, I created a 108-slide PowerPoint presentation.
I finally showed my PowerPoint presentation to my father and during slide 25 he suddenly stood up from the computer and walked away. My single-minded determination wasn’t yet ready to die, but then the Office of Financial Aid informed me that as an out-of-state transfer student, I didn’t qualify for scholarships or financial aid. Now I would have to convince my father to sign for an even bigger loan.
My dad, now 50, has been working since he was 14, so if it is anyone’s time for a break, it is his. In the end, he completely refused to help because, though he wanted to make me happy, he simply couldn’t.
I have bemoaned the expensive tuition and seemingly ridiculous formula for government aid. I have lamented the lack of scholarships for people who didn’t save a rainforest before kindergarten. I have criticized my parents for not saving money for college. I could wish that society, my family and my economic background were different, but there is no point.
The simple truth is that I will never be able to afford the University, even as a graduate student. It isn’t just minorities and the poor who can’t afford a school like the University, a school that claims to desire racial, ethnic and economic diversity on campus and yet has outrageously high tuition. I am from a middle-class family and because I wasn’t fortunate enough to be born in Michigan, I will never know what it is like to be at a school like the University.
Doing well in high school means nothing. It is money that really determines where you will find yourself in life. I can do well in college, but in the end, it is the kids with the connections, the cash, and the college degrees from a swanky schools who will be tomorrow’s leaders. The anti-affirmative action advocates talk about how applicants may or may not have been denied admission because they were white, but it is often debatable as to why someone is rejected. What about the people who are accepted but are unable to attend because of tuition while people with money who are less serious and qualified do? Who is mourning America’s great meritocracy when this happens? When a person is rejected from a college, it can be for any number of reasons, but there is only one reason that I am not at the University right now — money.
Despite my dream and after all of the melodrama, I ended up in the exact same place that I started. The only difference is my perspective.
Godwin, who was admitted to the University of Michigan, is a sophomore at Southwest Missouri State University.