What If: College Financing

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Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kelley

Grace Scheidler

In a new feature segment, “What If,” senior Editor-in-Chief Grace Scheidler theorizes the possible implications certain situations or circumstances could have on Lake Forest High School students.

With the onset of second semester, senioritis is slowly and predictably infecting the members of the senior class. As college acceptances roll in and first semester grades are sent off to universities, the sudden drop in motivation is palpable in classrooms around the school. For some, this is akin to taking a deep breath after running at full tilt over the past three and a half years. For most of the senior population, however, this is due to the fact that they simply don’t have to care anymore. Lake Forest High School is an exception to the national norm in that almost everyone who graduates high school goes on to college. This contributes to the often-crippling case of senioritis that plagues each graduating class as spring semester rolls around. Outgoing students can coast through this last semester because they feel whatever they learn will be relatively inconsequential looking forward to the next four years in college. Once the enrollment deposit is paid (by their parents) and the prerequisite spirit gear is purchased (by their parents), students can kick back and take it easy as they look forward to four more years of partying with a side of education (paid for by their parents).

If that’s you–and I’m lucky enough to have two loving parents who are going to help put me through college, so I’m part of this group–the college conversation is very different from those who don’t have that luxury. For many at this high school, football team rankings and location are rather unimportant when financial aid is taken into account. While going to a school with a big name and nationally-televised sporting events sounds nice, their lack of aid makes them a less attractive option.

This way of thinking is the norm for most of the country–for most of the schools outside of Lake Forest, actually. But here, due to the concentration of well-to-do folks willing and able to front the small fortune to put their child through a Big 10 school, what college you go to has a hefty amount of status attached to it. Instead of considering schools that give out the most merit money, students are drawn to schools for other reasons: Greek life, location, basketball team ranking, etc. Here, if you are looking at paying for your own college, you have to contort your story to rationalize it in the status-centered college discussion.

Fleshing it out with an example might make this easier to understand.

Take a high-achieving LFHS senior, complete with a solid handful of AP’s and an Cum Laude membership. Most would expect them to apply to a couple of Ivy’s; Villanova, maybe; Vanderbilt, perhaps. If instead they committed to Miami of Ohio, classmates would be shocked. Only the name of the university is heard, not the fact that the student was offered nearly a full-ride, or the fact that they were admitted to the Honors College.

“Miami?” some would say with a twist of disdain. “They could do so much better than that.” Even if the student in question were perfectly happy with their choice, they might feel compelled to apply to those brand-name schools, garner those acceptances, if only to validate themselves and their story. “Well, I got into Vandy and Boston College,” they might say when May Day rolls around, “but in the end I decided Miami’s Honors College was the right fit for me.”

How different May Day would be if we all paid for our own college education is an interesting thread to consider as well. Instead of, say, 15% of seniors attending in-state schools, we might see over half repping U of I, or Western Illinois, or other directional school shirts. Perhaps there wouldn’t be the insecurity surrounding the shirt you wear, or the pressure to justify your choice.

While this might be a hypothetical thought experiment for some, for many this is a reality. If you’re lucky enough to choose your college free of financial consideration, go home and thank your parents. Also keep in mind that many do not have that luxury, so being conscious of how we talk about certain schools as “less” than others is something we could all do a better job of.