I am a first-generation college student. Rather than going for a “free ride,” I chose a posh liberal arts school. Here’s why.

expensive liberal arts college

Why I Chose an Expensive Liberal Arts College

Money plays a big factor in choosing a college. Walk your students through Seanna’s story and help them understand the pros and cons of attending an more expensive college.

Show your students that pursuing the degree of their dreams may be something to consider.

“I will be attending Haverford College in the fall” — it’s an all too familiar phrase that I have started to wear out, with feelings of both pride and guilt.

Family members and strangers congratulate me on the news of my going away to college; they’ve seen how my hard work has paid off over the past four years.

Sometimes, however, all I am able to see in this celebratory news is the financial burden that I have placed on my mother by enrolling myself at such a prestigious but expensive college.

Haverford College is ranked 15th in the U.S. News & World Report’s list of the Best Liberal Arts Colleges, but it also comes with yearly tuition and fees totaling $58,900.

Deciding Where to Go to College

I remember the days trickling by as May 1 (decision day) came around. I heard classmates exchanging news about schools that they were probably going to be attending in the fall, paying close attention to the dollars and cents.

“I’ll probably head to Hunter College. They’re offering me everything I need. I’ll even get money back,” one friend said.

“Nice, I’ll be staying in the city as well. I got a pretty sweet financial aid package for the program that I got into at Fordham University. It’s basically a full ride,” said another.

Don’t get me wrong. I am more than happy with all of my friends who are going to college without any financial worries or concerns. I, too, was offered full rides for a number of schools.

For a long time, I was considering attending Lehman College in my own neighborhood of the Bronx. It would have taken the financial burden from my mother who already struggles to pay the rent every month.

But a weekend at Haverford College changed all of that. Meeting students at Haverford, sitting in on classes, and sleeping in actual dorms made me realize how excited I was for the full college experience, and how far away I wanted to be from home. I knew that I would learn and change so much from the experience of venturing out on my own.

Visiting Haverford was exciting, but also intimidating. I remember asking my host how much her financial aid package was each year, only to find out that her parents were paying everything out of pocket. Whoa. This was mind-boggling to me at the time, as someone coming from a family of two from the Bronx, working to make ends meet.

Reality Sets In

It was then that I realized how different the people around me at Haverford were going to be. I had to come to terms with the idea that I was entering a new environment filled with people my age who come from very privileged backgrounds.

There are going to be a lot of offers that I am going to have to turn down like going out with friends to eat, or to hang out, simply because I won’t have the extra cash to spend. While friends might be heading to Philly on a Friday night, I’m going to have to accept that I might have to stay back in the dorms; I can already picture myself searching online for scholarships that I may or may not get.

Luckily, Haverford has a no-loan policy meaning that all of the financial aid that they give me will be in the form of a scholarship or work-study. My mother and I do not have to worry about taking out big loans from the college that would accumulate over my four years of undergrad. However, we are still left with a gap to cover ourselves: $5,000.

Although this is not too bad compared to the gaps I would have had at other private schools (one being $20,000 a year), it is still an additional expense every year that my mother is going to have to consider in her monthly budget. My mother works a job that is a little above minimum wage, so you can only imagine how little room she has every month for additional expenses. This is where my guilt and my determination come in.

How to Cover the Gap

The tuition gap for my first year at Haverford actually was $10,000, but thanks to the power of outside scholarships, I was able to lower that gap by winning $5,000 in one of the (many) scholarships that I applied to this past year. I know I will have to be careful. I must admit it will be hard, especially with my love for new movies and the mouth-watering goodness of Chipotle.

I also know that it will all be worthwhile because of my mom. I will sleep easier at night knowing that she isn’t worrying about the bills and expenses that my choice of attending Haverford has put on her. No matter how proud she is of my choice, I want to make it one that neither of us will ever regret.

End-note: Seanna stayed in touch with us. She graduated from Haverford, and won a Fulbright Scholar where she spent a year studying the literature from her mother’s homeland, Barbados.


Check List

  • Have you decided if attending a private university is possible for you?
  • Where would you like to attend college if money were no object?
  • Are your parents helping pay or are you responsible for all the expenses?
  • Have you investigated to see what scholarships are available to you?
  • Do you think the additional expense is justified for private schools versus public colleges?