Preparing for the Unexpected:

Hurdles of College Affordability

Preparing for the Unexpected: Hurdles of College Affordability

Amanda Assalone // May 1, 2019

Each year high school seniors across the nation eagerly anticipate May 1st, National College Decision Day, when many officially decide where to pursue their educational endeavors for the next four years. This is an exciting time for most students, but it can also be overwhelming and even scary for some, especially for those who will be the first in their family to enroll in college. There’s a lot to consider in the college-selection process, most importantly, institutional fit and college affordability. As mentioned in “Unexpected Hurdles: Unpacking the Price Tag of College Affordability,” the rising cost of tuition, as well as unforeseen expenses accrued during college, often put higher education out of reach for some students, create barriers to college completion, and increase student debt. Therefore, the question of how can students select the right college they can afford, thrive academically, and persist through to graduation remains for many students.

At this point, many seniors have completed the FASFA in hopes to financially support their education. Some may have received scholarship award letters by now as well. As students are reviewing and accepting financial aid packages and scholarship offers, it is important for them to understand that college affordability is comprised of more than tuition and fees. Students should consider if their financial support will be enough to cover housing, transportation, books, food, healthcare, or any other financial barrier that may arise through college matriculation. Unfortunately, prospective college students tend to think mainly about covering the cost of tuition, and neglect considering living expenses, and other unanticipated costs that may occur along the way.

Tip on Preparing for the Unexpected

A first step in understanding the full cost of tuition is for incoming freshmen to talk openly with college students who have paid their own way through college for at least two years.

A first step in understanding the full cost of tuition is for incoming freshmen to talk openly with college students who have paid their own way through college for at least two years. Asking them about unexpected college expenses they have encountered and how they were able to overcome financial barriers to continue pursuing their education may offer insight not previously understood. It’s important that students not assume they can simply take on a job to cover additional expenses. Many students who experience unexpected expenses often end up reducing class hours to increase work hours at a job. However, this often results in lengthening their time in school, and can actually increase expenses over time. All of which hinder students’ pathway toward completing college. In the worst cases, some students end up stopping out of college altogether, which places them in one of the most expensive positions there is…no college degree with often mounting student debt.

Prospective college students should also ask about and fully leverage financial resources and support programs that are in place at their selected colleges to assist students facing financial hardship. In many cases, this can and should be done preemptively to promote quick action if an unanticipated financial crisis occurs, allowing ample time for the institution and the individual student to determine the best avenue for support. Some colleges offer mini-grants to assist students with unexpected educational expenses, and others provide free transportation, healthcare, childcare, or food pantries for all students. It is never too early to begin preparing for the unexpected, and something as simple as asking questions early can make or break students’ college-going experience. Encouraging institutional leaders and policymakers to remain thoughtful of the growing number of students who encounter financial hardships as well as school leaders and those who help influence students’ critical decisions about the colleges they attend is critical.