Huffpost College
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Audrey Cheng Headshot

What it Means to Be Financially Disadvantaged in College

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Work, study, work, class, extracurricular, meeting, repeat. That isn't the typical day you'd imagine for a college student according to what we learn from popular media, but the day-to-day reality for many college students is changing with a rising number of students receiving financial aid.

In the 2011-2012 academic year, data released by the National Center for Education Statistics show that 71 percent of all undergraduate students received some type of financial aid.

As a college student with almost full-financial aid, I work four jobs to pay for my tuition, housing and other activities. And I love it. I work extra hours because I refuse to allow my economic status to limit my possibilities for pursuing my passions. But this isn't how I have always thought.

When I came into college, my relationship with money was quite different. A lot of my happiness depended on how financially secure I was -- or more importantly, felt -- at times. My excuse in getting out of many activities was, "No, I don't have the money for it."

Back then, my relationship with money also pushed me away from others who had different backgrounds: from the investors and traders at my internship to my wealthier peers. I'd make my peers feel wrong for having a financially stable background that could support their dreams, and not partaking in activities that would fulfill them and positively impact the world. I'd be frustrated at my multiple jobs, and wonder what my life could be like rather than what it actually was.

But all I needed in order to find peace and love was a new pair of glasses: a new perspective. In reality, I've learned invaluable lessons from not having money. I've learned the importance of saving and budgeting, how to manage my finances and even invest money. I've also learned how to be thrifty and where to look for resources I need. With the many jobs I've had, I've gained skills and learned about what kind of impact I want to make and the kind of person I want to be in the workplace. And many of these lessons are ones many people learn later on down the road.

This new perspective also allows me to appreciate those with different backgrounds as well. People with money have their own set of problems -- from expectations to carry on the family business, to having their success defined by their family, to being confined to act and look a certain way. Everyone has their own obstacles and is traveling on their own journey, so rather than bringing others down for being different, why not embrace differences and support others on their journey of life?

Recently, Northwestern's Questbridge chapter created a Tumblr page to highlight the differences between students of varying socioeconomic backgrounds. While I think it's a great first step to bring our differences to light, what I'm learning out of reading the posts is the importance in empathetically see others' situations (no matter what they are) and to see our own situations as opportunities. Some students may have suffered more financially, but this doesn't mean others haven't suffered in different ways. Also, hopefully by seeing our differences, we can also begin to acknowledge our similarities.

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.

-- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

All in all, I honestly feel so fortunate for all the opportunities I've gotten. Because I couldn't afford to pay for college application fees in high school, I received help from Questbridge. And because I couldn't afford to travel while studying abroad in Paris, I received aid from Northwestern and outside scholarships. The opportunities and support are always out there, as long as we keep working and never give up.

However cliché this may be, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' line "Make the money, but don't let the money make you," is a huge lesson I have learned. I've decided that "I don't have the money for it," can't be my only excuse anymore. It can be one excuse, but can't be the only one. A lot of the activities or experiences I pass out on might make my life all the more wholesome, but because I used to let money control my life and dictate what I did, I didn't let myself have these new experiences.

If money is an emotional issue for you, you've just put your finger on a big part of the problem. No one who is good at building houses has an emotional problem with hammers. Place your emotional problems where they belong, and focus on seeing money as a tool.

-- Godin

And no, this isn't to say I've started to spend my money recklessly. I'll still always have the questioning side of me, which pushes me to find cheap eats or free places to go (which aren't bad, don't get me wrong!) but I now have a healthier and more balanced relationship with money. I think the most important thing is to have money be a tool to action or positive change, rather than as a way to define who I am.


**Great reads about money:
Maria Popova's "How to Worry Less About Money"
Seth Godin's "Thinking About Money"