Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Socialeconomic gulf in school

I came across a Boston Globe article on low income students attending elite, private (and expensive) colleges in the US, and a link to a Stanford undergraduate honors thesis on the same topic.

Class and Inequality

If applicable, please describe a situation where interacting with others from a different social class background made you feel out of place:

"Students complaining about how they don’t have any money." - Student at Yale University, Class of 2008

"When I came to Stanford, everyone asked me where my parents went to college, just assuming that they did, and it’s really awkward to say ’nowhere.’ It’s also awkward to talk about family - like the cousins on Welfare who dropped out of high school - to peers." - Student at Stanford University, Class of 2009

"Knowing I don’t have enough money to do the things everyone talks about. Knowing I can’t afford to spend money at the rates others do (shopping, going out to dinner often, etc.)" - Student at Princeton University, Class of 2011

"When I was hanging out with my girlfriend and her family, they took me to a country club they were a member of and her mother said something about how she 'couldn’t understand how people can live without country clubs'. She went on to comment on trips to the Caribbean and various other topics that made me feel QUITE inadequate." - Student at the University of Virginia, Class of 2011

"My roommate’s family is far more affluent than mine. When he mentions his vacations, car, etc. it sometimes makes me uncomfortable." - Student at Yale University, Class of 2010

"Talking about what people did over summer break - I don’t go on vacation." - Student at Brown University, Class of 2010

"When interacting with those clearly from a more upper-class background - say, when someone is very well-versed in stock trading, or when someone has a lot of expensive electronic equipment in their room - I’m very aware of my relatively humble origins and my very different ambitions." - Student at Princeton University, Class of 2011

"While out at a fancy dinner, I recognized that everyone else was used to the setting/had been informed of how to act. It was completely different from my norm, and I felt out of place." - Student at Stanford University, Class of 2011

"Sometimes when discussing my application to law school (and undergrad for that matter), I am struck by how foreign my situation is for most people. My parents can’t afford to pay for any of my education, so I’ve had to make a lot of decisions based on how much I can make at part-time jobs and how much I’m willing to borrow. I feel awkward when I have to say that I’m not even aiming for top schools, not because I’m not qualified, but because I can’t afford it." - Student at University of California, Berkeley, Class of 2008


I know of 2 main types of responses:

a. one will either borrow (by hook or by crook) to keep up with the Joneses,


b. leave the social circle to find another more aligned to their socioeconomic backgrounds.

The first will most likely lead to financial ruin, while the second requires some sort of courage to make the break. Critics of the second will point out that the main purpose of going to such elite schools is to network with the rich and powerful.


L'oiseau rebelle said...

What about (3) find people who share the same values as you, regardless of socioeconomic class?

Or is not bothering about what people think also only for the privileged?

L'oiseau rebelle said...

I do agree, though, that many of the "hallmarks" of college assumes that the students' parents are all rolling in money, like travel and study abroad.

L'oiseau rebelle said...

Okay, maybe I should read the article before posting multiple comments. The astronomic (or is it economic?) disparity in wealth is troubling. The cost of college (and not just tuition) is also troubling. And not everyone understands that some students have to work to put themselves through college. (Boy am I glad I went to a state school, even if a rather affluent one.) But when one talks about the one's inability to "do the things everyone talks about" and "afford to spend money at the rates others do"? You need a reality check, or new friends (who need not necessarily be poor!)

Kite said...


I went to school in a class where everyone, and I mean everyone, is richer than me, though some would claim arguably that I belong to a somewhat higher socioeconomic class.

It plays out from whether I could afford the textbooks and exercise books to whether I can go on the school exchange programs for the top students.

And when we finished our A-levels, my friends were all flying off to the top or not so top universities abroad, and I was left struggling to pay the NUS tuition fees after giving up a place in the only one of the HYP I applied to.

NUS did not feel too difficult because it is made up of normal Singaporeans. There were plenty of people who understood that earning a living had a higher priority than going to school.

I've since gone on to grad school in the US where the students are at least comfortably middle-class and the Asian students are definitely from the big leagues.

Yes, the difference is that I can't indulge and socialise the way they do. And I certainly can't sit back and wait for a plum job to fall in my lap via family connections. My constant struggles to even survive (when someone ran away with my savings as I started grad school) probably grate on a lot of these classmates.

But I am grateful for the opportunities and strive to keep up my spirits. I dated guys who appreciated my spirit and spent time with friends and professors who valued my intellectual rigour. Not everyone is so insensible or superficial.

Thanks for bringing up the topic, but I think that people learn to cope with the disparities as they grow older and more mature.