Strapped for Cash: Sacrificing a college experience to pay my tuition


Juliet Norman – Ally Rzesa / Beacon Staff

By Juliet Norman, Opinion Editor

Last week, my digital journalism professor stopped me after class and asked to talk to me. 

I instantly was seized with worry—was I in trouble? Had I messed up an assignment? None of those was the case. Instead, she commented on how tired I looked. 

She said she could tell I’d had a late shift the night before and I recall her asking, “Is there anything I can do to help you or anyone I can call to get you a different job?”  

I felt grateful for her invitation to help me find a less demanding job, but I knew there was little she could do. As a low-income student paying my way through school on a strict monthly payment plan, I have no choice but to work 40 hours per week. If I fail to make a penny less than $3,052 every month, I will be kicked out of school.

As a full-time waitress, my salary is indeterminate; I rely solely on tips to make my monthly payments. I don’t see any of the money I make because it all goes towards my tuition. It’s frustrating knowing that I am making almost $40,000 a year when I can never spend any of it on myself besides tuition. On top of my 40-hour weeks, I often find myself picking up extra shifts when I’m a few hundred dollars short at the end of the month. A single table deciding not to tip me could mean the difference between making my payment on time or being charged with a $10 late fee from Emerson.

At the start of this semester, I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford daily subway fare, and I was lucky enough to land a job at a restaurant next to campus. While I do enjoy working and being self-sufficient at a young age, it has become taxing to be a full-time student and a full-time employee. I constantly fall asleep during classes, and I am regularly late on my assignments. I live in a constant cycle of sleep deprivation, work, then catching up on sleep until I have to cram in all my schoolwork over and over again.

I feel like I’m falling behind in my budding journalism career as well. I cannot accept an internship as I am obligated to spend five days a week earning my tuition. Unless a company would hire a college freshman full-time for well above minimum wage, I am out of luck.

I’m forced to sit back and watch as roommates and friends gain experience as unpaid interns in their desired fields while I continue to serve wine to fussy old people.

My tuition helps fund student organizations and events on campus, yet I do not have the time to participate in any of them. When I imagined my college experience, it involved study sessions with friends and a calendar full of meetings for student publications I would write for. Instead, my study time is reserved for when I get out of work—long after the library is closed. Writing for my school’s newspaper is the only student organization I am able to take on, to which I have been thirty minutes late to every single meeting since the semester started.

Not knowing if I will be able to turn in class assignments on time because I might have to work overtime induces a huge amount of stress. Is receiving a desirable education even worth it if I cannot properly focus on my school work? A study conducted by Georgetown University’s education research professor Anthony P. Carnevale reported that low-income students who work while in school are less likely to complete their degree. According to Carnevale, 59 percent of students who work 15 hours or more every week have an average GPA of C or lower.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2013 that 72 percent of the country’s undergraduate students work during the year. I see no problem with college students working—on the contrary, I think working a blue-collar job builds character. However, no student should feel obligated to work more than part time out of fear that they will be forced to drop out.

I do not think that low-income students should automatically receive a full-ride, but I do think that colleges in general do little to help these students pay for even a third of their education. We are treated as individuals investing in a business rather than young adults who are figuring ourselves out and honing our skills. In order for students that hail from middle- and lower-class to attend any educational institution, they have to be given the proper tools and support from the school.

I have to remind myself every day that this was my choice. I was determined to forgo a cheap state university education for a private school because it had the superior program for my major, and I don’t regret it. I am a firm believer in creating the life I want for myself. Although it might be a bit more burdensome for me to succeed than it is for others, it does not mean that it isn’t worth a shot.