Each year, approximately 29,000 anxious eighth graders take the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), hoping to get into one of the city’s top high schools. About 800 students are accepted into Stuyvesant High School, which to some is the most prestigious school of all—the crème de la crème. Some see Stuyvesant as the golden ticket to a dream future—Harvard, law school, three cars, private daycare for the kids, an apartment overlooking Central Park, and finally a nice retirement—traveling the world, attending charity benefits and writing an autobiography entitled “Sharon Cruz: How to Be Famous/Confessions of an Heiress.” Well, maybe that’s just my dream.
But, we all have our dreams—whether we attend Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, James Madison, or Bridgeport High School in Harrison County, West Virginia. Most of us see college as the first step to fulfilling these dreams. If you’re like me, you’ve been dreaming about college since you were six years old. You took about 40 SHSAT practice tests and spent 4,000 dollars on an SAT prep course. Your room is filled with piles of essays, detailed study sheets, AP review books, SAT II practice books and vocabulary index cards. Somewhere beneath this mess is the holy grail of all things sacred and significant: Princeton Review’s 2010 version of “The 371 Best Colleges.” Based on 122,000 students’ rankings, the dense book offers information on everything from college students’ drug use and religiousness to political views and happiness on their college campuses. You’ve pored through this book obsessively.
But sometimes it is foolish to dream big and become obsessed with your first-choice school when affording it isn’t possible. Fortunately, the government created the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Qualifying for financial aid is simple once you fill out a FAFSA. The information stated in the application is used to calculate your expected family contribution (EFC), which is “a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law,” according to the FAFSA Web site. “Your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) are all considered.” However, the FAFSA Web site fails to mention that despite all of the information considered when calculating one’s EFC, such factors as where a student lives, and consequently, the cost of living in that area, are ignored.
Consider this hypothetical scenario: I live in New York City and Peggy Sue Cruz lives in Harrison County, West Virginia. We both attend prestigious high schools, our parents earn “x” dollars, we participate in “y” clubs and we have “z” college recommendations. Peggy Sue and I have identical credentials and are applying to the same colleges. We have both filled out FAFSA’s and have been deemed eligible for financial aid. However, because the EFC fails to take into account certain variables, like location and cost of living, Peggy Sue and I are offered the same amount of financial aid from the same college.
The problem with Peggy Sue’s receiving the same amount of financial aid as me is that my family gets less relief from paying college tuition than hers does due to our more expensive lifestyle. The EFC formula does not take into account that my parents pay 2,500 dollars a month on household maintenance while Peggy Sue’s pay 425 dollars. According to this hypothetical scenario, the EFC formula also fails to take into account that my parents pay around 1,500 dollars in car insurance yearly, while Peggy Sue’s pay only 700 dollars. Furthermore, it does not take into account how much more my family pays for food or clothing (or for just about anything) than Peggy Sue’s family.
All my years of college research, SAT prep, gratuitous school work and club involvement may go to waste because my family might not be able to afford the colleges I plan on applying to. As Stuyvesant students, we work far too hard to get into our first-choice schools to realize upon acceptance that continuing our educations at such expensive institutions will be logistically impossible. The unfair formula used by the government needs to be reformed and should take into account factors such as cost of living and location. This way, all the Sharon Cruz’s of the world will be able to write their four hundred page autobiographies.