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money-financial-aid-illustration
Credit: Arabella Uhry

I am lucky. I am among the 46% of Penn undergraduates who receive financial aid. I had the ability to move to Philadelphia, attend a prestigious school, and afford the costs of living due to my generous financial aid package. But the prospect and reality of paying for your own groceries, rent, tuition, and school necessities can pile atop a student’s shoulders rapidly. These costs are made more more manageable through Penn’s financial aid — only if students know how to take full advantage of it though. Students should know of every advantage Penn’s financial aid offers in order to allow them the same access as Penn students not on financial aid.  

Undergraduate cost of on-campus attendance is $78,186 for the 2019-2020 academic year. Undergraduate cost of attendance for those living off campus is only slightly lower, weighing in at a crushing $76,444. Many financial aid packages come with a housing stipend, and if you choose to live off campus, you are reimbursed this part of your financial aid. Students who need financial aid are certainly in the minority. Only 3.3% of Penn students are from the bottom 20%, while a whopping 71% of Penn students come from the top 20%, ranking among the highest in the Ivy League. 19% of Penn students come from the top 1%. 

Excluding the social ramifications of being surrounded by people who can simply afford more than you, it can be isolating and intimidating to ask for help or guidance when you feel like you’re the only charity case in need of asking for this help. Money is a personal and extremely private issue, one that students don’t always want to discuss openly. This means that it is up to Penn’s financial aid offices to make their services known to the students they service. When proportionally so few Penn students are from low-income families, it seems as if Penn's financial aid services aren’t always held accountable for devoted outreach. Penn needs to create better ways to advertise all of their services so that students know what opportunities are available for them. Even a simple email to highly-funded students reminding us of certain possibilities would go a long way. They don’t have the entire school knocking on their doors because not the entire school needs or uses their services. This does not, however, diminish the need of the 46% of students who depend on them.

Though Penn President Amy Gutmann has expressed immense devotion to financial aid causes, raising over $4.3 billion dollars from 326,592 generous donors in the past year, I question if there is enough effort placed on how to wield this money once it is raised. Acquiring funding for lower-income students to be able to attend Penn is a noble and important job, but these students need to know how they are being helped in order for this assistance to truly impact their college careers. For example, the textbooks for my first semester of college cost more than what I was paying for rent the summer before I started school. Luckily for me, I knew to type in my Penn number so as to use my financial aid textbook allotment to pay for the costs. The other day I jokingly made this same claim at my work-study job, and a senior who has been financially independent since starting college and whom also receives a massive financial aid package dropped her jaw. “I didn’t know I could do that,” she said. 

It is unacceptable that students who display a need for help don’t know how to use this help. Resources need to be allocated to the distribution of information about financial aid once it is granted. This process needs to start early, so no senior — like my friend from work — looks back on their college experience and only sees the moments they could have enjoyed if not for the cost. 

SOPHIA DUROSE is a College sophomore from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email is sdurose@sas.upenn.edu

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