A Higher Cost : How CHS students and alumni dealing with the price of a higher education

Andrew Wang

For the average American, the issue of attending college is a matter of numbers. As reported by Forbes, for 44 million Americans as of February 2017, that number is $1.3 trillion, the total amount of student loan debt. For the graduating class of 2016, that number is $37,172, the average amount each student carries in debt.

For the average American, the issue of paying for college in America is unquestionably a daunting one, one that has sparked an unprecedented trend of growth in the student debt industry marked by a $31 billion increase in the fourth quarter of 2016 alone, as reported by the New York Federal Reserve. So for the average American hoping to attend college, these numbers represent a challenge. But for the average American already in college or who has graduated, these numbers represent their reality. When it comes to the students and alumni of CHS, this is no exception.

For the class of 2018, who are just beginning to grapple with their imminent debt, the question of paying for college is a personal struggle, a struggle that balances hopes and dreams with hard financial realities.

“This is actually a thought I’ve been struggling with a lot recently,” said senior Abi Karl of Monmouth Beach. “Should I be accepted into my top schools, unless some miracle gets me thousands of dollars, chances are I won’t be able to go solely because of the cost.”

For Karl, one of those top schools is New York University (NYU) Tisch located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. As one of the premier film schools in the country, Karl dreams to attend, as she hopes to explore filmmaking as a career. But attendance to NYU Tisch would cost her $73,088 annually, according to the school’s website. This is no small matter either, and according to Karl, Tisch does not give out purely merit-based aid.

Students can obtain financial assistance in two forms: financial aid, also known as need-based aid, and merit aid. According the Princeton Review, financial aid is based on the student’s financial need. On the other hand, merit aid is blind to financial need and purely considers the student’s academic qualifications.

Because of the high cost, Karl has had to search for other options for schools besides NYU Tisch.

“It’s definitely increased the amount of schools I’m applying to. I don’t know how much money I’m gonna get from where, so I’m applying like everywhere to see what my best option turns out to be,” Karl said.

For senior Kyle Galvin of Middletown, the issue of cost over choice also plays a major role in his decisions about higher education, to the point where it has become the ultimate deciding factor in the verdict of where he will attend.

“It has impacted my choice of schools completely, probably in a negative way,” Galvin said. “If I hear that a school isn’t known for giving out a lot of money, it’s been pretty much completely axed from my list.”

Unlike Karl, attending a “reach school” or going to a top school on his list is not a priority for Galvin. Instead, Galvin is searching for schools with the most potential financial benefits.

“I don’t really have a reach school because I don’t have like a 4.0 GPA or a perfect SAT score, so I’m just looking at good schools that I would be competitive for merit aid,” Galvin said.

But for both Galvin and Karl, the only current foreseeable solution is taking out student loans, and lots of them.

“I’ll be paying off loans for years.  I can imagine it will take a huge chunk out of my income.  I don’t know what my monthly loan payment would be yet, to be honest I’m terrified to find out” Karl said.

Worries about paying for college have also been on the mind of senior Caroline Savage of Brielle, whose top school is Princeton University with an annual cost of attendance of $67,100, according to Princeton’s website.

While Princeton remains a top contender on Savage’s list, it is overshadowed by the prospect of a different kind: attending the more local Rutgers University for next to nothing. Should Savage choose to attend Rutgers, she would be eligible to receive free tuition because of her mother’s employment at Rutgers, a factor that has had a major impact on her college search.

“The opportunity to have free tuition at Rutgers because of my mom’s job has definitely impacted my search. My family is a ‘Rutgers family’ in that many of my family members have attended or are attending the school,” Savage said. “The cost of paying hasn’t really affected my choice in schools, just because I know that if everything else costs too much Rutgers is always a viable and amazing option.”

While the time to make choices with regards to paying for college is still available for the seniors of CHS, for CHS alumni, their time is now spent living with those choices.

For alumna Megan Berkowitz, class of 2010, those choices turned out to have a major impact after graduating from Tufts University and changing career paths.

“I received financial aid and the closest to what Tufts does offer in terms of merit scholarships,” Berkowitz said. “That being said, there was a gap between what Tufts considered to be my ‘demonstrated need’ and what my family could actually reasonably afford.”

In order to close the gap, Berkowitz had to take out student loans that were initially intended to be paid back over the course of 10 years. However once Berkowitz graduated from Tufts and looked to pursue graduate degrees as well, the plan had to change.

“That plan changed, in part because I did not want to keep the full burden of the debt for the full term of the loans, and in part because I then decided that I did want to pursue graduate degrees within the first few years after completing my undergrad,” Berkowitz said. “I ended up working several jobs in the three years after graduating [from Tufts] and paid off nearly 85 percent of my loans in that time.”

The prospect of having to take additional jobs in order to help cover costs proved to be the same for alumna Cayla Harris, class of 2016. Harris, who currently attends George Washington University in Washington D.C. with an annual cost of attendance of $70,793, received a hefty merit-aid scholarship that allowed her to attend.

However it turned out that the cost of living in Washington D.C. proved to be the most challenging of all.

“D.C. is just an incredibly expensive place to live. Don’t get me wrong – I love it here and truly wouldn’t want to be in any other city – but it’s a really costly area,” Harris said. “So, my initial idea of working a part-time job through college turned into a full-time job my freshman year and two jobs over the summer.”

Harris, who is also taking out student loans to help pay for college, hopes to pay off her debt in college so that her decision to take out loans won’t weigh her down later in life.

“If anything, I don’t think it’ll be undergraduate debt that gets to me – I’m still deciding whether I want or need to go to graduate or law school, for which I’d have to take out a lot more loans all at once. So we’ll see,” Harris said.

For alumna Allison Kowalski who also attends George Washington, her college and financial decision entailed looking specifically at the monthly payments she would take on for her loans.

“My advice would be to look at what your monthly payment breakdown would be and what starting salary you’re likely to have to see if it would be manageable to work into your budget or hold you back from paying for things you need,” Kowalski said.

For both the current students and alumni of CHS, the challenge of paying for college remains a pressing issue whether or not they are hoping to attend, are attending or have graduated college.

“I think it’s ridiculous to charge this much for something that is so widely expected of job seekers,” Savage said. “We’re told that college is the next step and that it’s the best time of our lives and that we won’t be able to make good money without it, but at the same time it’s made inaccessible for the majority of the population.”

But for Karl, there is still room for a change in the future.

“Obviously if the cost of a college education could be lowered that’d be fantastic but I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” Karl said. “Maybe by the time I have my own kids, you never know.”