Students pay their own way through GW

Sophomore Melissa Hooper said she chose to attend GW because of its location, its reputation and the Elliott School of International Affairs. With six children, however, Hooper’s parents told her they could not bear the cost of a GW education.

Instead of attending the University of Texas – where she said she could have gone tuition-free – Hooper decided to pay her own way to go to GW.

“I was a little naive but I am certainly not a quitter,” she said. “I will make anything I have to do work.”

Hooper has two to three jobs at a time – right now she is a community host and works for a family business, and last semester she also worked for a perfume company at the Pentagon City mall. She receives scholarships, but she said there is still a $13,000 gap each year between the $4,000 to $5,000 she is able to contribute and the actual cost of tuition, housing and living, so she is taking out loans.

Hooper said now more than ever it is justifiable to attend an expensive private school, even if that means having several jobs at a time and taking out loans, because of the importance of a college’s name recognition when searching for a job.

An April 10 New York Times article said more students now have to work and take out loans to pay for greater portions of their college education. More students now want to attend more costly private schools, but parents are not contributing either because they cannot afford to or because they want their children to learn financial responsibility.

Director of Financial Aid Daniel Small said he estimates that only a small percentage of GW students are entirely responsible for paying for their tuition.

“I don’t know if we find that as much at GW. (Parents) are fairly committed to paying for a good education,” he said. “It takes a family commitment to come to GW.”

A family’s inability to make this commitment, however, may come at a cost to the school. “I feel like the quality of students you attract depends on leveling the playing field, and the playing field has not been leveled for all students,” Hooper said.

For students who decide to attend GW without financial support from their parents, it can be difficult to balance academics with work.

Freshman Merry Fuerst said she works 30 to 40 hours a week at Starbucks. She takes 19 credits and often works until 1 a.m. Fuerst does homework between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. – which is when she needs to start getting ready for her 8 a.m. classes.

“Free time during the week is literally nonexistent,” Fuerst said.

Fuerst has been mostly financially independent from her parents since her senior year of high school, and now they only pay for small expenses.

Like Hooper, Fuerst said she would have received free tuition at any public university within Florida, but she knew she wanted to be farther from home.

“I figured that if I wanted to go here badly enough, I would find a way to finance it,” she said. “I needed to get out of Florida. I needed to experience new things.”

These students pay for college because their parents are financially unable to contribute, but Small said many families have difficult paying for college because of their unwise spending habits before their children become college-aged.

“What unfortunately happens in society is that parents raise their families to use credit cards and loans to get the immediate gratifications, Small said. “When college comes, it’s a huge expense. They don’t have as much disposable income because they’ve just been reacting.”

Small said he hears from other parents who do not contribute or contribute less because they want their children to learn financial responsibility.

“They’re saying, ‘I had to do it on my own, you have to do it on your own,'” he said.

In 2004 to 2005, there were $13.8 billion in private loans for graduate and undergraduate education, which is an increase from $10.4 billion the previous school year. According to The Times article, while there are no statistics on whether those taking out the loans are parents or students, financial aid officers believe it is unlikely that parents could account for all the increased borrowing because parents receive more favorable rates under the government program. The increase in private loans is likely evidence of an increase in private student loans.

About 60 percent of undergraduates receive some type of financial assistance from GW. Annually, $180 million is given out in undergraduate financial assistance.

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