Cost of living weighs heavy on minds of freshmen

A recent phone call home left Gabe Bellowe stressed and anxious.

The freshman from Colorado – who is without a job and reliant on student loans – recently spent 2 hours on the telephone discussing financial issues with his father. Bellowe is one of many students who worry about the cost of living in a city like D.C., where high prices paired with high tuition can present a recipe for financial stress.

The effects of the recession have taken a toll on freshmen in 2009, with two out of three first-year students reporting “some” or “major” concern over financing college, according to a study from the Higher Education Research Institute of the University of California at Los Angeles that was released last month.

That percentage is the highest level of concern since 1971. The 44th annual report on freshman trends gathered data from first-year students at 297 four-year colleges throughout the United States.

“Stressful” and “difficult” are words that resonate among many freshmen when discussing college finances. Bellowe said he worries about how he is going to pay for housing on his own next year.

Freshman Melissa Rowlett said she feels pressure to support her single mother by attending class and working. With a single parent financing her tuition at GW, Rowlett, who is from Connecticut, said living in an expensive city like D.C. can be stressful.

“Being on scholarship and having no extra cash flow puts a lot of pressure on me,” Rowlett said. “There is a lot of pressure at GW, especially since the culture here is expensive. Everyone goes out all the time.”

Freshman Hannah Nichols, from California, has a full scholarship to GW, but said paying for food is more expensive at GW than in California – something that bothers her. Rowlett said she feels the same way.

“When you’ve spent all day working, trying to support yourself, and then everyone is going out to dinner and you don’t want to spend that kind of money, that’s when the experience of D.C. doesn’t outweigh the price tag,” Rowlett said, noting that prices in D.C. are significantly higher than in her hometown.

Kyle Mackie, a freshman from a small town in New York, agreed, saying that the cost of tuition does not worry her as much as the cost of living.

“I figured, I’m paying for college anyway, every college is going to be expensive,” Mackie said, but added, “just living in this city is expensive. Going out is even more expensive.”

Freshman Leah Goddard said she experiences similar concerns.

“It didn’t occur to me when I submitted my acceptance to GW that everything costs so much more here than it does back home in Massachusetts,” she said.

But for some, the experience of living in D.C. does outweigh the price tag.

“Loans are so stressful,” Goddard said. “But having this stress is worth it because I wanted to live in this city.”

Further research from the UCLA study showed that 53.3 percent of first-year students pay for college with the help of loans, a percentage up four points from 2008.

Rowlett said she considered attending the University of Connecticut in her home state because of the price difference, but has found the experience in D.C. compensates for the price.

“The experience and opportunities here definitely outweigh the price. When you’re having a good time, you forget that you might be poor,” Rowlett said.

And even though the cost of living has become stressful for his family, Bellowe said he would never consider transferring because of the opportunities available in D.C.

Bellowe said, “The opportunities here are what make the prices seem not so bad.”

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