By Joshua Bloom
My parents didn’t go to college. Neither did their parents. When it came time for me to decide what I would be doing after High School, I really had no idea. “I guess I’ll apply,” I would say. I mean, after all, I had exceptional grades. Counselors were in my ear feeding me glorious fairytales ending with full-ride scholarships, Ivy League schools, and dream jobs. I wasn’t really concerned with all that. I was too busy trying to chase girls and play ball.
Still, when it came down to it, I applied for a bunch of UC’s, CSU’s and private schools and figured I’d try this college thing out. For me, applying to college was just something everyone told me I should do. My sister did it the year before me, and I was already hearing crazy stories about college life. It wasn’t until I actually went on a college tour that I actually began envisioning myself on a college campus. I became infatuated with the bubble that was “student life.” Everyone I met was so focused and yet so very terrified by the idea of being on their own.
I ended up choosing the University of California, Santa Cruz. I applied for a few scholarships, and received a REALLY good financial aid award letter, since my family did not have much money. My first two years were rough, and I needed a lot of support from family and friends. I struggled to find my identity and my voice as a mixed-race-politically radical-hip-hopper navigating a mostly white, neo-liberal space. It was definitely challenging.
Back home, things could not be going better. My father, who was a painter, had started his own business, which was really starting to pick up. Unfortunately, this impacted my financial aid award, and my Expected Family Contribution (EFC) toward the cost of school increased to a level that was completely unreasonable for my family to pay. We went back and forth with the Financial Aid office, but when it came down to it, my family was faced with a decision: Either take out private loans, or pull me or my sister out of school for awhile.
I was already utilizing the work-study program, but decided to apply to become an RA on campus (which held about a $10,000 per year value in room and board). I realized that this was the only option, and the only way my family could really afford to keep me and my sister in school. So while all my other friends were doing study abroad programs and amazing internships for their last two years, I was organizing ice cream socials and sex ed workshops—plus political actions and hip-hop concerts on the side. Not exactly what I had in mind, but given the tremendous privilege I had been afforded to even BE a college student, I was honored to have the option. I come from a low-income community and it’s tough to figure out any way to make college seem like a realistic possibility when the cost is so high. Most of my friends from high-school didn’t make it there at all.
This is why I care so much about Young Invincibles work to make college an affordable reality. Too many people don’t have the opportunities I had and that has to change. Learn more about YI’s work on college affordability here and take action here.