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The M Word and College Students

August 6th, 2008 at 03:04 am

Iím sure this goes for a lot of schools, but I will say that at mine at the very least, students are champions of The Overshare. If I donít know you, I really donít care to know how much you drank, how many guys/girls youíre with, what prescription (and non-prescription) drugs youíre on, or how long ago your parents got divorced. A name and class year is generally a better start.

That said, there is one thing that very few people will talk about here even after youíve known them for years: money. The exceptions are the rare legacies that have buildings named after their grandparents, and the kid who makes a gigantic point out of telling everyone how little he spent on his thrift store clothes. Iím not talking ďmoneyĒ in terms of how much you make at your research job, flipping burgers, or even your i-banking internship. We all complain - or brag - about that. Iím talking about how much you really have in your bank account, how much is waiting for you in your trust fund, and how much your parents are handing you (or not) on the sly. Itís total taboo. Not only that, but there is a certain amount of shame attached and some students try to cover up the reality by buying killer clothes and entertainment systems that they canít afford. Weíre all supposed to say, ďIím a poor college student,Ē in the same way weíre all supposed to moan, ďIím never going to get into law school.Ē

The question is why? I can understand that as a working adult, how much you make is not a topic of polite conversation. For those in business/financial careers, it can be an indicator of your personal success. Actually I can understand why itís not a topic of polite conversation anyway, but the question is why are some students actively embarrassed about it? I find this is especially the case at my school, which is a small liberal arts institution where nearly everyone is the same age, living on campus, and working part-time if at all. No one is married, with children, or a finishing their degree after years in the work force.

The money we do and donít have is pretty much directly related to our parentsí success. And our parentsí success is often related to factors that we, and even they, cannot control. Divorce, serious illness, unexpected tragedies, and sudden unemployment creep into many familiesí lives and directly impact how many trips to Europe their daughter can make with her college friends- or how many textbooks she can get without a voucher. The flip side is that our parents' fortune is also not related to us (clearly, given the cost of raising a child). Yet you still see plenty of kids proud of all the bling their mom's workaholism bought them, and disdainful of their peers with less. The irony is that those kids have probably been working part-time since 14. **edit: I know some of you have trust funds and have also worked part-time since 14. I'm not really talking about you here. **

Sure, we can pad our own funds by working part-time and spending wisely, but even going off-campus to work is nearly unheard of. A part-time on-campus job is about all you can get away with before you start to feel a little awkward (this is of course completely different during the summer). Iíve had some friends explain, during uncomfortable conversations, that the money they get for those big $1,000 purchases come from hefty savings accounts that they manage. A few of them work for that money over the summer, a few dabble in stocks and other investments. But most of them have had those accounts filled up by the rents at one time or other.

This is not a complaint. My parents, too, have spotted me on many occasions when I needed it most. They have not, however, replenished my bank accounts for the sake of Spring Break or plasma TVs. What Iím really trying to get at is how bizarre it is for money (and whether we come from it) to be such a touchy issue. Some of us went to prep school, some of us went to public school, some drive a Mercedes, and some donít have a car, but weíre all applying for pretty much the same entry-level jobs.

9 Responses to “The M Word and College Students”

  1. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    Oh, this is all so interesting to me, as I have a son at a small liberal arts college where few have jobs off campus. What else do you see and ponder about money in your college environs? If you blog more on this topic, I will eat it up. Hope some other college folks will respond, too.

  2. greengirl Says:

    hmmmm. before my work got an apprentice, I was never really ashamed or embarrased about how much I earnt. I knew most of my friends my age earnt less than me, and most friends of mine that were older than me earnt much more. i had pretty much accepted it and it didn't bother me, and i had many friends who would openly talk about their finances.
    the only time i've been embarrased to talk about my own earnings was when i was helping the apprentice (who is now my friend) with her budget. she earnt about a third of what I did, and had about 7 times as much debt. when she asked how much i earnt it was the only time i tried to skirt around the issue, only because she is older than me i guess, and i had already worked out in my head that people older than me earnt more.

    not really anything to do with your post! but i'm just rambling... Smile

  3. random17 Says:

    As someone that goes to a fairly small and - I'm assuming - equally as affluent college, I would say that almost the opposite is true.

    I come from a fairly wealthy background, my family doesn't own a hotel chain and we didn't invent Velco, but I have to admit that I have a trust fund for when I'm older, and I own a couple items of clothing that are, many would say, irresponsible for someone my age. My parents always taught me the importance of money - making me have my own job and paying my own way since I was legally allowed - but I still have always felt ashamed of my money at school, and I'd go out on a limb and say that many others in my situations would agree. When I'm completely forced to talk about financial things, I have to downplay my family situation because I don't want people to think I am elitist, spoiled or a "rich b*tch" as the stereotype follows. The negativity that comes with "trust fund baby" is something that makes me almost ashamed of the success that my parents have achieved. And yes, we are all applying for the same internships and jobs, but the fact that I don't have to worry about financial aid for graduate school, and others will have to enter the workforce for 4 years to save up to go, means a lot and something that is continually in the back of my mind.

    I'm not even entirely sure if this is a contradiction to your post but I just thought I would put my two cents in there.

  4. spendinginsocal Says:

    Interesting responses. Random17, who may or may not be someone I know (K), I agree with what you're saying because I've run into that too- people who are afraid that actually having money (and being appreciative of it) makes them somehow stuck up, and they have to play it down for fear of putting people off. In addition to some rough times, my family has also seen some years of great financial success due to the hard work of both my parents, so I understand that'd gut reaction of "hey i should be able to be proud of what i have".

    What I'm trying to get at is that, yes you can be appreciative of and responsible with your good fortune, and you can definitely applaud your own parents for their work ethic (they've probably instilled that you in too). The problem is taking that success as indicative of your own success (and likewise, kids of less well of parents taking it as their own failures). It might feed your success- like you said, you don't have to get financial aid for grad school- but the trust fund is not the product of your own hard work. One day, one probably will be. But for students already fortunate enough to be able to graduate from top liberal arts colleges, I think it's merit that needs to stand out more than parental financial status. And to be totally honest I don't see that all the time at my school.

  5. spendinginsocal Says:

    Oh- also wanted to add briefly: a lot of kids waiting 4 years before entering grad school (particularly business school) aren't necessarily doing it to save up. Many business schools accept a very small percentage of students right out of college. This is also true for some law schools like Northwestern.

  6. momcents Says:


    I would think that your LSAT score would be one of the major influences getting you into Northwestern, and your overall GPA and volunteer experience. I have known plent of people who got into that school right out of undergrad..

  7. sillyoleme Says:

    I just graduated from a fairly large university, so there was more of a mix of students. The vast majority were still late teens or very early twenties, and I'd say about 95% of those were receiving some kind of assistance from their parents... whether it was tuition, rent, spending money, car payments, whatever.

    I was one of approximately 5% that was really independent, and most of the other "independents" were already married or had chosen to enter the workplace first and were only taking a few classes at a time.

    The fact that alot of the other students probably had trust funds or much easier lives never really bothered me, until one conversation I had with my Accounting 202 professor. I had bombed our first exam, and made an appointment with him to go over the answers, so I could do better on the next one. When he looked at my schedule and saw that I was taking 19 credit hours, he suggested that I just drop the class.

    I was double-degreeing at the time, so I couldn't afford to drop any classes without having to go an extra semester at the end. I told him this, and his first response was "What's the hurry? Why don't you just let your parents carry you for a while, and take fewer classes?"

    It was then that I realized that everyone assumed that ALL students were getting assistance from somewhere. I'm the first one in my family to even go to college, let alone get a full scholarship to cover tuition, but my parents had no money to help with rent, books, food, car insurance, etc. So from that point on, I kind of resented the "trust fund" kids for making everyone assume that we all had it easy.

    Anyway - back to the point... I never discussed my bank account balances with anyone, because I felt like if they knew all the bills I had to pay for myself and my family (when I was helping my mom & grandma), they would know alot about my parent's finances. I guess I really didn't feel like it was my place to share anyone else's business.

  8. sillyoleme Says:

    A side note - I ended up staying in the Accounting class and finishing with an A. Wink

  9. spendinginsocal Says:

    I can't believe the prof would say that...it seems like there are enough kids on financial aid that that comment would be risky. Good for you for sticking with it!

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