Hampshire College junior Charlotte Somerville’s non-traditional schooling path meant she was considering the cost of college years before applications were on the horizon.
“We had a conversation way at the beginning of high school about that because the public school system didn't work very well for me, and we thought about sending me to private school,” Charlotte recalled. Her parents told her: “Either we can help you out a lot with college, or we can send you to private [high] school.”
Charlotte chose the former and was homeschooled, taking classes online, with local groups, and at Harvard Extension School, which at the time offered a tuition deal for about 50 percent off to homeschooled students.
“Originally I applied to a number of art schools when I was [high school] senior age and had finished my associate’s degree at Harvard Extension. I ended up getting into Parsons on a 50 percent scholarship, which was really fantastic—but I discovered within three weeks that I absolutely hated art school,” said Charlotte, who is 19. So she left, intending to take a gap year, but soon got a case of cabin fever and applied to Hampshire College, where a combination of financial aid and merit scholarships partially fund her schooling.
She vaguely remembered the FAFSA process, and while she’s grateful her parents (who both have advanced degrees) handled it at the time, Charlotte said in hindsight she wishes she had been more involved.
“There were a lot of calls and emails back and forth “that I definitely didn't understand as much as I really wish I did... I definitely feel like I was not as conceptually involved in that effort as I could have been,” she said. Had she been more involved, she thinks she could pass on that knowledge to younger students. “I wish I was able to help other people out with that,” she said.
Charlotte worked various retail jobs starting in high school to save for college and finance her own room. On a day-to-day basis, she doesn’t feel the threat of college payments looming, but she is already thinking ahead to graduate school, which she knows will be largely self-financed. As a result, she hopes to study in the E.U. (where her Netherlands citizenship would make it far cheaper than in the U.S., and potentially free) and plans to work for a few years before beginning the next stage of her education.
“I definitely come to college with a fair amount of financial privilege. I will be leaving college with next to no debt, which I am incredibly grateful for, that my parents have been able to do that,” said Charlotte, adding that her younger sister’s full ride to Simmons lifted a lot of financial stress off the family’s shoulders.
While Charlotte said there is some discussion of paying for college among her classmates, “it's obviously still a taboo subject.”
“There's less conversation about that then maybe there should be,” she said.
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