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How I’m Paying for College: Grinnell College Student Yoli Martin

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Ask higher education experts at the New York Times, the Hechinger Report, or the Washington Post and they’ll all tell you Iowa’s Grinnell College is determined to be socioeconomically diverse.


Grinnell’s need-blind policy and commitment to meeting students' financial aid popped it up to the top of the list for second-year student Yoli Martin, who is from the suburbs of Madison, Wisconsin.


"We looked at schools that met 100 percent financial need and I only applied to those, except UW Madison," Yoli said of her application process. “The chances of getting a merit scholarship would be really low, so it would not be worth it to apply and bank on that.”


She also immediately crossed off any school estimated to cost more than UW Madison. After all, why bother heading out of state to pay through the nose when rankings consistently place the nearby state university in top 50 rankings?


Although Yoli said her family talked about the cost of college before application time, the details of their situation were fuzzy until she watched her mom fill out financial aid forms.


“It was kind of interesting seeing our financials, how they actually work,” she said, noting that some questions, like property value, weren’t even on her radar.


Despite those surprises, she felt decently prepared for the process. “I went to a really small school and we had a college counselor who did a lot of one-on-one with each student,” she said. “She had the time to do that. It was pretty much if you need help, just ask.”


Yoli is the oldest of three, and her younger brother is a high school senior, which means it’s her turn to pass on the college application advice to look at a price tag before picking a school. It also leaves her slightly uncertain about how much of the cost of college she’ll end up shouldering herself.


“For now I don't have any loans....hopefully that will go throughout college,” she said. So far, her family hasn’t needed to negotiate with the financial aid office.


Earnings from Yoli’s jobs during high school and her current positions at a campus dining hall and in student government all go towards the cost of college.


“All the money I'm making right now is either going now to tuition or will be going to tuition,” she said.

Yoli, a prospective biology major, plans to go to medical school, so she has years of school bills ahead of her. She knows med school will require loans. At least finishing undergrad without loans would give her some flexibility about post-college roles.


“I could find a job and it wouldn't have to be totally dependent on how much money I was making,” she said. “If I didn't have any loans, I would work a few months and then maybe volunteer somewhere. It gives me a lot of possibilities.”


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