Not Rich Enough and Not Poor Enough
Most of my highschool classmates came from middle class families that were not extremely rich. During senior year, I noticed a situation where families were not wealthy enough to reasonably pay for the costs of college, but not poor enough to receive significant financial aid. As a result, some of my classmates who got into prestigious colleges were forced to make a different choice.
Personally, I was accepted to the University of California, Berkeley with a Regents Scholarship. After filling out a FAFSA , I was determined to have no financial need so I received an honorarium of $500 per semester. On the other hand one of my classmates was determined to have a financial need because his father lost his job. The scholarship covered his tuition and even rent for him and his parents since they lived together. I thought that was great for him because he needed the support, but at the back of my mind I thought it was a bit unfair because I received the exact same scholarship, but my financial reward was about 1/20th of what he received.
My situation was not that dire because my parents could readily afford the fairly low in state tuition of Berkeley at that time. However, a couple of my other classmates chose their second choice schools because their parents were not rich enough and not poor enough to afford their first choices. One girl I knew was accepted into Harvard, but ended up choosing UC Santa Cruz because her parents could not reasonable afford the costs of Harvard, and yet at the same time the forms said that they do not qualify for financial aid because her parents could technically afford Harvard by spending every penny of their income. Another girl chose Berkeley over MIT for the same reason even though she really wanted to go to MIT. Basically, those who can afford college easily had no problems, and those who could not pay also had no worries. It is only those families that could barely afford the fees and tuition of colleges that had to make their children make a difficult decision.
At that time, I thought that the situation was extremely unfair because these classmates of mine were very bright and earned their spots at their top choice of schools. The only reason they had to give up their positions was that their parents were hardworking middle class Americans. Since all of the financial aid documents are so tied to our parents' income and assets there was not much a 17 or 18 year old could do about it. Lately, some colleges like Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale have extended their aid to middle class families because they finally realized that they are losing great students in families who are barely able to afford these schools. Regardless of these reforms, I think every year thousands of middle class students are still forced to forgo their first choice schools because of the way financial needs are determined.
However, looking back now I think that my classmates made the right choice by not choosing an expensive undergraduate education that their families could not finance. Since they are exceptional individuals they are still exceptional regardless of which college they went to (their second choice schools are great anyway). The girl that gave up MIT during her undergraduate years is now at MIT anyway in a PhD program which is financed by fellowships. Her family also does not have any debts because she chose a school that was much more affordable during her undergraduate years. Now I understand her maturity and wisdom in forgoing her first choice.
If you are a teen who had to give up your top choice school because your family is in the middle class and could not get financial aid, then I understand your angst. All I have to say is that as long as you excel in whichever college you choose, you can still be successful and perhaps end up in your first choice school again.