Beyond the UGGs: Financial Strains at Pres

Photo by Sanjana Garg

Photo by Sanjana Garg

From the moment I park my beat up Honda Odyssey behind a shiny new BMW in the morning, to students tapping their $200 UGG-clad feet in anticipation for the end of 4th period, money can be seen anywhere and everywhere at Pres. In fact, an outsider’s image of Pres girls would probably be that of an upper middle-class girl with a Starbucks Gold Rewards card and money to burn.

Even Pres girls themselves hold this same image of the standard student, more specifically, “a rich girl who has multiple pairs of UGG boots, a nice car, and a North Face backpack,” according to senior Renuka Garg.

However, the facts point to a different reality: one in four students receive financial aid, so it’s clear that more than a few Pres girls simply don’t fit this image. Furthermore, these stereotypes of wealth and a wasteful financial lifestyle negatively impact social interactions that many girls have with the more fortunate of the student body.

“Financial stress is a part of my daily life with college coming up next year,” says a senior who wishes to remain anonymous. “I was luckily able to get money from FAFSA which helps a lot, but money is brought up in my household about once a day. I would say financial stress is the second biggest stressor in my life, behind school of course.”

It’s clear that financial stress is anything but nonexistent among many Pres girls; however, while 25% of the student body receives financial aid, 75% do not. And among those 75% are those who are on the other end of the spectrum: financial strains are not something they think about on a day-to-day basis. As a result, interactions with more affluent peers can be awkward, and sometimes frustrating.

“Sometimes I notice a difference between my peers [who are wealthier] and me because they don’t know how to handle [or] save money,” continues the student. “They also don’t appreciate money as much as I do…I have never had someone judge me for being on work scholarship before, but a lot of students here don’t know about the work scholarship program here. Most work scholarship students don’t share that they are on work scholarship – I think [it is] because they are embarrassed, but I have come to love work scholarship because it has taught me so much about money and the value of a dollar.”

The work scholarship program, in which the amount of aid students receive corresponds to how many work hours need to be completed, is an integral part of many Pres students’ lives. Lisa Bunnell, head of the Tuition and Financial Aid program, says that the school makes a conscious effort to ensure that students on financial aid don’t feel embarrassed when completing their hours.

“We try to not let [the singling out of students] happen. For example, the PAC girls work at Open House. Different clubs do different events. It’s not just the kids on work scholarship that have to do something,” Bunnell says. “For fashion show, there are girls who are working that are on financial aid, and girls who are working that are not. No one feels that the only ones doing things around the school are financial aid girls – which isn’t true. We try to make it so that girls don’t feel left out.”

While efforts from the administration may ease any discomfort students in the work scholarship program may feel, a junior who wishes to remain anonymous attests that students from more affluent families can be inconsiderate when talking about money with their peers.  

“People talk so freely about shopping and spending money and it’s an intimidating feeling,” she says. “The value on money is so huge, and it’s always been something I’ve always kept in my head. So when I see my friends dropping $50 on a shirt or buying so much stuff, I always feel intimidated to shop too.”

On the surface, while it may seem that most Pres girls are from well-to-do families, it’s important to recognize that this isn’t the case for many students, and to be mindful when talking about finances. The administration can only do so much to provide equal opportunities and a comfortable environment for students on financial aid – it’s ultimately up to the more fortunate part of the student body to choose what type of experience that they want their peers to have.

It starts with the way we interact with others. If you decide that you want to buy a new car, go for it! But if you also decide to talk about it, keep in mind that it’s perhaps not a good idea to bring that up to students who can’t afford an automobile, or worse, to that one student with the dilapidated, hand-me-down Honda Odyssey.