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Harvard’s generous new policy for low-income students hardly makes a dent in total expenses

Ivy League universities: as prestigious as education can get, renowned in academics and athletics, almost as old as the nation itself — and an impossible dream for most average-income students and especially for students with low incomes for whom even community college may be a fantasy. Starting with the class of 2017, this dream may be slightly more achievable.

Harvard College President Drew Faust announced Sept. 20 that incoming undergraduate students from low-income families  — those earning $60,000 per year or less — will receive free tuition.

“When only 10 percent of the students in elite higher education come from families in the lower half of the income distribution, we are not doing enough,” he said in the announcement. “We are not doing enough in bringing elite higher education to the lower half of the income distribution.”

The first reaction to this announcement is likely to be one of astonishment, followed by a renewed faith in humanity. How generous and inspiring. Now so many deserving students will be able to receive a first-rate education. But after research, pessimism sinks in. With a 6 percent acceptance rate, according to thebestschools.org, paying for Harvard may not be the most difficult part. Getting accepted is a mountainous obstacle itself because it takes much more than extreme hard work to be accepted into elite Ivy League schools. It also takes connections and money.

According to collegeboard.com’s profile of Harvard, one of the factors in being admitted is alumni relation. While trust-fund babies might have several Harvard alumni in their family, it is doubtful that low-income high schoolers do — not necessarily impossible, but certainly unlikely. So, strike one in being accepted.

Connections may only affect a minor part in acceptance, but money affects several.

To be accepted into Harvard, a student must not only kick butt in high school, while also having extracurricular activities and doing volunteer work — leaving little time for a job — he or she must also invest quite a bit of money.

Harvard requires high SAT scores which must be paid to the college ($10 per school) as well as the test itself ($51). In addition, there are test prep courses with varying prices, as well as possible retests to take into account.

Then there is a $75 school application fee and two SAT subject tests costing between $40 and $60 each. Of course, the price compounds if a retest is required.

Finally, and possibly the most expensive part in the acceptance process, is the interview at Harvard College, located in Cambridge, Mass., which will only be financially possible depending on your geographical location in the country and how snazzy you want to look for your interview.

Then comes the post-acceptance monetary investment. Because not everyone accepted into Harvard lives nearby, room and board becomes a factor. While Faust may have addressed the $42,292 yearly tuition expense, he did not address housing. Nor books. Nor personal expenses, all of which totals at roughly $18,000 or $8,000 for those living at home, according to The College Board.

While it is not a university’s responsibility to pay for its students’ education, and Harvard’s initiative is truly very generous, the likelihood of it making a significant enough impact for deserving low-income students is doubtful.

Opinion columnist Monica Rojas is a print journalism sophomore and may be reached at [email protected].

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