Are Academic Scholarships Helping or Hindering Low-Income Students?


College scholarships–possibly a high school student’s greatest desire. But how likely is it for this dream to come true? Typically, scholarships are given on two basis: merit-based and need-based. Merit-based scholarships are awarded to those at the top of their class who will be a strong asset at the college or university that they are awarded the scholarship at. As for need-based, these scholarships are awarded to students who also excel past their classmates but simply cannot afford to pay for college expenses, often based off of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Over the years, many schools and programs have been working endlessly to provide more opportunities and resources to students of these lower backgrounds in hopes of helping them to achieve their goals and further their education. However, even with these additional efforts of getting these financial burdens off of students while increasing acceptance rates, it is not easy to tell whether or not these students are mentally prepared for college in general.

According to Slate Magazine, a noticeable trend is that there are fewer “smart yet poor” students graduating than there are “middling and rich” students. Although these students are attending school, they are not finishing.


Jordan Weissmann, a Slate editor, says how the smart, poor students who perform higher than others still do not attach degrees because of their lack of financial resources, motivation, or support. But what if that financial worry is taken off of these students? Oftentimes, this is the ideal sample group for need-based scholarships and many assume that with the increasing amount of aid, the graduation rates will be increasing but this is not the case; these individuals continue to suffer and deal with many more stresses of being motivated, fitting in, feeling wanted, and overall simply enjoying time in college, all around people who may differ from them greatly.

With that being said, now when we consider this same set of students, can we better understand why it still may remain difficult to achieve academic success?

Harvard University student, Ana Barros, describes her first experience on campus as feeling out of place and as if she had the words “low income” written across her face; she was extremely self-conscious about being surrounded by people who she knew were far more  privileged than she was. In many cases, students like Ana would not have been offered the opportunity of attending a prestigious university had it not been for an academic scholarship, and although these scholarships has gotten the students to the school, they do little to help keep them enrolled; actually, it has been said that these forms of assistance cause stress levels to increase due to the additional expectations and obligations that come with them (i.e. study hall, GPA requirements, community service, etc.)


James Madison University freshmen, Malaki Carter and Justin Albert-Thomas are Centennial Scholars, a program that offers financial and academic aid to students based on both need and merit. Each of them spoke briefly of their personal feelings and experiences of being a student on a full ride scholarship.



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