I am a senior, and I guess the next step is college, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. So I decided to give University of Wisconsin at Madison a try. I heard it is big, diverse and busy - kind of what I wanted after growing up in a small town where crop insurance is more important than dental insurance. So I got this application thingy and filled it out - simple questions like “What is your first name, last name, gender and address?” Wow, college is going to be easy, I thought. I can answer these questions without even looking them up.
A month later, I got a letter reading: “Dear Jessica: Congratulations and welcome! I am delighted to inform you that you have been admitted to the University of Wisconsin at Madison” and so on.
Then I came to a stub requesting that I check yes or no indicating whether I would be attending, where I will be provided “with excellent opportunities to expand [my] social and cultural horizons.” That little pencil mark in the yes box cost my dad $100. Soon after, I got a package in the mail that contained information on expenses, and, holy snikes, they better be expanding my social and cultural horizons and much more for the money they want! Fee and tuition: $5,140. Books and supplies: $820. Room and board: $6,130. Miscellaneous: $1,860. Travel: $400. The look on my father’s face when he saw the bill: priceless.
Hey, sometimes people are a little off on their estimates, and let’s hope they aimed too high. If not, all I got out of this is that you have to be rich if you want to better the world. I mean, your dad, who is probably a doctor, can afford for you to go to school and become a doctor also - supporting the theory that the rich get richer, and the poor get, well, poorer.
I opened the brochure and the first thing it said was, “Welcome: we mapped out a budget plan” (how kind of them), and in parentheses they failed to add “we are going to squeeze every last gosh darn penny out of your pockets! Thank you and have a great stressful four years, where we will, if we have to, make sure you and your family are eating out of dumpsters!” Now I know why they ask you to check the box indicating “Yes, I will come to Madison” before you realize how much it costs. You’d be nuts to check it after! I had the option of asking for it back, but that would have been an additional charge.
I thought it was all over, but no, I was just in the eye of the hurricane. The next day, I got letters in the mail saying $100 for this and $50 for that, $250 advance housing payment, $300 to breathe the air and $50 to get a glimpse of the Lincoln statue every day. The dollar signs were just as plentiful as the periods at the end of every sentence. Wait until they realize how many people can answer those questions on that application , but get turned away because they just don’t have the money. I guess going to college has come down to how rich you are versus how smart you are.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.