After finishing a long year, are you ready to start relaxing on the beach? Not so fast, dear college students. Summer might not be as ideal as you imagined if you don’t consider summer student contribution when you plan out your summers. As part of many colleges’ financial aid package, the school expects students to earn an income over the summer from a job, and thus use the income to pay for their education. It is theoretically perfectly reasonable for students to support their own education by working during their free time, i.e., summer break. However, given job market expectations and how the information about summer student contribution is presented, the requirement often takes people by surprise and creates unnecessary stress for students receiving financial aid.
The summer contribution requirement varies from college to college, ranging from $1000 to $5000, and it also varies by class year. Often, upperclassmen are expected to earn more over the summer than underclassmen; consequently they are required to contribute more to their tuition from summer earnings. Although requiring summer income contribution is common practice at many colleges, the practice is not well known nor well-publicized to incoming students, and freshmen often find out too late in the year to be able to prepare adequately for the contribution. Take this as a kind warning to read your financial aid offer letter closely and look for potential summer income contribution requirements instead of simply being elated at the aid offered. In addition, some schools do not mention summer income contribution on their initial financial aid letter since some schools do not require students to contribute anything their first year of college. Thus, after a year of college, the requirement suddenly pops out anew and unpleasantly surprises the students and their parents with its hefty amount. The best way forward is to check out the financial aid websites and fully take note of all 4 years’ worth of summer student contributions so that there are no more nasty surprises.
More than simply taking note, it is important to actively plan the summers with the requirement in mind. Where will you receive income from to contribute when it is time? For many, this would translate into finding a paying job over the summer. Sounds easy, right? However, jobs that pay well could be difficult to find, especially for freshmen and sophomores. Furthermore, the job search process can often be stressful and intimidating. Nevertheless, these experiences will be valuable to have, and having a paying job cultivates a feeling of responsibility and ownership over one’s education.
A more critical look at the summer income contribution requirement leads us to question whether the requirement is fair and whether the requirement cripples students on financial aid in the long run. Many schools claim that its generous financial aid program will allow students who come from less privileged households to have the same college experience as wealthier classmates. However, common sense and experience shows that seemingly trivial differences, such as imposing a summer income contribution, places unequal stress and burden on students of low socio-economic status.
Many competitive internships and summer programs do not offer students a steady income that could be saved for income contribution. Even in cases where the internship pays well, the cost of living in big cities or abroad for the internship could be prohibitive enough for students to save enough money to pay back the summer contribution. Students on financial aid are thus forced to consider jobs, often less exciting than juicy non-paid internships or research positions, Worse, study abroad programs or summer schools that suck away money in tuition are options that are off the table for students working to pay their summer income contribution. Unlike students whose families embark on expeditions across the Amazon once summer starts or students whose parents could afford to pay their sublet in New York City while they work unpaid for the UN, students on financial aid often have to decline these great options and hunker down for jobs generate more income but perhaps less learning and opportunities.