What is it Like Being a Poor Student at College?

With the price of tuition only going up and never down—and professional programs like law or medicine running into six digits—affording an education is becoming an out-of-reach prospect for a growing number of students.

At some of American's top tier schools, like Harvard or Yale, tuition can run into the tens of thousands each year, and that's not even including room and board, books, meal plans, and other extraneous costs. Most schools have healthy endowment funds, but they're not always guaranteed, or cover the full amount of costs.

For students who come from wealthy families, or students who have earn academic-based scholarships, tuition isn't usually a big problem. But for poor students, attending university can be as achievable as climbing Mt. Everest.

Forbes wrote that, according to a Brookings study, only 8% of low-income students (defined as a family income below $41, 472) applied to a "reach" school (a school whose median score is more than 5 percentiles above the student's own) and of that group, only a third (34%) actually attended one of the country's 238 most select universities.

Meanwhile, students from wealthy families are overrepresented, with almost half (45.6%) of undergrads at Harvard coming from families who make more than $200,000/year—or, the top 3.8% of income earners in the country.

For programs that were typically seen as "meal tickets", such as law or medicine, have had their reputations slowly stripped away with rising tuition costs making them more inaccessible to the general population. When a school program that costs $50,000/year is pocket change to a wealthy student but absolutely affordable for a low-income student, these jobs make the rich richer, and the poor poorer.

And despite there being student loans and financial aid available, it still means that a low-income student will be graduating with a substantial load of debt, with paying it off taking many years and creating a huge burden that can affect their health, productivity, forward growth, and lifestyle.