One Perspective on Financial Aid

September 28, 2019
Jonathan Haynes

For me, the question of "Why Princeton?" is always a fun one to reflect on. In many ways, my journey here can be traced to a 6 x 9-inch flyer.

From a young age my parents impressed upon my siblings and I that education is a critical resource towards self-empowerment and that college is a step in that journey. However, growing up in a low-income family, we were also pushed to apply to scholarships just as intensely as we applied to university, if not more so. Without stifling our desires or pushing us towards any one school or type of education, my parents also encouraged us to take the realities of paying for an education seriously. Therefore, my college search kept me confined to public schools or schools that offered competitive student loan financing. Few people from my town ever ventured outside of the state for higher education let alone Princeton.

To be honest, I don’t remember even hearing about Princeton beyond the yearly rankings or in books that included anecdotes on the Ivy League. Applying to Princeton was surely the furthest thing from my mind. That is, until I received a 6 x 9-inch flyer. I still remember, to this day that the flyer read, "82% of students graduate debt free." And although I was not sure the black and orange colors would look good on me, I decided to throw my name into the application pool in the hopes that I could be one of those 82% and avoid the intimidating prospect of years of student debt.

Many months later, I found myself grateful with my acceptance letter in hand and a trip to Princeton Preview, Princeton's spring program for newly admitted students. I remember being amazed by the beauty of the campus and feeling overwhelmed by the campus' activities. I was already interested in pursuing my education at Princeton, but seeing the financial aid package put it over the top for me. It was eye opening to see that not only do people in my financial position receive extremely generous aid packages, but students whose family income was as high as $160,000 also receive full tuition coverage. Even more enticing, I no longer had to configure personal loan financing as Princeton’s financial aid system works on grants, which do not need to be paid back. Even when you are unable to avoid loans, there are a variety of subsidized and unsubsidized loan options. It has been a journey to understand all these financial aid terms and the ins and outs of the financial system, but the financial aid officers are very helpful in navigating the system and addressing any concerns I have had.

Outside of direct financial aid, I have also found Princeton incredibly helpful in attempting to minimize the ways that differences in socio-economic status affects the Princeton experience. I was not sure I really believed this until I had the opportunity to study abroad my junior spring. Princeton's policy is that socio-economic position should not inhibit students from such incredible opportunities and therefore students will not pay more for these experiences (study abroad during the academic year) than they typically do for Princeton. The result of this policy is the ability to work with financial aid for generous support of international opportunities during the academic year and the summer. A more personal result was that the financial aid assistance allowed me to enjoy my semester in France without any additional tuition, room & board or insurance costs. 

It is still surreal to me that Princeton came into my life via a flyer for financial aid, but I am grateful that it did. And now that I have more years under my belt here, my skepticism has given way to evangelism for the Financial Aid Office here at Princeton. They are not exaggerating when they say it is a big reason why Princeton stands out among its peers and is what makes this place so great. 

Editor’s Note: Financial aid figures reflect 2019-20 academic year.