A Little Dose of Truth

>A Polish student living in America, Katarzyna Jelonek-Allen, gives our World of English readers an insight into the realities of American university life. Pay attention (before you pay the fees!)

In 1999 I applied to The University of Scranton, Pennsylvania hoping to get into one of their graduate programs. A couple of months later I heard back (I couldn't believe my luck) and hurried all the way from Boston for my interview in Scranton. As stressed out as I was after an eight-hour car ride, I had to make a good impression. As it happens, I passed with flying colors.

So, I was all set to go to school and expand my horizons, study like crazy and graduate. No problem. But I couldnt have been more wrong. Why? Well, money is the answer. I wont give the actual price I pay for a semester, but let me tell you this much an average Pole will have to work for about 20 months to pay for just one semester of tuition. Obviously, I didnt have this kind of money, so I had to turn to Federal Loans. By the time Im done with school, I will owe enough money to buy a brand new Lexus and probably end up paying my loans off for the rest of my life. Sounds freaky? Well, I did freak out a bit initially, but after you realize that the majority of people get stuck owing money after they graduate, you feel better knowing there are other people out there in the same boat.

Sorry that I keep writing about money, but sadly its what its all about. Each semester-worth of books, for instance, costs something like a plane ticket to the Caribbean. Not only that, you actually have to read every single one of them front to back! You get so much reading assigned weekly that you have to take your books with you everywhere to squeeze it all in.

Now lets move to another big issue. I am pretty sure that all of you are familiar with Beverly Hills 90210. Do you happen to remember how Steve was cheating once in a test and everybody was disgusted? Even his friend Brandon disapproved and pondered telling the principal. Well, believe it or not, this is not a fictitious thing fabricated to enhance the morals of the teenage audiences. There is absolutely no cheating allowed in American schools. Maybe it does still occasionally happen, but not as habitually as in Polish schools. There is one simple reason if you get caught, you get expelled and your record is tarnished from then on. At my college, during finals, for instance, the professor can walk out of the room and be guaranteed that no one will risk looking at someone elses papers. Pretty cool, ha?

These are the experiences of a graduate student. Undergraduates are a completely different story. I havent had that experience myself, but my husband, an American, has, so I can share some of that with you. Like in Great Britain the majority of kids here do not live with their parents when they go to college. More often than not, they dont even live in the same State. If somebody has parents who are well off enough to cover their tuition, housing and living expenses, they are pretty lucky.

Lets just say that you are not one of these lucky kids, then what? Well, there are loans, financial aid and work. Yes, a lot of kids go to school full-time and work to make ends meet. You have to manage your money so it lasts long enough for you to survive. Theres much more to college life than learning and partying.

by Katarzyna Jelonek-Allen