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The Orion

How to succeed in college while poor

Nadia Hill
Graphic depicting the road to success in college is blocked by financial stress.

I grew up poor. I am poor. I’ll probably die still poor. The closest chance to not stay poor is getting a degree. As a full-time student, I also have to be a full-time employee so I can afford to stay alive. My story is not rare in the slightest. A third of college students in California are living under the poverty line. In 2020-2021, 71% of undergraduate students use financial aid in order to attend Chico State

During an argument with a professor, I confessed I couldn’t afford glasses. He stared me down and scoffed at me to get a job. When I informed him I had three, he rolled his eyes and let out a laugh. He told me college is not where I belonged.

Students who are lower-class are at a disadvantage which leaves too much responsibility for a student, dissuading them from continuing their higher education. 

Chico State has some resources. The WellCat Health Center has more affordable options for medicine. For those who can’t afford groceries, the Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry has pasta, canned beans and frozen hotdog buns. As someone who frequently visits the pantry, it is always a hit-or-miss if you can get enough food for the week. 

Chico State also offers work-study programs. However, many student employees have started to notice a cut in their hours. This leaves them to find work off- campus which makes it difficult to earn a livable wage while working part-time, since classes take priority.

Instead of the main priority in school being homework and classes, many students main priority is to make money. School is an afterthought — it has to be. Making sure you are able to pay your bills and eat at least once a day will always trump making sure you did your reading.

I have worked for college my entire life. Growing up, I was told one of the only places where talent could be a stand-in for class status was university. I worked hard to earn scholarships and grants and now I am here and the motivation to achieve has morphed into something I didn’t expect. 

Now I feel as if I need to validate my existence on campus to both students and professors. I thought if I just got to college, I would be treated as a regular student who grew up financially stable. 

Now I know that they will let you try and pat you on the head, but they’ll never really let you in. You have to fight. You have to advocate for yourself. 

To anyone insecure or frustrated with the overwhelming pressure of being a worker and a student, know that I see you and I’m so proud. This hard work and stress will make you stronger than you can imagine. I know it’s unfair to see others live off their parents and breeze through life while you work your second weekend in a row. 

I don’t know how to fix it, I wish I could. However, never forget if you are a student, you were enrolled because you deserve to be here. Refuse to let anyone disregard you because of anything, especially because of how much money you have.


Nadia Hill can be reached at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Nadia Hill
Nadia Hill, Arts and Entertainment and Food Editor
Nadia Hill is originally from Carson City, Nevada, and is in the middle of her sophomore year. Currently, she is double-majoring in journalism (public relations) and studio arts. She is one of two social media managers on The Orion. Both writing and social justice have captivated her with the field of journalism and is excited to continue with her second semester on The Orion. In her personal time, she enjoys painting, performing and working with children.

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  • J

    Jason // Nov 26, 2023 at 2:09 pm

    This is a good opinion piece that conveys the author’s perspective well. I personally did not like the hook–it feels defeatist when the title of this column begins “How to *Succeed*” (emphasis added). On that note, only the fourth paragraph provides practical advice on what resources can help one succeed (or perhaps the better word is “survive”) as a low-income college student. The rest of the article describes more of a mentality shift: a “keep that chip on your shoulder” outlook that most fiscally insecure students have already adopted just to make it on campus. Therefore, I would have suggested re-titling this story to express solidarity with lower-class students. With that angle as the headline, the managing editor’s jarring dialogue with their professor could be the new hook.

    If Nadia Hill wanted to expand this work for a wider audience (i.e., not primarily students), I see considerable potential in restructuring this piece as a call-to-action for college administrators. This approach would solve the problem that is left unanswered in the last paragraph (“I don’t know how to fix it. I wish I could.”) by putting the onus on those better positioned to provide support. I recommend broadening this story to further highlight the specific gaps in services and the simple actions that can go a long way towards narrowing those gaps. Universities have increasingly elevated social mobility as a major metric for alumni success; a complementary commitment these schools should adopt is financial stability for *student* success.

  • M

    Mimi Nguyen // Nov 13, 2023 at 2:53 pm

    I’m sorry that a professor had the audacity to treat you less than human due to your financial situation. No one should experience this in higher education or life in general. Some people have the privilege of never experiencing poverty so they lack empathy for others. F*ck that professor!!!