The high price of fun

Being a Harvard-Westlake student is expensive.

I’m not talking about our $30,000-plus tuition, textbooks or cafeteria purchases (a lot of which may not cost a thing with financial aid.) I’m not even talking about all the additional college counseling and tutoring that make that tuition number just a baseline. Beyond the classroom, being a functioning, social Harvard-Westlake student costs more than any of us think about.

It’s not unheard of to witness talk about trying to score Yeezy boosts or see an $800 puff of fur dangling from an equally designer backpack, but those are extremes. Such a high number of students annually purchase a more or less $400 ticket to attend Coachella that the school established attendance policies in advance. Seniors regularly eat lunch off campus, drive in luxury cars (with paid parking spots) and spend money not covered by HW ID cards. On weekends, we take Ubers to and from basketball games, pay for parties afterwards and sneak an extra meal at Fat Sal’s before going home.

This is not to say that the only kind of social student is one who misses school for Coachella — it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. In retrospect, I’m not even sure it was mine. But these are common customs that are a real part of our culture. Even school-wide events such as prom, whose $115 ticket may be covered by financial aid, are preceded by expensive asks, dress shopping, makeup and prep that is only more money the school can’t provide.

While every student can make the choice to manage their budget, spend their time and even define what being a social student is, the truth is that we are a school widely run by Joan’s on Third lunch breaks, costly exercise methods and ticketed parties that add up. Very few of us have jobs that significantly impact our budgets, and while our expenditures may not compare to parents’ mortgages, we live with an assumed standard of social spending.

It’s natural that students’ socioeconomic statuses differ, as they do in any other community. However, the amount of privilege that has affected us as social teenagers and not academic students is seldomly addressed.
We may talk about our academic opportunities, our resources, but never the amount of privilege that has shaped our social lives. Taking part in many of these customs takes a level of affluence many of us don’t think about or talk about. While it’s possible to be a part of our grade without sharing that affluence, it says a lot that many of our most widespread customs really end up costing a lot of money.

Many of my friends have told me they have begun to go out to lunch less because their parents have started putting them on college budgets. But it’s really not about spending less money — that’s a decision we can make for ourselves. What’s really important is how we take these expensive customs for granted because we have a ways to go for true diversity, socioeconomically and beyond.

In college, all of us will face different budgets and lifestyles, probably dictated by our parents and maybe a little by our employment statuses. But more importantly, we will be faced with true diversity: all kinds of people with different high school experiences and ideas of the price of fun. Your roommate may not want to take a $20 ride across town and pay for a $10 entrance fee and a $10 meal afterwards. His or her idea of a workout may not be a $30 cycling class. Maybe that’s not even your idea of a Saturday night or a workout. Even though our lack of diversity can make us forget it, there is no price you should put on fun.

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