The Cost to Compete: Paying a Steep Price for Extracurriculars


Photo Illustration by Nicole Kim and Josie Abugov

Rian Ratnavale

When Anya Andrews ’17 and her teammates on the girls’ soccer team got the bill for dinner while at a tournament, she watched as her teammates casually drew money out of their wallets without hesitation. For Andrews, however, the meal meant a little bit more, since the money she used to pay for it came out of her own paycheck from her job at Trader Joe’s.


While each instance of spending might not stand out on its own, Andrews said that she is always conscious of how much she spends on soccer. Before every tournament or trip, Andrews works extra hours to pay for trip expenses not paid for by the school.


On her financial aid plan, Andrews receives help from the school when it comes to buying her uniform, but the costs of being on a sports team go beyond just the sign-up fee and basic equipment. Every time Andrews’ cleats wear down or if she needs new training equipment, that comes out of her own pockets, she said.


“When we went to Texas, we had to pay for our meals, which is completely reasonable, but it can be a lot of money,” Andrews said. “I paid for every single bit I have, so when it comes down to school trips or equipment that I need or new cleats, I pay for that with whatever I make from my work. Especially when you manage your own money, you’re very conscious about how you spend your money and what you spend it on.”


In a February Chronicle poll, 26 percent of students said that they’ve been discouraged from doing an activity at the school because of how much it costs.


Ben Geiger ’17, a pitcher for the baseball team, said that he spent roughly $800 on equipment, as well as another $500 to $600 every time the team goes to a tournament. Players on the girls’ soccer team pay $500 for uniforms and an additional $200 to $250 for cleats, Chronicle staff member and soccer player Cameron Stokes ’19 said.


Daniel Varela ’18 said he thinks that the school does its best to help students make ends meet for trips and other activities. When Varela went to Spain, his family did not have to pay the $5,000 fee for the trip upfront. After talking to the Financial Aid office, he attended the trip at a cost more affordable for him and his family. Still, Varela said he had to be conscious of his spending on the trip.


“I feel that funding is very accessible to people on financial aid because the school is there and can help you out,” Varela said. “But if I wanted to go buy a souvenir, I couldn’t do that. Food-wise, they covered the food and everything. But if I wanted to go do something fun over there, or an activity, I wouldn’t be able to do it because I don’t have that money.”


Similarly, Allison Gorokhovsky ’17, a former debater, praised the school and its debate program for funding students to go on debate trips. Gorokhovsky did, however, say that the price of trips and expenses can be superfluous.


“Even if you’re not on financial aid, the debate program does help you subsidize your trips,” Gorokhovsky said. “That being said, [if the school doesn’t subsidize the trip], you’re spending $1,200 per weekend. That’s kind of ridiculous for one weekend. A lot of concerns that people had on the debate team was that we weren’t sure where a lot of the costs were coming from. A tournament should cost about $500-$800, not $1,200.”


In the poll, 53 percent of students reported spending more than $1000 for a trip or on expenses for their extracurricular, and 56 percent said that they feel pressure to take extra lessons to supplement their extracurricular, which can become very expensive. Upper School Dean Celso Cardenas said that the school should sit down and take a thorough look at what is and isn’t working financially for every extracurricular, top to bottom.


“I think we have to assess how much is really necessary,” Cardenas said.

“How much travel is necessary for certain organizations, how much time, how many commitments require outside financial obligations. Many schools out there get by doing whatever they need to do within their own budget, without looking every few months for students who chip in. I think assessing the mission of these organizations and how we can go about doing that is the first priority, without putting a financial strain on the budget.”

Cardenas said he believes that the students at Harvard-Westlake are aware of their limits, and thinks that there is a correlation between participation in some of the more expensive activities and income.


“I do think [the cost] is something our students think about before getting into the extracurricular,” Cardenas said. “What can they pursue based on what financial obligations they are on? I’m sure that if we assessed participation in these organizations and students that are on scholarship here, we would find a correlation.”


The average amount of financial aid award granted to Harvard-Westlake families was $27,000 this year, according to the school’s website. While financial aid usually helps cover the rudimentary expenses and the fees for trips and other activities, some faculty members acknowledged that it might be hard to truly find a perfect financial aid balance.


“The only way you can address [more financial aid], however, is by having a higher tuition for everybody,” mathematics teacher and former Director of Financial Aid Kent Nealis said. “This is essentially cross-subsidizing those people at a margin, but then you just push other people to the margin. I’m not saying it is an unsolvable problem. I’m just saying it is a difficult one.”


Nealis said that the school should cover the necessary costs for extracurricular activities.


“We don’t want to keep saying, ‘Here’s your tuition. It’s 30 something thousand dollars a year. But here’s another $5,000 for this, here’s another $2,000 for that,’” Nealis said. “So I think you have to find a way to include the small stuff. If there were, say, $1,000 of intermediate costs, I would just think it would make sense to find a way to include that.”


At the end of the day, Andrews said that money hasn’t stopped her from doing anything at the school, but said the thought of spending always looms at the back of her mind.


“I don’t think there’s anything specific I haven’t been able to do because of money, but it’s something that is constantly on my mind, especially when I’m at this school and getting involved in extracurricular activities,” Andrews said.