When she arrived at Elon, freshman Sam Mairson planned to complement her formal education with extensive extracurricular participation.
What she didn’t anticipate was discovering she wouldn’t have the money to stay.
“It was horrifying not having the financial security I thought I was going to,” Mairson said. “I got here knowing that I wanted to make the most of the opportunities that I did come across, and it hasn’t been difficult to do that, but I’ve got money on my mind.”
After receiving her bill for the 2011-2012 academic year, Mairson realized she calculated her financial aid incorrectly. She paid for the fall semester with help from her mother, who insisted the assistance was a “one time thing.” Now, she said she must find the scholarships and loans to remain at Elon without digging herself into debt.
“It’s always been important to fulfill my obligations,” she said. “I can’t stand that feeling of letting people down. So I knew I wanted to attend as many events as possible.”
And she does. Mairson attends lectures and programs frequently, sometimes three or four times a week. She said she believes the university’s guest speakers, theatre performances and athletic events are an invaluable part of the college experience.
“You’ll never get this opportunity again, unless you stake out college campuses and sneak into lectures,” Mairson said. “There’s a very real chance I’ll do that as an adult.”
Not all students recognize the rarity of this chance, according to Mairson. She said she knows students at Elon paying for a liberal arts education without fully appreciating it.
“They don’t make the most of it,” she said. “It’s hard to watch because I know the price tag, I know what you could be making of it, I know how engaging the professors are and want to be.”
Because of her financial situation, Mairson said she can be fully appreciative of the college experience.
“When you’re working for something and paying for something, you appreciate it,” she said. “I know how to do all the financial work, how to get the master promissory note signed. You have to do the number crunching, and it teaches you something.”
Despite this belief, Mairson said she will not be returning to Elon.
With the spring semester’s insecurity hanging over her, what will Mairson do if she cannot return to Elon?
“There’s a dorky part of me that wants to hike it out to Cambridge, Mass., and waitress and volunteer at the college library,” she said. “I’d meet cool people and go to dorky cultural events at the smartest university in our country.”
Although she admits this plan is unorthodox, Mairson is committed to optimism. Whether she will remain at Elon or travel the country, she said she will take advantage of what comes her way.
“I should be freaked out that I can’t afford my college education, but I take so much comfort knowing that I’m going to get the most of whatever education I do get,” she said. “What matters most is what you put into it.”
With a book full of ticket stubs, flyers and notes, Mairson has taken a lot away from her time on campus. She said if she cannot add more to her collection, there is still a great deal to be thankful for.
“Even if this ends up being just one semester at Elon, if I can’t turn it into anything more than that, it will be a semester that I haven’t wasted,” she said. “I think if you apply that philosophy to life, you’ll be able to grow.”