What Going to Law School Taught Me About Privilege

By PATRICK WOOD

For the first time in my life, I am responsible for paying for my education. I am an only child, and my father saved enough money to pay for my tuition at a state college in New York. For all four years that I attended the school, I didn’t have to worry about accumulating debt or having enough money to pay tuition. Occasionally, I would go through periods where I didn’t have much money from my parents and would eat a few 75-cent balls of fried pizza dough from the local pizza shop for my lunches.

But more financial help was always available if and when I needed it. My parents were able to finance my stay in a dorm at American University in Washington, D.C. I stayed there during my wonderful internship at the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Silver Spring, Maryland. It didn’t pay, but I never worked for pay while I was enrolled in college. In fact, during my first year, my father instructed me not to seek work so I could concentrate on getting good grades.

Now things are different. Patterns of behavior that I acquired in college are no longer feasible. My father had a good job, and my mother also worked occasionally. However, even public college tuition isn’t cheap in the United States, and it was steep enough, when combined with the costs of some travels abroad, to wipe out most of my parents’ savings.

Any law school costs will now fall on me. I was fortunate that Albany Law School was very generous in their acceptance offer, which included a full tuition scholarship. Still, I’ve got to pay rent. I took a federal student loan to pay for these expenses. Unfortunately, the loan isn’t really large enough to cover my rent. Next semester, I’m hoping to make up for the difference by doing a work study. But it’s dawned on me that the previously available unpaid internships and study abroad opportunities might be unattainable now.

And I’m beginning to realize that these things were never a possibility for people who came from a poorer family. Instead of an unpaid internship related to law, I may be working at a gas station next summer, or anywhere that will actually give me a decent amount of hours and pay. Students that are on the hook for all or part of their school-related expenses may find themselves in a similar situation, while the sons and daughters of rich parents rack up some valuable, more “resume worthy” experience.

I visited the career counselor at my law school, and she told me how valuable unpaid internships and study abroad/foreign language skills are to have on a resume. I’m beginning to see how this is an uneven playing field, and those who have money have advantages that boost their chances of success over poorer people of similar intellect and work ethic.

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