Perspective: The Rural Student Experience


Recruitment of rural and low-income students is often a goal of universities. But some schools don’t offer the support system to allow these students to succeed once they arrive on campus.

That was the case for writer Alison Stine.

Stine recently authored an essay recounting her experience as a student from a rural background at a private college.

“I wasn’t the first person in my family to go to college — I was the second generation, after my parents — and on teachers’ and guidance counselors’ advice, I had applied to several schools, including state universities,” she wrote. “But the private colleges were the ones that seemed to really want someone like me. They courted me. They offered me money, and I couldn’t say no to that. I couldn’t afford to.”

Despite how much they courted her, the environment on campus didn’t follow up with the same support.

“I was hardly alone in my experience of class bewilderment. Now, as then, there is no special orientation for students who identify as poor or rural, no workshops on the culture clash we might experience in college,” Stine wrote.

“Based on the price of required books, most professors had no idea of our financial reality. Students are reprimanded for not buying books on time, or not having money on a copy card, or for personal printers running out of pricy inks — but these are real and valid issues for those not raised in wealth. While our intellects can keep pace with our wealthy classmates, our wallets can’t.”

She said she felt pressure in every aspect of campus life – from parties to dress code to classwork.

“I felt I needed to compensate for my upbringing by working extraordinarily hard. My first year, I dressed up for class, to which I would arrive half-an-hour early, waiting outside the classroom door. I took frantic, copious notes, but professors often said words I didn’t know — and didn’t explain them. Re-reading my notes at night, I stayed up until 2, until 4, trying to figure everything out, trying to learn this new language for a world I still felt I was denied entrance to: a world of learning, but also of wealth,” Stine wrote.

“It didn’t take long before I stopped raising my hand. My theology professor admitted to me that he missed that fiery, eager student who had debated so much in our first few weeks. But that student had finally heard the snickers from the back of the class.”

Read Stine’s full essay and check out an article from The Journal of College Admission on supporting rural students.

Admission professionals committed to the admission, matriculation, and success of rural and small town students are invited to join NACAC’s Rural and Small Town SIG.

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at

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