Money In Hard Times

We all cope with crisis in our own way. As we come up on a month of social distancing (a term that many of us, myself included, had never even heard before this year), I’ve learned a lot about the people close to me. My roommate, a biologist, checks and rechecks graphs tracking the spread of COVID-19. For her, information is power. My parents lean on their morbid sense of humor, believing that laughing at darkness makes it just a little less dark. My partner takes action: sews masks, collects rainwater, plants herbs and vegetables, as if getting a stub of old scallions to sprout roots and reemerge from the earth as something new, something useful, is a sign that hope is not lost, and some things are still within our control. The caretakers and nurturers in my life set up Zoom chats and send “hey-how-are-you” and “just-thinking-of-you” texts. As for me, I seem to have gone full-on Little House on the Prairie (well, if they had Netflix back then), cooking and baking and embroidering my way through the days that I’ve started to lose count of. It’s not that I think this is the end of days; it’s that my hands and body don’t know what else to do.

I’m also seeing new sides of other people, people I don’t even know. When something happens that fundamentally changes our understanding of the world around us, people become (despite their fear, anger, and sadness) just a little bit gentler. A little kinder. A little more willing to extend, in addition to six feet of physical distance, grace to our fellow humans. 

We also become more thoughtful, not just with each other, but with ourselves. One place this is evident is in our financial behavior. While we cannot yet grasp the full extent of this pandemic’s economic implications, many people are already feeling them. In times like these, we become more frugal, more resourceful, and more careful with money.  

Now, let’s be very clear: Economic uncertainty is bad. People are losing employment, seeing their investments depreciate, and worrying about what the coming weeks and months will bring. I have never ascribed to the “Everything happens for a reason” school of thought. Sometimes, like now, things are just hard, and it doesn’t serve anyone to pretend otherwise. But even in such difficult times, one tiny silver lining worth cherishing is the extra thought we put into our actions, financial and otherwise.  

This is an especially scary time for students and families preparing for the significant investment that is a college education. My hope is that our current economic climate will encourage them to make this investment with greater intention: to thoroughly consider the details of paying for college in the short term as well as the value they’ll derive from their education in the long run. 

I’m already seeing this happen. People are asking more and better questions about college costs and financial aid, having hard but necessary conversations, and exploring how they value their different college options (by reflecting on their own values, researching graduate outcomes, and more). This gives me incredible hope. 

And ultimately, while I wish this pandemic would hurry up and end already, I hope the goodness we’ve discovered in ourselves and each other remains. It can only help us as we rebuild our economy and the kind of world we want to live in. In a financial culture in which risk, self-concern, and (sometimes blind) optimism are highly valued, it can feel like there’s no room for a healthy dose of skepticism, compassion, and thoughtful consideration. Is it possible to hold onto these things when we return to brighter times?

I hope so, and I also hope you know that Olin’s Financial Aid Office is here to help. We encourage admitted students to explore the resources provided in their portal and to contact us ( with questions about their financial aid. Additionally, please know that if your family has been financially impacted by COVID-19, we remain committed to meeting 100% of your demonstrated financial need, even if that need changes. While it will take a few months for impacted families to fully understand what their new financial picture will look like and gather the necessary documentation to complete a financial aid appeal, we are available to discuss this process. 

This is just one of many ways in which Olin is committed to caring for our community. While everyone must honor their own unique journey and choose the college that is best for them, we believe that Olin is a great investment for students who can see themselves in a community like ours and want to work towards a better world, for times like these and long after.