Members of Lehigh's class of 2018 prepare for commencement. This year's ceremony for the class of 2020 was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a virtual ceremony will occur at the end of the academic year. (Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

Seniors weigh in on grad fair expenses


The Lehigh Grad Fair was held March 5-7 to give students the opportunity to order their caps, gowns and other personalized graduation items.

The cost of graduation-related material can be a financial burden for students, however — especially those graduating with college debt.

Mangie Vargas, ’18, has a financial aid package of loans, grants and a work-study position. She said graduation gear is overpriced and that the cost should be a part of tuition.

Juan Camilo, ’18, said it’s unfair for the university to charge $102 for a cap and gown. Though it’s the bare minimum required to walk on stage at graduation, he believes it is simply not worth the cost.

Camilo said he feels fortunate he will not be graduating with debt — Lehigh covers most of his tuition through financial aid, and the rest of the costs were paid through a college fund set up by his parents when he was 9 years old.

Others, however, have started to worry about loan repayments post-graduation.

Vargas plans to pay off her student loans with a job after graduation but said she doesn’t like to think about it while she’s at Lehigh.

She said she will have a better idea of whether or not Lehigh is worth being in debt once she gets a job and fully understands the value of a Lehigh degree in the real world.

Ileana Exaras, ’18, believes college debt is difficult to escape in the United States. Exaras said if there is no escape, taking out a loan to go to Lehigh is worth it.

“I take out loans of about $2,000 per year, which I think are bearable, but I want to pay them back as soon as possible so they don’t accumulate interest,” Exaras said.

Because of quick loan paybacks and a combination of financial aid, scholarship grants and work-study, she will not be graduating with a lot of debt.

Exaras frequently visits financial aid advisers at Lehigh to better understand her loans, and she likes to get advice on interest and which loans to pay back first.

Vargas also uses the help of the Office of Financial Aid at Lehigh, which she said always provides her with many resources to prepare for the future.

“There are about 60 percent of students at Lehigh who get financial aid, so I don’t think that it creates any misbalance itself as everyone knows that the vast majority of the people are on aid,” Camilo said.

Lanisha Otuonye, ’17, received financial aid from Lehigh and graduated with debt. She makes minimum payments to pay it off, though she hasn’t used any Lehigh resources to make payments.

As part of the Grad Fair, Lehigh gives each senior the opportunity to give back to the school as part of a senior class gift.

Otuonye said she thinks it is too soon to ask students to donate and Lehigh should wait at least a year before asking for contributions.

“I don’t think that it should be that soon, maybe six months minimum after I graduate should be the right time to ask people,” Vargas said.

Camilo already knows there are other additional costs to graduating, so he doesn’t believe that it was necessary for him to give back to Lehigh this soon. He said most students around him at the grad fair also wanted to opt out of the $5 donation Lehigh requests.

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  1. Bruce Haines ‘67 on

    Are you kidding me that Seniors don’t want to pay for cap & gown rental & won’t begin giving $5 back to Lehigh. This is a school that likely paid a portion of your tuition for 4 years to mitigate your loan amount upon graduation.

    I owed Lehigh in loans upon graduation the amount of my annual first year salary. That was never a burden for me & I gladly donated every year to Lehigh even during the 10 years I was paying back my loans.

    You have been spoiled rotten & should be glad to give back to your alma mater for alumni like myself that through our contributions helped you afford Lehigh.

  2. The way that Lehigh has conducted “grad fair” in the past is ridiculous. Seniors are shepherded through the bookstore from table to table asking for more and more money. Pay for your cap and gown rental. $102. Buy a diploma frame. $150. “You should really consider buying a class ring.” $900. “Have you made your senior class gift?” The whole experience feels like a “graduation tax.” The difference is that a fancy diploma frame, golden class ring (hopefully, without the gaudy gem stone), the senior class gift contribution—they’re all optional. But the cap and gown doesn’t feel optional. You want to go to graduation. Your parents and family want you to go to graduation. You’ve got to pay the graduation tax and, after $66,730 per year, it’s insulting.

    I understand that Lehigh doesn’t own the caps and gowns and it costs money to rent them from Herff Jones. But can’t Lehigh spare the psychological middle finger to graduating seniors and roll the $102 into the already exorbitant cost of attendance. Against a $66,730 bill, nobody is going to notice an additional $25.50 per year. Just pretend it’s free, even if just as a courtesy.

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