Students find new way to pay tuition, one donation at a time

by Alyssa Gocinski / Beacon Staff • October 22, 2014

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Sawyer Fuller, left, and Morgan Turner, right, are both using GoFundMe to help pay for their educations
Sawyer Fuller, left, and Morgan Turner, right, are both using GoFundMe to help pay for their educations

For sophomore Sawyer Fuller, summer was worry-free—until she learned about her financial aid package. The money that Emerson awarded her would simply not be enough, she said.

To make up for the shortfall, Fuller created a campaign on GoFundMe, a website that allows people to raise money for a variety of causes. And she’s not alone: At least nine other Emerson students have created fundraisers on the site to continue studying at the college. More broadly, education is listed as the second most popular category on GoFundMe, which bills itself as the world’s top personal fundraising website.

Fuller, a performing arts major, created the page on Aug. 5 with a goal of raising $6,600. She said she sent out Facebook messages encouraging friends to share her story and watch her YouTube videos. Many of her friends, if they were unable to donate, helped out by sharing the fundraiser on their personal Facebook profiles.

“Five dollars here and there doesn’t seem like a lot,” she said. “But every dollar I get is a dollar I don’t have to pay.”

Two months later, with the help more than 70 people, Fuller has raised over $3,500.

Morgan Capodilupo, a sophomore performing arts major, directed a play that Fuller was involved in last year, and donated to her campaign because of what she called Fuller’s incredible performance.

“Emerson offers the best program but it comes with a price,” she said. “People shouldn’t be denied opportunities to enrich their skills due to lack of funds.”

But it can be tough to rely on others for financial assistance.

Junior Morgan Turner set up a GoFundMe page to alleviate some financial burden in anticipation of attending the Kasteel Well Program next semester.

“Asking for money in any situation is a little embarrassing,” said Turner, a visual and media arts major. “There’s some latent guilt when you realize that this is what it’s come down to.”

She created the page on Oct. 2 and has raised over $600 so far toward her $3,000 goal. She said half will go toward tuition, and the rest will go toward her expenses while abroad. Emerson’s website estimates students spend over $7,000 more at Kasteel Well than the Boston campus, largely because of travel expenses. 

Turner said that although she has been granted financial aid for next semester, she would like to reduce her dependency on student loans. 

And it can be challenging for these fundraising campaigns to gain traction.

Graham Dunn, a junior visual and media arts major, and Ashley Crocker, a senior visual and media arts major, created a GoFundMe page on behalf of their friend Daniel Ha, who they met through Emerson’s club for the video game League of Legends.

They posted the fundraiser on many Emerson-affiliated Facebook groups, including the popular Emerson Mafia group, but their efforts were not entirely successful.

“We’re having trouble reaching out beyond the League of Legends club,” Dunn said. “No one is responsible to pay for someone else’s education, but if everyone in those groups donated just $4, we would have reached our goal by now.”

Dunn and Crocker created the 60-day campaign on Sept. 28 with a goal of $27,000, and have raised over $900. Ha, a freshman visual and media arts major from South Korea, is struggling to come up with next semester’s tuition, according to his GoFundMe page, since he is unable to request the same financial aid as students from the US.

“I figured if potato salad can do it, why can’t we?” Ha said, referring to an online fundraising campaign to make potato salad that rasied $55,492 this summer.

Despite these difficulties, students said they would rather try to raise money online than miss out on educational prospects completely or spend years after graduation paying back loans.

Capodilupo said she understood that it’s hard to find an affordable school with a reputable curriculum.

“Since the performing arts community is so tightly knit,” she said, “theater people will always come through for each other.”

Having never traveled to Europe before, Turner said she didn’t want to pass up the opportunity.

“I don’t know the next time I’ll be able to go abroad,” she said. “Who knows where I’ll be a year from now.”

For Fuller, the amount she has raised came as a surprise. Thinking she would only raise about $1,000, Fuller said that donors’ generosity has greatly exceeded her expectations.

“I’m very lucky that people think I’m talented,” she said. “I almost started crying when a girl I went to camp with years ago gave me $100.”