A Low-Income Freshman Beat the Odds to Attend SMU, Now She’s Desperately Crowd-Funding to Remain Next Semester

SMU students are sharing freshman Minseo Kim’s fundraiser on social media this week to help her raise money for tuition and remain enrolled at the university.

After losing work opportunities to COVID-19, Kim, a low-income first-generation honors student, is struggling to pay an outstanding $3,790 in tuition and student fees to enroll in classes for the spring semester.

Not many SMU students can say they made it to college on their own. Family often provides students with more than just tuition, but extensive personal experience, advice and support.

Kim, a political science and public policy major, has had none of that. Before the age of 14, she lived with seven different families. Since then, she has been living on her friends’ couches and juggling multiple part-time jobs to survive her day-to-day life and save up enough money to pay for college.

Until now, her circumstances haven’t deterred her success. She graduated at the top of her high school class, won the prestigious Horatio Alger Scholarship, and got into all seven of the universities she applied to.

With the help of scholarships and financial aid packages, Kim decided SMU was the place she wanted to be.

However, right before her freshman year started, things started to get more complicated. Navigating financial aid and scholarships by herself was hard enough, but on top of that, the pandemic has added new stresses. She has had to adopt a fully remote lifestyle due to an at-risk roommate with severe asthma. She’s since lost her job and her work study arrangements.

“It’s either find a remote job, or essentially be homeless,” Kim said.

Kim is now desperately trying to pay the outstanding school fees on her SMU account before enrollment for next semester closes, or she fears she’ll be forced to leave school.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I’m alone, I’m a first-year student, and I don’t really know how to maneuver through this system.”

Kim has been trying to reach out to officials at the Financial Aid Office, but she says that many of them, including her own advisors, have been largely unresponsive to her desperate emails for help and advice.

“This is just a new stress, it’s kind of crushing me,” she said. “I used to worry about the bare necessities, like having to figure out where to live, and having to figure out what to eat. Now on top of that, I have this to worry about.”

Kim’s high school classmate, Alexa Villafuerte, has seen her friend’s struggles first-hand. Kim lived with Villafuerte’s family during a particularly rough time in her life, and she was excited to see Kim attend SMU.

“She’s been through so much,” Villafuerte said. “I just really want SMU to be the place where she gets to feel welcome and have a home.”

In her short, albeit virtual, time with the SMU community so far, she’s already begun to make friends with her fellow students and build strong relationships with her professors. They are trying to do what they can to help her stay at the university.

With their help, her GoFundMe has garnered over $1,000 as of Thursday.

“If I can’t make up the funds at all, I’ll have to unenroll,” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll do after that, I have nothing.”