Ring Before Spring: Undergraduates discuss experiences tying the knot before turning the tassel

Marisa Charpentier

Civil engineering senior Vincent Geracci and his wife Zoe, an Austin Community College student, only dated in person for two and a half weeks before getting engaged. The couple began seeing each other in May 2015, but their time together was cut short when Vincent took an internship in Dallas, and Zoe decided to work as an au pair in Turkey for the summer. 

“I fell in love with him over FaceTime because that was all we had,” Zoe said.

When Zoe returned to the States, Vincent proposed and the pair got married in December 2015. The Geraccis know their love story isn’t typical — but little about their lives is.

Unlike most of their peers, Vincent, 22, and Zoe, 19, chose to get married while still in college. Although the arrangement may seem unorthodox today —  most wait until they’re older and out of school to get married — for the Geraccis, it works.  

But getting married in college brings about a new set of challenges for couples on campus. Whether they decide to tie the knot for religious reasons or they maintain a secular view of marriage, students who choose to get married at a college age struggle finding proper housing near campus, must transition into a single financial unit and face a slew of stereotypes on a campus where most have yet to tie the knot. 

Not just “roommates”

  • While college roommates might claim different shelves in the fridge and divvy up the rent and utilities costs in their West Campus or Riverside apartments, the Geraccis operate as a unit. Zoe schedules dinners for the week, and Vincent makes calls and handles the health insurance. Most things in their lives are shared, including rent.

“When your income is one, it’s not like I’m paying $400 and [he’s] paying $400,” Zoe said. “It’s we’re paying $800.”

Infographic by Iliana Storch | Daily Texan Staff

The Geraccis needed a cheap housing option suited for couples, something that can be difficult to find around campus. They looked into University Apartments — three apartment complexes located on Lake Austin Boulevard that UT reserves for married students, families, graduate students and some undergraduate students. The apartments’ monthly rental prices for a one-bedroom are cheaper than that of most found around campus, ranging from $558 to $588 in 2015-2016.But as of April 1, there were 981 applicants on the waitlist forcing couples to find housing elsewhere. 

“I’m really glad that [the University] offers at least one housing place for families and students that are married, but it’s so limited and the wait list is so long,” said Audrey Browning, a married student and psychology sophomore who had a similar experience with University Apartments. 

Another housing option similar to University Apartments is in the works east of Interstate 35, but details on when the building will open and which students and how many can live there have yet to be determined.

Unable to land a spot in University Apartments or find an affordable option closer to campus, Audrey, the incoming co-editor of Burnt X, a Texas Student Media entity, and her husband Chase Browning, a student at Austin Community College, put value over convenience, settling on an apartment in Hyde Park, about a 15-minute bus ride to the University. 

“We couldn’t find housing that wasn’t a 3×3 or 4×2, especially in East Campus, West Campus or North Campus,” Audrey said. “That just didn’t work for us.”

Psychology junior Audrey Browning, 21, and Chase Browning, 24, got married in June 2015 after two years of dating. According to Audrey, despite some challenges, being married has made the stresses of colleges easier. Photo by Jesús Nazario | Daily Texan Staff

But living arrangements when married and in college go beyond floor plans and affordability. At the end of the day, the couples get to come home to each other. Evenings for the Brownings are typically filled with homework or late nights working, but Audrey said they benefit from having each other to lean on.

“At the end of midterms, we were both stressed out, and were able to comfort each other,” Audrey said. “We’re both really busy, so it’s not like we get to hang out more than other couples do. It’s just that he’s always there.”

A financial union

  • It’s likely marriage will alter students’ financial aid eligibility, but just how much varies from couple-to-couple. 

As a married student, Vincent is now considered an independent, meaning his parents’ income is no longer taken into account when determining eligibility for grants and loans through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Instead, Vincent, like other married students, will be asked to include both his income and his spouse’s income in his FAFSA application. The couple earns an income by working part-time jobs.

“Under my mother’s wing, I get no financial aid, but now we’re married, and we have a low income,” Vincent said, noting that his aid eligibility will likely increase as a result.

Trina Manor, associate director of the UT Financial Aid Office, said it’s important for students who are thinking about getting married to understand how the marriage will affect their financial aid eligibility.

“We’ve had situations where [students] were not working, and they were used to getting full financial aid,” Manor said. “When they married someone who was working full-time making $70-80 thousand a year, they had to report that, and then all of a sudden, their financial aid eligibility had decreased.” 

Manor said 1,901 students who filled out a FAFSA application for the 2015-2016 school year marked that they were married — 659 undergraduate students, 1,150 graduate students and 92 law students.

Manor said the financial aid office does not have financial aid offers specifically for married students, but some schools on campus have scholarships specifically for them. Manor said the law school offers two scholarships for married students and McCombs School of Business’s A.T. Ten Broeke Memorial Endowed Presidential Scholarship is for married graduate students.

Staving off stereotypes 

  • Business sophomore Rachel Downs and neuroscience junior Jeff Woods got engaged in the summer of 2015, when Downs was 19 and Woods was 20. They plan to get married in January 2018. If the pair goes out in public and people see rings on their fingers, Woods said people often ask if they’re married. The question is almost always followed by a remark on their age.

Although they’ve been a couple for four and a half years, Woods said people commonly assume they’re not ready for marriage because of their young age. 

“If I wasn’t confident, I wouldn’t have proposed,” Woods said. “If we hit obstacles, I don’t have all the answers now, but I know we’ll get through it.”

Business sophomore Rachel Downs, 20, and neuroscience junior Jeff Woods, 21, got engaged in 2015 after four years of dating. Despite their many years of dating, some people assume they are not ready for marriage because of how young they are, according to Downs. Photo provided by Rachel Downs

Such social stigmas are common among students who get married in their early 20s. Communication studies Professor Anita Vangelisti, who teaches courses that focus on interpersonal relationships, said society has a preconceived idea about when life events should take place.

“People say the order in which things should happen is: go to school and get your career established and then get married, have babies and raise your children and get more successful,” Vangelisti said.

As a married student, Audrey sticks out among her UT friends. In every student group she’s joined, she said people act surprised and ask a lot of questions when she mentions she has a husband. Audrey said that since coming to the University, she hasn’t been able to find social groups or support groups geared at married students. 

“It’s kind of awkward to be a married college student because there just isn’t a space for us,” Audrey said.

Although being married in college makes finding proper social settings a challenge, Audrey said marriage has made the stresses of college easier to manage.

“I always have someone that I know I can come home to,” Audrey said.