Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Savings: How to Afford College

Has it really been {8} full years since I graduated from high school? Holy cow. And yet I still find myself sitting at my parents' house on a Sunday night with a bag of chips. Coming soon--how to mooch off your parents right before you get married. We are down to less than {8} weeks, y'all. Whoosh!!

I have read so many posts over the past week about little brothers/sisters/children/whomever graduating from high school. Then today I went back to the church I grew up in and got to watch some of my favorite kids celebrate in the graduation service. I am elated for the new beginnings in these young people's lives. And for them I also feel the nerves and anxiety that is bound to come with the ending of high school.

College was a unique experience for me as I took 18-21 hours every semester, so I was constantly studying and working on literature papers. Thank you, English professors. Yes, can you believe to have a degree in education I had to cram142 hours into 4 years? And to think--some people do that while playing sports or being in sorities/fraternities or worked or were in the band or whatever. I straight up went to school and still find myself complaining!

However, I realize how blessed I was to never pay a dime for school. Even in graduate school I've yet to be out a penny. How did I do that?!

I was not valedictorian. I was actually 9th in my graduating class with a 3.9 GPA. I will say our valedictorian just graduated from law school last week, so that's making me feel quite good about my standings eight years later. :)

I did not receive an athletic scholarship or an academic challenge or worker's whatever they call it. And my most proud accomplishment--I never once had a student loan.

Guys and gals, I cannot stress enough how much you do NOT want to get a student loan. Please, please, please work or take less hours at a time or whatever you have to do in order to not get that student loan. I realize education is important and will always pay off. But do it without having to pay it back with interest. I beg of you.

So what did I do since my parents said they would not pay for our college? (True--they said while college is a great choice, it's a personal choice. And we had to learn to pay for it on our own.)

My JUNIOR and SENIOR years in high school I applied for every scholarship under the sun. I looked online, in the counselor's office, wherever I could think of. I actually did receive a scholarship my junior year for a speech I wrote for the local VFW. No one wanted to put in the work to write the speech, so I did it and won--and was sent on to the next level and won even more money. How hard was that? Not at all! And I met some neat people at some VFW meetings afterwards!

I hear my students always talking about playing football or basketball in college. That is great if you can. But of them will make it that far. So don't bank on extra-curriculars to get you through. In fact Cash has told me multiple times that no way could he have played baseball at the level his brother did and have done geology at the same time. They both required so much work, so he concentrated on geology. But you know, he also got to play some major rugby then too. And to this day he's glad he had time with the Quins. Give yourself options. So you don't know what to do without sports? Play intramurals. Learn new sports. Have fun.

Anyway, a lot of that was beside the point. The point is work hard in academics. Yeah, yeah. I'm a teacher. I'm supposed to say that, right? Well, many MANY more people get school paid for through academics than they do athletics. And DO NOT WASTE IT YOUR FRESHMAN YEAR. For crying outloud, go to college to learn. Do not go there to party and throw away a free ride. Oh, that burns me.

Check with several colleges to compare their academic scholarships. The year I enetered UCA they took superscores on the ACT which bumped me into a full ride. The only things left to pay were books and food. That's all. I ended up finding a rehabilitation scholarship since I had scoliosis; it paid my books. And my food was paid for through private scholarships such as the Presidential Freedom Scholarship (found online), VFW scholarships, Top 10% of my class, etc.

But the BIGGEST scholarships I received were due to me being a minority. Each member of my mom's side of the family has our Chickasaw Indian card. While I got their base scholarships due to my academics, I also got several of their private scholarships. They even sent me money for clothes every year, a new laptop (which I still use to write these very blog posts!), paid my fees for various tests and graduation, etc.

On top of that I kept looking for scholarships while I was still in college. My junior and senior year I qualified for the Minority Teacher's Scholarship. It not only paid above and beyond my cap on scholarships (Arkansas has a law that you can only receive so much money in scholarships), it also gave me money to start my first classroom. Hello?! That is awesome.

So even if you're out of high school and don't qualify for many of those "freshman only" scholarships, do keep looking. I would see posters all over campus for scholarships pertaining to certain degrees. Also, I always got online and looked at my state's higher education website and found a plethora of scholarships I could have received. However, my cap was already met and there was no reason to apply. I ended up sending the applications to my cousins or my sister or whomever they seemed to fit.

Moving on to grad school, I kept getting the scholarships from the Chickasaws. That's been a bulk of it. But I knew I wanted to go to grad school, so I looked up what area schools paid for their teachers to go back to school and I applied there. My second year of teaching I landed a job at Alma, and they have reimbursed me for all of my hours I have taken. That's been HUGE since I've been going to our state's flagship university 45 miles away. Through these 2 means, I've been able to pay for school, books, and reimburse myself for gas throughout each semester.

Now I'm transferring to somewhere in Texas, so I'm faced with a whole new set of challenges. What schools give me the most bang for my buck? Not to mention I'm hours away from anywhere except this tiny school--UTPB. I really thought I wanted to go there since it was so cheap and close, but the academia in me just couldn't sign the papers. Bottom line--don't go to the cheapest school just because it's the cheapest. Pay a little more (hopefully with a scholarship), invest more energy, and get a degree that will benefit you. That does NOT mean you have to go to Harvard or you can't go to a small school. It just means find the school that's going to be the best fit for you. UTPB did not seem to be the best fit for me when I really started looking.

What do you do if you are not Indian or any other minority? When your parents make too much money for pell grants? But they don't make enough to pay for your school? You work your tail off throughout high school. You take the ACT prep course. You apply for scholarships no one else is willing to apply for because it's only $500. Those $500 add up.

And when you get to college, get a part-time job. That is my biggest regret. I was too worried about coming home to see my family that I didn't want a job during the school year. It would've forced me to stay in Conway, make friends, and get paid. Can you believe I gave up that much money? I know, me either.

I understand this is a lengthy post tonight. But I just can't stress enough how bad student loans can be. Let your academics speak for you and work hard. It will definitely pay off. With that first paycheck you can go buy a new car---not repay that loan. Won't that be so much more fun?

Stay smart. Be savvy. Save money.
Avery Jane


  1. I'm glad you've been able to stay loan free. Zach and I were able to do that in undergrad, but there just aren't the same abundance of scholarships available for medical and law school. Loans are really the only way to go and you aren't allowed to just take a few hours at a time (for example at the UofA law school you have to take a minimum of 12 hours a semester). Anyway, just wanted to throw out there that it's not always an option to avoid loans...unfortunately.

  2. Les-absolutely. I wish you could do a "guest post" on how to afford professional school. It's in a league of its own, and I have zero experience at paying for it!