Finally! Finalllllly! I’m back to write this second part of my college (or university to the rest of the world) journey and how I stayed completely debt free of student loans throughout that journey! The GRE studying (this is another story for another time) has been keeping me swamped and consuming my life, so I apologize for the slow writing schedule!
So the last time I wrote about what kind of student I was…now it’s time to write about my experience when searching for the perfect college to attend after graduating from high school and what I learned very quickly that allowed me to maximize my funds and stay debt free,
(Disclaimer: This is MY personal journey and everyone’s college journey is different! I hope that I can help you by pointing out a few things I did to stay debt free and have an AMAZING undergraduate experience!)
When I was 16 years old, I was convinced that the perfect college for me was Baylor University in Waco, Texas. It was a private school and for some reason I was drawn to it! I can’t remember why I really wanted to go there but I am sure it was for the same reasons most students want to go to a certain college or university (reputation of the school, getting away from the hometown/mom and dad/ everyone in your school, etc. etc.). My parents were quick to point out that living in another state and attending a private school would prove to be very costly across four years, I’m sure at the time I (mentally) rolled my teenage eyes and just wrote off what they were saying as overly-involved parenting.
Of course, eventually I learned my dear old parents were right. I looked at the average tuition costs of Baylor and other big name, out of state schools and knew that unless I wanted to take out some serious loans (or completely ace the ACT or SAT) I’d need to have a backup school or two (or three) in mind.
So here are my tips for the college/university search:
0. Okay before we get started, I need to tell you a little secret: At this point in your high school life, you need to get to know your school counselor (also called the “guidance counselor”)! They know everything about the ins and outs of going to college and will be a big help when you need to know about the FAFSA and everything else! Start getting to know them now, if you haven’t already! If for some reason, your school counselor is apathetic towards your goals, find someone else that can help you (see tip 3).
1/2.– Now that you know the school counselor, ask them questions about scholarships and financial aid you may qualify for. Also, get familiar with searching legitimate websites for nationally based scholarships (website link below).
1. Be Realistic- You should consider several schools. Use the graduate school mentality: Pick a few dream schools, pick a few schools you know you will most likely get into, and pick some safety schools that you wouldn’t mind attending if all else fails. Get that spreadsheet ready and evaluate these schools based on financial aid (including student jobs), the availability of any majors you’re interested in, student organizations, gyms, dorms, cost of parking, off campus life… well you get the picture!
2. Prepare for those standardized tests and KEEP THAT GPA HIGH! This is one of the most important things about preparing to go off to college! You want to get some institutional (offered by the college) scholarships? You want to qualify for private scholarships? Well, hit the books hard and use your resources! Seek out tutoring when needed and ask your school’s counselors about test prep classes.Today’s students have the internet as a huge resource available to them! Websites like Khan Academy are offering free and low cost prep for SATs and help and practice for many high school subjects. Start thinking about the ACT or SAT your sophomore year and definitely take the test at least once during your junior year!
3. Network!- You are never too young to network and it can be so simple! Talk to your teachers, stay after class and ask a few questions! When you are participating in school clubs, get to know the teacher who advises the club and be active (take on a leadership role or organize an event!). Talk to the people at your summer job! Volunteer in your community and get to know people who can potentially write your letters of recommendation! Remember: the next new person you meet could very well be an alumni of that college you are eyeing! Learn to find new ways to relate to people, you never know who can help you (or who you can help!).
4. Schedule a campus visit and ask your school’s counselors about any visits your schools may sponsor. This is very important! You need to get a feel for the college campus and the students! Make an appointment to meet with professors or students in the major you are interested in (and even ask to sit in on a class or two!). Don’t forget to ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask actual students about their experiences with housing, staff and faculty, financial aid, etc.
5. Not everyone is financially endowed. Consider working in the summertime (and during the school year if you can manage it) to not only build those marketable skills, but to save money up for the costs of taking the ACTs and/or SATs (and make sure check for testing fee waivers online) and applying to colleges. Also, start a savings account and start saving towards your college life. (Learn those money management skills now and learn how to make your own budget!)
Khan Academy for homework help, SAT prep (new and old test), and generally building new knowledge -https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/sat
Fastweb for scholarship/grant searches (remember never pay anything to receive a scholarship)-http://www.fastweb.com/
Upward Bound- a high school program that helps low income and/or first generation college students prepare for college-http://www2.ed.gov/programs/trioupbound/index.html
Part 3- Thriving in College- this post will be a little less about money and more about the awesome college life!