My friends at school were talking about their college funds. When they asked me how much I had in my savings account. Money wasn’t such a personal thing back then. Or at least we didn’t know it was. So when I got home I asked my parents how much was in my college savings account.
My mom chuckled. I was confused.
“Well?” I pushed.
“Nothing,” she told me.
“NOTHING?” I was shocked. My parents who had been drilling education and the need to go to college in me since I could talk had nothing saved for me? “How am I going to go to college then?” My eye began to water as I felt my dreams washing away.
“You’ll take out loans,” she told me so matter-of-factly.
I let that word simmer in my mind for a while.
Years later I was in line waiting to go on stages for the Miss Teen Georgia Pageant (betcha didn’t know I was a pageant girl). I listened as they announced the reigning queen, and shared her achievements. That’s when I heard something that changed my life. The man over the microphone said she had applied and won enough scholarships to pay for her entire college degree, and books.
By this time I new scholarships existed, but I didn’t realized the extent that they helped. I worked hard to get good grades so I could go to college, and I had a fantastic GPA, but not the 4.0 I thought many academic scholarships wanted. I also didn’t realize how many independent scholarships were available.
Not paying for college doesn’t mean you expect your kids to take out tons and tons of loans and be in debt the rest of their lives. There are so many options. The GI bill, grants and scholarships. It is possible to graduate without debt.
After hearing that announcement in that pageant I was determined to do that same. My senior year of high school I applied for scholarship after scholarship. A $500 scholarship here, a $1000 scholarship there. The good things was after writing a few scholarship essays I was able to recycle most of them for other awards I’d apply for.
Sadly, I didn’t win any. So I had to take out loans to pay for my books and living expenses that my grants didn’t pay for.
That next year I got married, and we were poor enough to get grants to pay for our school, and my husband’s athletic scholarship paid for our housing. We also worked part time, and full time in the summer to make ends meet.
I wrote for my college newspaper, and met others who had applied for and won journalism scholarships. By then I had started to realize the more specific the scholarship, the better.
We transferred schools where was husband wasn’t able to play collegiate sports. I created a resume and cover letter like I would for a job, and started applying for awards specific to my studies. I also visited my Universities’ multicultural office to inquire about other scholarships I could apply for. Based on my financial need and grades, I was able to obtain a full scholarship as long as I kept a 3.0 GPA, did service, and other requirements to stay in good standing.
I wasn’t satisfied yet. I was still working a couple of jobs to pay for our living expenses, and if I traveled for internships (which I planned to) I’d need money for that. I asked my professors and counselors if they knew of journalism scholarships I could apply for, and I worked with an adviser to perfect an application for an award I didn’t even know the amount of.
A month or so later the Dean of my college called me in to sit down and discuss the scholarship I had won–for $20,000. My mouth dropped. I was shaking when I called to tell my husband I had won an award that would more than pay for both of our college education.
That spring I went to a journalism convention as a volunteer and met scholarship winners who also were at the event for free. I picked up an application and tried to decide which to apply for. They ranged from $2,000 to $10,000 and I decided to go big or go home. Imagine my shock when I won again.
By then I had lost my need-based scholarship, but obviously I didn’t need it anymore. My last year I applied and won one more scholarship from a local television station, which helped pay for my internships and pay off the original loans we accrued.
I still worked through college to gain work experience (which also helped me to get the scholarships). I worked hard, and it paid off. I didn’t depend on my parents to pay for my schooling, and I didn’t need to take out loans and rack up mounds of debt.
I’m a strong believer in scholarships. So many companies and organizations offer scholarships to students. So many go unclaimed, and so many people don’t know how to find them. You don’t have to skip out on saving for retirement to pay for your children’s schooling. And they don’t have to take out a mortgage to pay for loans. It doesn’t matter what race you are, if you don’t have a perfect GPA, or if you don’t come from an affluent background. There are scholarships out there for everyone. I’d encourage those who are worried about saving for their student’s schooling to work with their kids to find these, and improve their resume so they can win some of these awards that are out there.
That’s what I plan to do with my daughter. And if we happen to save some money to help, well she’s not going to know about it. Because I want her to work her butt off to earn the scholarship in my name. And if things go as I hope and she doesn’t need it? Well, it would be a nice graduation present.