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Posts Tagged financial aid

Rejection and Heartbreak: College Acceptances

jenny-85I’m not usually a crier. I don’t like people seeing me cry. It’s just not me, you know? I mean, I cried when Ash died in Pokemon: The First Movie, but it wasn’t the same as having your eyes water in the computer lab with strangers all around as you read the rejection letter from Stanford. Oh yes. Random people patted me on the back and offered me tissues. Kind of them, yes, but oh so embarrassing for me.

Yep, rejection hurts. But those other fancy paper letters in the mail with the special seals on them made the pain a little less. I mean, yeah, they’re not my dream school, but many other colleges wanted me too! Bright side: it’s not the end of the world! (Yet.) I know the rejection probably broke your heart, but we just have to get up and get over it. There are many other fish, I mean colleges, out there, some of whom think you’re just awesome and they’d love to have you as a student.

My choices were very different from one another. Amherst College and UC Davis. They’re on different coasts, have dramatically different weather, and one’s within reasonable driving distance to my family. To my many relatives and friends, the choice was already made: Davis. Approximately 2 hours away, and I could go home, be with my friends and all that. But then there was Amherst College. Far away, cold, no home cooking. My aunt’s exact words? “How are you going to live without us???” Actually, just fine, albeit very homesick.

My final choice was Amherst College. Why? *Ahem* Financial aid. *Ahem* Exploration. Independence. I felt like I needed to grow, so what better choice than to simply move on out of my comfort zone? And it also helps that New York and Boston are both a bus ride away.

Just think about your options. Where are you going to be happy? Where are you going to enjoy learning? For many of us, this is the first big choice we’re going to make. Choose what seems right. Flip a coin. (I’M KIDDING!)

The Big Decision

shaun-85You all have long imagined receiving your Golden Ticket in the mail: the “Congratulations!” letter from your Dream School, whether that be Yale, Tulane, Scripps, or University of Kansas. You envision yourselves proudly wearing a Dream School sweatshirt, and hanging out on the gorgeous campus reading dense philosophical essays with friendly fellow Dreamers. You have worked so hard, and now your hard work is about to pay off.

But reality is often much more complicated. 2011 is the most difficult year statistically to gain college admission, let alone a Golden Ticket from your first choice college. And even if you do gain admission, financial aid, both need- and merit-based, is tougher to snag than ever. Here are a few things to consider before making your Big Decision.

First of all, keep an open mind. Even though you may have your heart set on one institution, realize that you have many options. There are several schools that fit your aspirations, whether your focus is in athletics, small class sizes, diverse student organizations, or academic prestige. Just because a school is not in the Ivy League does not mean you will not have a meaningful and valuable college experience. When making my decision, I was worried that my education at Washington and Lee would not be as appreciated by my peers, family, and future employers because it was not as well known in the north, but since then I have come to realize the extent of W&L’s prestige and influence around the country, and I am proud to be a General. Plus, if worse comes to worse, you can always begin at one school and transfer to another after two years or reapply to your Dream School’s graduate program.

Secondly, do not take on more debt than you can handle. At an undergraduate level, it is not smart to take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans every year. If it is between going to your second choice (or even third, fourth, or fifth choice) school and leaving college with $150,000 in loans that you are expected to start paying off immediately, then try and make the more rational financial decision. Moreover, be careful to note which loans are subsidized and which are unsubsidized, because the building interest could amount to additional expenses. Even though I was accepted into my first choice school, Wellesley, I knew that it was a poor financial decision to turn down a full ride scholarship to W&L to go almost $100,000 into debt by the age of 22. Remember that you are just becoming an adult, and you do not want that financial pressure hanging over your head.

I hope that these tips cover both the mental and emotional aspect of deciding on which college to attend, and also the financial realities. Ultimately, the college experience will be WHAT YOU MAKE IT, not just the name of the school or the price of tuition. I know that wherever you go to school, you will do wonderfully! Good luck!

Phantom Limb

seanna-85Imagine sitting at the kitchen table every night, head bent over bills, trying to make pennies stretch into places where dollar bills are necessary…

…Working fifty hours a week behind a desk, then returning to work five more hours each night, cooking…cleaning…ironing…reviewing eighth grade Math, English & Science…

…Walking in circles for a few hours…lost & disoriented…unsure of where you are, where you were going, and where you are now supposed to be…

…Your hand being unable to open that ketchup bottle…water bottle…jar of jelly…too weak to twist off that “easy-open” cap…

…Inserting shots into your stomach every two weeks to maintain consciousness, trying to find a spot that isn’t too sore from the last shot & isn’t too tough from the 60+ shots that came before…

 

You’re imagining my mom.

 

Imagine running from the bus to your house, running from bullies who grab you right before you make it to the door, throw down your bag and jump you…

…Sitting in class every day, frustrated by the endless numbers and words that jump out from the lifeless pages of your textbook, your uncertainty developing into embarrassment…

…Waiting for hours for your father to show up with that game he promised, only to find out that he wasn’t able to stretch his check that far…maybe next month…

…Burning inside with energy and anger that you can’t explain, can’t contain, and can’t shake…emotions that need to find their way out, but remain trapped inside…

…Struggling with teenage thoughts, hormones, & doubts…trying to find your way in a world where kids are cruel, teachers don’t listen, and Mom is on her own & stressed…

 

You’re imagining my little brother.

 

Imagine loving the opportunities that are presented at your college, embracing the friends, classes, teachers & new activities…

…Waking up each day with your own agenda, going to sleep at night with a list of things “To-Do” the next day…all seeming as urgent & important as yesterday’s…

…Being thankful that you’ve been blessed with so much, financial aid, Office of Black Student Affairs, mentors…knowledge…

…Picking up the phone to hear about how hectic your mom’s day has been…why your brother got suspended yet again, and how the car broke down on the interstate…AGAIN…

…Knowing that you can’t be there to beat up those bullies, iron his shirt, or open that ketchup bottle…

…Imagine 1,794 miles…

 

Now, you’re imagining me.

 

Growing up, I was my mom’s right hand.  I helped her before she realized she needed assistance.  I played with my brother, relishing in my role as his sister.  The six years between us made me more like a second mother than a big sister.  When I decided to go to school so far away from home, leaving family behind was the hardest decision.  I was still only a phone call away, but I was also $600 and at least 7 hours from home. 

My advice to those of you who are considering college out-of-state: GO FOR IT.  Weigh your options carefully, but the next four years of your life will be a time of growth, change, and adjustment.  Although I did get homesick my first year, and I hate hearing about the problems my brother & mom go through, I wouldn’t trade my experience at Pomona for anywhere else.  Learning to balance my life away from home with the one I had before & will have after graduation has helped me learn how to stay in contact with those that I care about & vice versa. 

You don’t lose your family or close friends by moving outside state lines.  In fact, those who are most important will remain with you, even if the communication style changes.  It also helps that my mom and brother are fully supportive of my decision, and that other students at school, including my best friend, traveled far from home, as well.  There will be up’s and down’s, but I know that looking back, I will appreciate the risk I took & the sacrifices that everyone dear to me made for these four years.  

I text my mom every morning & tell her good night, every evening…so even though I am not there physically, I’m still her right hand…and I’m still willing to go above and beyond as her daughter & as Thurm’s big sister…

“The distance is nothing…it is only the first step that is difficult…” (Madame Marie du Deffand)

A Dream Does Not Have Price

irvin-85I remember when I first saw the price tag of what used to be the school of my dreams. Beside the name “Duke University”, appeared a five digit number that seemed to whisper “there is no way you can afford this”. With the hope of finding other schools that would not require my parents to sell everything, I scrolled down the list but all I could see was an expensive price tag for every school that I was looking at. Discouraged, I limited my options to more affordable institutions, such as my community college. All of this was before I found out about financial aid and how, with the help of the institutions as well as the government, I would be able to afford going to a school that I had worked hard for.

I can summarize my feelings towards financial aid in a short sentence: probably the best thing that could have happened to my educational career. Thanks to the help of Dartmouth and as well as Federal Aid, I am able to attend this great institution. Do not be discouraged when you see an expensive price tag. Keep in mind that if an institution really wants you in their campus, they will do as much as they can to help you go there. Financial aid is like a secret yelled out loud that very few people are aware of.

Just because you see an expensive price tag does not mean that that is what you are expected to pay to attend that institution. That price tag can be covered in many different ways such as grants, outside scholarships and federal aid. There might be a few loans here and there but, if you use your resources, you can cover those loans with outside scholarships. Apply to as many scholarships as you can. The more scholarships you get, the more you can help your parents and the more money you will be able to have to buy books and hey, even to buy what we teenagers feel is important, such as clothes and all that good stuff. (With moderation of course).

Whenever I am asked how I am able to attend an Ivy League school and how I am able to afford it, I say that the hardest part was actually in getting into the school. Paying for the school was not one of my main concerns. As I have said before, if an institution accepts you, they are willing to help you as much as they can. You just have to let them know about your situation. If you do not speak up, they will not know what your family is going through and thus they will not be able to help you. The money is out there, all you have to do is look for it. Do not let your dreams be shot down by a five digit number, realize that you dreams do not have a price and that no matter how expensive a school is, with enough effort and education, you can afford it. All it takes is awareness of the resources such as scholarship websites, your counselor in high school and even the financial aid office at the college of your dreams!

Getting Money and that College Experience!

jesse-85My sophomore spring is off to a great start! The semester has already picked up and is moving faster and faster every day. I can’t believe that I’ve already been in school for almost a month. If you want to see how the first few weeks went, check out the video below!

One of the first things I did was go see my financial aid officer because you always have to be sure that your finances are in order. You can never be too careful!

One of the most crucial things about preparing for college is making sure you do EVERYTHING you can to try to make sure you can pay for it.

I can think of 3 ways to start:

1. Apply to A TON of SCHOLARSHIPS!!- you can start applying as early as middle school for some. Apply to EVERY SCHOLARSHIP you qualify for! Local and National.

Note: Make sure to check out scholarships that are offered locally because the pool of applicants is smaller which means you will have an even better chance of receiving award.

2. FAFSA- Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is crucial to getting Financial Aid from the schools that you will be applying to. Be sure to fill it out!

3. Talk to your high school counselor! Set up a meeting and talk it out with them, they should be able to help you out with the details of applying for the FAFSA and applying for scholarships.

These are just some first steps, it is up to you to follow through and get that money! You don’t want to miss out on the college experience! Check out the latest VideoBlog to hear about some of the experiences I’m having in college!

2011 Financial Forecast: F.A.F.S.A. = Find and Apply Financial Strategies in Advance!

jeremy-85Greetings CSO Nation!

I survived the Blizzard of 2011!  I’m officially a SURVIVOR!  I hope everyone reading this post endured and weathered the storm – no matter what state you’re in.  This too shall pass…

There are great lessons in every storm!

A storm teaches you to prepare in advance. A storm teaches you to come together with those close to you and help each other out through the difficult periods.  A storm teaches you about your inner strength and how much you can bear.  Storms give us an opportunity to reflect and realize that trouble doesn’t last always.

As I read the news reports out of my hometown, Chicago, there were people stranded on the Lake Shore Drive who really thought they were not going to make it.  But they did.  The amazing thing was the kindness of strangers.  People came out of their high rise condos and apartments to bring food and water to those who were stranded on the drive for well over seven hours.  Storms can bring people together.

Many schools were closed for the day and some through the week, but life goes on.  Speaking of life, the money matters, as it relates to college, can be a do or die experience for many and creates a personal kind of storm.  As a storm teaches you to prepare in advance, so does the process of Financial Aid.  It behooves you to prepare in advance.  The FAFSA is the foundation and a mandatory rite of passage for all college students.  After the college application, it is the most critical piece of paper you will ever complete!

When FAFSA says they are accepting applications on the first of January, believe them!  File your application on the first day!  The money goes so fast and as a future college student, you want to be in the early processing batch which is always the first two weeks of January.  Don’t delay.  Seek help from your parents (they have the expertise you need to figure the paperwork out) and work together as a team!  Those are my tips for financial aid as you work towards higher education.  Stick to this strategy each year and you won’t regret it.  Some storms can’t be avoided, but financial storms can be if you file your FAFSA as soon as possible.

Paying for Your Dream School

shaun-85When I was applying to college, I rarely worried, “Would I get in?”; the real question was, “How am I going to pay for it?” Luckily, most colleges are determined to make sure that all accepted students will be able to afford it through several avenues of financial aid. However, some forms of financial aid are better than others, and it is up to you to proactively pursue scholarships and grants so that you can leave college with as little debt as possible.

Financial aid is normally broken down into four categories: government/university grants (which are based on your family’s demonstrated need and do not need to be paid back), merit scholarships (which are based on academic achievement and do not need to be paid back), government/university loans (which are based on your family’s demonstrated need and DO need to be paid back), and work study (which allows you to hold an on-campus job to earn money).

Government grants and loans can be tricky. Though the FAFSA application asks a variety of questions to get a feel of how much your family can contribute, sometimes situation-specific circumstances aren’t taken fully into account and your family will still be expected to pay more than they can afford. This is why it is often necessary to apply for outside and merit-based scholarships to cover the rest of the costs. Furthermore, be wary of the type of loan the government or your university offers you. There are two types of loans: subsidized and unsubsidized, the former meaning that the government will pay the interest on your loan while you are in school, and the latter meaning that they won’t. Be very careful in accepting unsubsidized loans, because interest can add up very quickly.

That brings me to another point: students often don’t realize that they do not have to accept all parts of a financial aid package. For instance, if you like the $17,000 grant you’re receiving each semester but do not want to deal with a $3,000 unsubsidized loan, you can accept one and pay the other upfront to prevent paying excessive interest. In my case, I was given a $700 unsubsidized loan that I did not want, but instead of turning down the money I was able to add $700 onto my work study stipend. Be sure to keep in touch with your university’s financial aid office to alter your financial aid package to better fit your needs.

Lastly, read your financial aid package VERY CAREFULLY to see what all it includes. Oftentimes universities will not provide grants or loans for expenses such as travel, books and supplies, and personal needs, all of which can add up to be quite a bit of money. Be aware of all college expenses, not just tuition, room, and board, so an unexpected expense doesn’t catch you off guard.

The process is almost over…hang in there! Good luck!

Go Green with Renewable Resources!

 seanna-85              
 1.2 million dollars.  The amount reverberated through the arena amid thunderous claps and cheers.  Our high school principal had just announced the approximate amount of accepted scholarship money that my 2009 class had procured for college.  Graduation night was one to remember…walking across the stage, shaking the important people’s hands in the correct order, successfully stepping my way back down the stairs and marching steadily to resettle into my seat.  That night, everyone who graduated was invincible…all of us about to embark on a journey of growth, education, and limitless opportunity.

                Now, only one year later, a group of these same peers are back at home, no longer in college, but instead, saving money to pay back small loans & accumulate enough to return.  Although financial aid is not meant to be tricky or confusing…READ THE FINE PRINT.  Many of my friends received scholarships that were non-renewable, meaning that after the first year, that source of income was no longer viable.  Most college costs increase by a little each year; therefore, it may cost $22,000 to attend your first year, but $24,000 for the second year.  Do you have that gap $2,000 covered?  As you consider the schools that accept you & pick out that perfect place for you…make sure you have a firm understanding of their financial aid policies.  Pomona is amazing in that it meets 100% of demonstrated need for all students.  Now, while some students do not “demonstrate need”, my first-generation, low-income self surely did!  Not only do they meet 100% demonstrated need each year, they do so with a no-loan, all scholarship & grant policy.  Therefore, I’ll graduate in four years without owing money to the school. 

                Although this is far down the road for many of you, graduate schools, including law & medical schools, cost “a grip” (a large amount).  Aiming for an undergraduate school that won’t break your bank (or your parents) and leave you with a huge amount to pay back after graduation can be a major blessing.  As you start the financial aid process, call the school if you have any questions.  Read the brochures they send, research the costs each year & anticipate money for books and extra expenses.  College is not cheap, but it’s an investment in the future that’ll pay you back with interest.  Just make sure your ducks are in a row early on, so you aren’t caught by surprise after that amazing first-year experience!

Scary Movies

leah-85Happy Halloween! Even though, I wasn’t allowed to celebrate Halloween as a child, I always admired the Halloween spirit. People were so cheerful and excited to dress up, act different and of course get free candy. Instead of trick-or-treating, my sisters and I would watch scary movies. Freddy Krueger, the Saw puppet and the Joker would haunt us for the night. We jumped, screamed, and went underneath the covers to avoid any scary moments. But, I realized those methods to avoid whatever scared me couldn’t be applied to the college process: my biggest fear.

The college process is scary, but don’t worry. Why? Well, think about it. In every scary movie there is always a survivor who tells his or her story as a mean to help others. So here is my story. Once upon a midnight dreary… I wondered about how I would pay for school. My parents were going through some trouble and I knew they couldn’t help me as much as they wanted to. So, I had to be independent and take things into my own hands and find a way to pay for school. I quickly sought out a paid internship, I called anyone who needed a babysitter, and I researched lots of scholarships. But, I still didn’t think that was enough. I was truly scared and I though I would have to wait to go to college. I would have to take a year off and just work in order to pay for school. But, with a lot of phone calls to the financial aid office, and licking of envelopes that would be mailed off to different scholarship committees, I made it and was able to pay for school. I survived!

Do you really have the money to pay for college? If not, that’s what scholarships are for! Apply to as many as possible. Even to the little ones! And, start as early as possible! Usually December is the hot month especially for students of color. *Hint start looking now!* Also, go over the financial aid policy with your school. Tell them about your issues and let them know what you can afford. Also, the financial aid office is a great resource because they can refer you to any other scholarships including those that alumni may offer. Paying for college and applying to scholarships is scary and dreadful, but you get a sweet reward: free money and a great education!

So for Halloween, I don’t think I’m going to dress up. Probably because I put it off to the last minute. And, I don’t think I want to watch Saw 3D. But, I am going to enjoy myself by hanging out with my friends and going wherever the wind blows. I mean isn’t that’s the Halloween spirit: to have fun and be the kid that you are. So, go trick-or-treating, eat lots of candy, and enjoy a night of pure silliness!