Looking back, I find it pretty amazing that I made it through college with no student loans. At the time I graduated college, the average student was graduating with approximately $20,000 in student loan debt. The main reason I was able to graduate without any loans was getting a scholarship my senior year in high school that funded my tuition and fees. This is the story of how I got that scholarship.
My parents knew the importance of the standardized ACT and SAT tests for getting accepted to college and applying for scholarships, so my sophomore year of high school they enrolled me in SAT/ACT prep courses. These prep courses felt long and tedious to me. I had to go in the evening or weekends, after already being in class all day. But I tried to absorb as much as I could and the practice exams they gave really helped. I took the ACT two times and did very well, no doubt due to the prep course.
In addition, I was a good student in high school. I took advanced classes and got straight As, so I had above a 4.0 GPA. And I was involved in many extracurricular activities. I had leadership positions in band council and National Honor Society. I was trumpet section leader in marching band, played varsity tennis, and participated it Science Olympiad and robotics club.
With my stellar record I was accepted early to my local university. But I wasn’t convinced I wanted to go there. It was a good school and close to home, but I had always dreamed of leaving town. I had been very interested in several out-of-state colleges and managed to get accepted with a scholarship to one. The scholarship only covered part of the tuition, so I’d still have to pay for the remaining tuition, books, fees, and room and board.
I was so set on going to college out-of-state I almost didn’t apply for the Presidential Scholarship at my local university. The scholarship covered all tuition, books, and fees. It had minimum GPA and ACT score requirements, plus they looked at your extracurricular involvement. I met and exceeded all the minimum requirements for the scholarship, but the deadline was a few weeks away and I still hadn’t even printed the application. Finally, my mom printed the application, brought it to me in my room and told me I had to fill it out and write the essay. I very grudgingly did it, and barely submitted in time for the deadline.
When I got the Presidential Scholarship award letter I realized that I was excited about it. My sister was already going to the local university and had also gotten the Presidential Scholarship. I would be following in her footsteps and I had always wanted to be just like my sister.
Now that I had the scholarship offer I needed to make my decision: attend my local university with the Presidential Scholarship or the out-of-state university with the much smaller scholarship. My parents told me, “Why should we pay for your college when you can go to your local school for free?”
Although staying meant I could follow my sister, I was still torn. I had my heart set on leaving town for college and I’d found one I really liked. But I didn’t have enough money of my own to pay for college and taking out student loans hadn’t crossed my mind. So I accepted the Presidential Scholarship and said yes to my local university.
After accepting, I became a little bitter about it. I had always dreamed of moving out-of-state, and hopefully for college. Now that I would be staying home, I stopped caring as much about high school. I ditched class for the first time in my life, I went out with friends more, and didn’t spend as much time studying as I used to. And because of my lack of motivation I didn’t get straight As my senior year, as I had gotten every year previously in high school. Luckily, I had such a high GPA going into my senior year and I still got mostly As, so I didn’t have any problems maintaining the scholarship requirements by graduation.
I “rebelled” in my goody-goody way because I felt like I was forced to stay at home for college. Today I understand that everything my parents did and advised was always in my best interest and they were setting me up with a solid financial foundation. Ever since I was a child they always taught my sister, brother and me to be financially responsible. We had savings accounts at our local bank and would deposit our allowance in it every week. If we got a check for our birthday or Christmas most of it would usually go into the savings account.
Our bank was pretty awesome, they had a rewards program for kids to encourage savings. There were different prizes for reaching higher balances in your account. My sister, brother and I wanted to collect all the prizes (the prizes were things kids love: water bottles, t-shirts, hats, frisbees, piggy banks, etc), so we saved every penny we could. By the time I graduated high school I had a pretty good nest egg saved up in my bank account.
Writing about this made me just realize I need to start looking for a bank with a fun savings program like that for my son, so he will want to save too, ha!
So I started college, living at home and commuting 20 miles each way to school. Since I lived at home, my parents still paid for my food, clothing, and gas. This enabled me to focus on my studies in college and not have to worry about working during the school year. I did work every summer of high school and college to save up money for spending and other expenses. It also helped that my internships were paid internships and paid well. Another benefit to getting a technical internship in college is you can make a good amount of money working over the summer.
My boyfriend even benefitted from me living at home. My parents adored him, so he had a standing invitation to dinner every night, and often my mom packed him a lunch too. His parents always say how they are grateful that my parents kept him well fed during college.
In my junior year of college I realized I needed a new higher powered computer, but didn’t have the money for it. I started looking into scholarships offered at my engineering school and many were for minorities. I found out that in engineering women were considered minorities at my school, so I was eligible for more scholarships. I applied for as many as I could and ended up receiving enough scholarship money to buy a new computer.
I lived at home for all four years of college. My senior year in high school I considered it a death sentence, but by the time I graduated college I was happy I did. I didn’t gain the “freshman 15” pounds because I had my mom’s healthy home cooking. I didn’t have to pay rent. I had my own distraction free room at home to study. I had a back up alarm in my parents if I overslept. I had built-in support and encouragement at home. I didn’t get caught up in the college drinking and party scene, so I was able to focus on doing great in school.
Because I did well in college, I was offered some pretty amazing engineering jobs. I’ve now had the chance to move out-of-state (and out of the country) for my jobs, so I didn’t miss out by staying at home for college. I’ve been able to have more fun traveling and experiencing new places after college, because now I have money to spend while traveling.
My parents are two amazing people. I owe a lot of my success in life to them and their good influence, and one of the biggest gifts they gave me was financial freedom. Thanks Mom and Dad, you really are the best parents in the world and I hope someday I can be as helpful to my own son.
Were you able to graduate without student loans? Did you work hard to get a scholarship to college?