Welcome back to RaiseMe’s College Application Diaries series. In our second check-in with Shalini, we’ll first hear how she is adjusting to life and school during the coronavirus. She’ll also explain how the pandemic is impacting her college decisions this spring.
The core to our conversation is focused on the cost of college. As in Jessica’s entry, Shalini opens up about some of the lessons she’s learned in figuring out how to pay for college, and shares the intentional approach she has adopted to make college attainable. We find a healthy balance of practicality and optimism in her approach — one that we can take with us when weighing other major life decisions.
Checking In During Coronavirus
With COVID-19, these are difficult, unprecedented times for everyone. How have you been doing?
I’ve started online classes at the prestigious Zoom University which has been challenging but fun, and I’ve been thinking and working through my college decision process while keeping busy at home! I’ve learned to bake bread, and I’ve also been gardening, and using a fitness app to remind myself to move throughout the day.
COVID has taken over every news outlet and source, so I’m just trying to take in as much as I personally can handle without inundating myself with information. I’m figuring out how to motivate myself by staying in touch with friends virtually and not sleeping in so much. Before shelter in place went into effect in my county, I had a social distancing dance party with my friends where we played music out of one car then all danced in our own respective trunks, and that really cheered me up to see my friends in person, though with a minimum of six feet safe distance!
What are adjustments you’ve made to make online school work for you?
It’s been difficult to find a quiet place in my house to work since everyone in my family is home, so I resorted to using my bedroom, which definitely took a toll on my ability to shut down work at the end of the day to relax before bed and made me more stressed out. To other students, if at all possible, I would definitely recommend that you study outside of their bedrooms or even outside! One study by the National Academy of Sciences even concluded that studying outside leads to increased efficiency due to the brain’s natural ability to block out noise in a larger environment.
RaiseMe Insight: Students around the country are feeling anxious by the onslaught of changes and uncertainty with the coronavirus. Thankfully, there are many resources and tips for students to combat it, like the advice Shalini outlined above about getting outside and taking breaks. For more insights on mental health, check out our blog post.
Has the coronavirus impacted college decisions and enrollment plans? If so, how?
I was definitely counting on getting to visit campuses as a prospective student to narrow down my list. But every college is closed, so admission events have either been moved online, postponed, or entirely cancelled, making my decision process a bit more complicated and drawn out.
I’ve been looking to my peers and teachers for motivation and support. I’ve also been on my prospective college’s admissions pages for updates on virtual tours and other admission events.
RaiseMe Insight: Many colleges are adapting to these challenging circumstances by offering online tour opportunities for students, which is especially important for admitted students weighing their enrollment decisions. Learn about these colleges and other ways to explore your options from the safety of your home.
Any advice for other students during coronavirus?
I know it’s really difficult to be a junior or a senior during this time! For me, I’d really looked forward to events like prom and graduation, and if you feel the same way that’s totally valid. I made a list of the things I’m looking forward to doing after the quarantine is over, like hugging my friends, going to see my favorite movie in theaters, and moving into college, and that’s motivating me to push through the stress of working from home. I would really recommend doing something similar that gives you something to look forward to!
Now let’s get back to our regular programming on paying for college…
Paying for College
How have you and your family approached paying for college?
I plan to pay for college through a combination of a loan, scholarships and micro-scholarships, and working as a Resident Advisor (fingers crossed!) my sophomore, junior, and senior years. I came to this approach as I constructed my college list. I knew that attending certain schools would allow me to rely primarily on paying through scholarship money, while I would need the other sources as well to attend other institutions.
When did you learn about the cost of college? When did you start thinking about it?
I always knew that college was expensive, and I had been concerned about it since the beginning of high school, so it honestly was a relief to build my own financial plan for college through the application and admission process.
What role did the cost of college play in where you decided to apply to college?
It was a big factor for me! I knew I didn’t want to apply to a college and get my hopes up to attend it only to find out that it wasn’t financially feasible, so it did guide the schools that ultimately formed my final list of applications.
What have been your biggest questions on paying for college?
In my experience paying for college is not something that a lot of people talk about, so I honestly just wondered, where do I even start? What are my options to not wind up with too much student debt?
I wish I had asked for more help in figuring out how to pay for college and how to start! I really recommend sitting down with your family and deciding on a game plan for scholarship applications as well as normal applications because it does become a lot to juggle during application season.
What are doing now to make college affordable? What do you plan to do?
I’m continuing to apply for scholarships, and I will do so throughout my time in college. I think there’s a misconception that you’re locked in to the aid package you enroll in school with, but many grants are specifically for incoming sophomores, juniors, and seniors! I will also be working this summer to put aside money to pay for extra expenses like food and textbooks.
Any advice you have for other students and families on paying for college?
Don’t feel overwhelmed! Start small, by knowing the facts about your family’s own financial situation. How much money can you pay towards college on your own, and how much will you need to locate in other ways? A good place to begin is looking at the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forecaster to determine if or for what type of college federal aid you qualify.
RaiseMe Insight: The FAFSA is a central piece to the paying for college puzzle. Learn about the ins and outs of the financial aid form and how RaiseMe is involved in this article. Here, you can find the information and documents you’ll need to gather when actually filling it out.
Then, look for scholarships. If your school uses Naviance, start with their scholarship lookup, and if not, try the College Board’s.
Most of all, keep track of dates! I found having a spreadsheet of important deadlines throughout the process helped me keep track of financial opportunities.
There is a way to pay for college! If you choose to go to college, there’s definitely a way to make that happen, so definitely keep advocating for yourself. The best resources are alumni who have gone through the same process, college counselors, parents, and reputable college resources like RaiseMe. Make sure you have a great support system that can either give you advice on next steps or lead you to someone who can.
Remember there are still options for you to go to an amazing college and have a great experience, while not breaking the bank. The key is to explore your options!