Paying for college can feel like an impossible hurdle, one too high to jump. But every year students and their families figure it out. They are able to get over the hurdle and make college possible. While there is a ton of information online about the do’s and don’ts of navigating the cost of college, there is something more comfortable, relatable, and therefore, more actionable, when that information comes from the experience of a friend.
Jessica can be that friend. In our second installment of College Application Diaries, Jessica bravely shares the story of her and her family’s approach to paying for college. While everyone’s home and financial situation is unique, we hope there are kernels of her story you can relate to, which will help you on your own journey in paying for college.
During this unprecedented time, we also wanted to check-in with our students to see how they were doing mentally and how the pandemic may be affecting their college plans. We’ll begin with this status check.
Checking In During Coronavirus
With COVID-19, these are difficult, unprecedented times for everyone. How have you been doing?
I can’t decide how I feel about it. On one hand, I’m an introvert; I was basically born for this type of scenario. I get unlimited time with my cats and family now (I’m waiting for the moment when they drive me insane — it hasn’t happened yet), I have a whole list of tv shows to finish and shelves of books to read and the entire internet to give me ideas of what to do. With my hectic schedule normally, I’ve always wished I could just stop time and reset myself; get my life together before unpausing it and moving on. Now, that’s pretty much happened. I’m getting actual sleep now, and it’s kind of great to have this as a chance for me to try what I want, when I want. I made whipped coffee yesterday off of a recipe I saw on TikTok, just for the sole reason that I could. And it tasted amazing. I started and finished a piece of art in 2 days. That literally never happens to me.
But, at the same time, I’m missing out on so many things. The fact that I‘m a senior makes it even worse. The rest of my indoor drumline season was cut short, my state art event was cancelled, and there’s a good chance I may not get to see my friends in person for the rest of the school year. I live in Texas, so even though there’s cases in my county, we haven’t really been hit by the virus yet. All we’re doing is waiting for the official quarantine to be called. I know there’s always a chance that we’ll go back, but I’m a realist, and the way I look at it, I might be getting my high school diploma emailed to me. It’s just a little anticlimactic.
I have this constant pressure in the front of my head that feels like a headache, but could also be from the terrible sleep schedule I’ve been keeping, or from my body fighting off allergy symptoms, or from the possibility that I’m actually more stressed out about this whole virus thing subconsciously, and my brain just isn’t registering it properly, or that I just need to drink water.
What are adjustments you’ve made to make online school work for you?
Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. Other school districts might operate differently, but at the beginning of every week I get a swarm of assignments from all my classes that are due by Friday on this website we use called itslearning, so it’s up to me to pace myself and do them reasonably, then I get the weekend off. I still write everything in a planner, especially because everything is on my laptop now, and I can’t separate things by folder or class period. I’ve thought about setting a timer for myself when I work, just like in school, to make sure I work efficiently and touch base on everything, but I haven’t tried it because a lot of my assignments now aren’t based on a 45 minute class time limit. But overall, I try and remember that if I’m tired, and I can’t focus on something, I should just stop and try the next day, just like I did when school was still in session.
Has the coronavirus impacted college decisions and enrollment plans? If so, how?
Not really. Even if I had been admitted into NYU or UC Berkeley, my parents probably wouldn’t have wanted me to go, because of the amount of cases of the virus in both of those states. And even then, those schools are super expensive.
I had signed up for a college event in early June, which is now obviously not happening. It may be switched to online, but I haven’t heard anything from the school yet.
RaiseMe Insight: While the disappointment of missing in-person campus events and tours is real, there are thankfully great alternatives to learning about a university online. This article shows how you can explore colleges from your home, and even take a tour virtually!
Where have you turned to for resources on navigating the coronavirus?
I see most advice and articles on social media, but most of my knowledge comes from my parents. They watch the news and read information about it and relay it back to me, so I know what’s going on and when. This makes it so where I don’t actively seek out much information myself, and I can just make sure to stay inside, do my work, and wash my hands thoroughly as often as I can.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share on this subject?
Stay at home. Make the best of the break in reality while it lasts because you will not get another break like this for a very long time.
RaiseMe Insight: As we try to make do with this new reality, it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed or anxious. We’ve put together a list of tips and resources to help you find some balance and maintain your mental health.
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?
My family is not too bad regarding money, but we’re not exactly rich either, so I’ve always known that college was going to be expensive. Plus, when I was in middle school and early high school, the cost of college was already a known trait of college; whenever you think about it, you automatically thought about how much it was to go. Either that, or I just don’t remember a time anymore where I could think about college without thinking about how much it was going to cost me.
At first I was under the impression that student loans were bad (which they are, at a certain point) and that I shouldn’t go within a hundred miles of them. But my dad told me that even with the college money they have saved up for me, I’m going to have to take out at least a small loan. As long as I can keep my student loans under $100,000, and I’m smart about paying off my debt as soon as possible so that it doesn’t accumulate too much interest, I shouldn’t have any trouble paying them off before the end of my lifetime.
My mom has also been pushing me to apply for scholarships, even if it’s just for a small amount. Sometimes I feel guilty about my parents spending a lot of money on me, with marching band fees and trips, but she always tells me that I don’t have to worry about it, but if I really feel bad, then the way I pay her back is by winning scholarships.
What role did the cost of college play in where you decided to apply to college?
I had to know what was affordable and what wasn’t. I asked my parents about what a good tuition was, so when I researched schools in my college and career course in 8th grade, I was able to weed out the ones that were too expensive. I knew pretty early on that unless I somehow acquired a massive full-ride scholarship for a school that was out-of-state, I was going to be attending college in Texas. Even when I was applying for my reach schools, I kept reminding myself that even if I did get in, there was very little chance I would actually go there.
RaiseMe Insight: The cost of college is an important factor to consider when you are building your college list. Your RaiseMe portfolio can be a great tool in exploring that factor. RaiseMe’s college search feature shows you details on over 2,300 universities, including facts on tuition and forms of financial aid.
What have been your biggest questions on paying for college?
I still have no clue how to take out a student loan, or how to pay a bank off for a loan that I’ve borrowed. Plus I really don’t know how I’m supposed to access money or deposit checks and such if the bank where I’m registered is five or so hours away? Am I switching banks? Do I mail my bank a check to pay off my loan amount every month or something? What is a scholarship?
I know what a scholarship is now and how to apply for one now, but that’s about it. All I have is a vague idea that I am on the right track with my other inquiries, but I don’t know for sure the exact processes, or how certain things work. The economics course I took last semester for school did not prepare me for this.
What are doing now to make college affordable? What do you plan to do?
Other than applying for scholarships, I’ve been considering getting a job during school. My dad has told me that he thinks it’s a good idea, but I should wait a semester to gauge my workload, and determine if I could handle a job with my classes. If I do get the opportunity to work though, I think it would be relaxing to work at a campus library.
Any advice you have for other students and families on paying for college?
I’ve probably mentioned this a thousand times, but APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS! I used to not look at any amount that had three digits in it, but my mom brought it to my attention that even a small amount like $100 would take care of textbooks. Never turn down free money. And on that note, even if you aren’t a party person, graduation parties are a great opportunity to get start-up money or dorm items from relatives or friends.
RaiseMe Insight: Looking for more inspo on navigating the cost of college? Our series on Creative Ways to Save for College showcases the personal stories of RaiseMe alumni, now in college, and how they saved money throughout high school or community college to make a four-year degree attainable.