Student Loans: An Opinion Piece

I was reading an article by John Frainee on this personal finance blog about how to avoid student loans.  Now, we are OBVIOUSLY past this point and should have read more articles about 5 years ago.  But that being said I’d like to give some reflection and feedback on his article.

John’s first suggestion is to get paid to go to college through scholarships and grants.

Reflecting back we did do this. We applied for several scholorships and some grants.  The “free” money that we did end up receiving was directly from my husband’s school.  He maintained good grades, was well liked by his professors and took the time to apply.  The downside is that those grants were only available years 2-3 and they maxed out at $1000. I know that some money is better than no money but a larger amount or longer availability time would be great!

The problem is that a lot of scholarships are very specific.  By that I mean they are tied to your race, gender, profession or some attribute of you or your family.  My husband came from a middle class family, was married, had a working spouse and one child at the time.  He is Caucasian and was going into a field that was not under populated.  That being said he was excluded from even applying to more than 70% of the scholarships offered.

The other factor is scholarship application is the time vs. money available.  If there is $500 available but it will take you 20 hours to complete the application process you have only earned $25 per hour you put in on that application. While this is not bad you have to pick and choose what scholarships you apply to.  If you can put 5-10 hours into an application that is for $1000 or $5000 your time will pay you more. If you are in high school I would highly suggest starting to apply the summer between your junior and senior year.  It will take you a lot of time to complete a good application but the payoff could be great.

John then mentions putting off school to work first.  When my husband entered school he was already 27 years old.  He was running out of time to choose a career path and follow it.  If you are young and this is an option for you I would take it!

A third point is to get pre-requites cheap. This is a great suggestion!  My husband had many of these already covered from his 3 previous years of attending college.  He took very few pre-reqs.  Another thing to beware of is that some pre-reqs have to be taken in your field and there is no way around taking them through a specific school or program.  In culinary school there are several beginning classes you have to take and most do not transfer from other programs. Looking back I am thankful for the time that my husband spent in years past taking classes that we did not have to pay for.

John then says you can strive for excellence and receive more money.  As I noted above that is true.  Steve’s school was willing to give him money because he was a good student and in the top of his class.  Being in the top of your class as a high school graduate or while already in your college program is helpful.

There are many other ways to get money in college to help avoid getting student loans.  Here is a (short) list of things I can think of just off the top of my head:

-Federal Work Study
-Federal Money through FAFSA or a State Program (Illinois has the MAP grant)
-Get a Job – WORK while you are in school.  I know it is tough but it can be done.
-Live at home.  I know this is not what you picture when you are 18 but it will save you money if you can do it.
-Eat Ramen.  Although college is a time to try new things, explore the world and enjoy you are better served by skipping some of the extra curricular, living cheaply and paying your own way.

As always, looking back I am sure we could have done more.  We could have applied for more scholarships and maybe even fit in more work hours.  However, the past is the past and we move forward!

Tomorrow:  New Clothes!

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~ by Rachael Judd on July 6, 2010.

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