Student loans can make it happen

16 Jan

Are you or your parents freaking out about the possibility of student loan debt?

The media have been having a field day the last few years with horror stories of students who are graduating with student loan debt  of $100,000 or more.

The over-sensationalism of this issue has actually had a negative effect on many of my students and parents over the last several years–to the point where they are determining to work first, THEN go to college with the projected savings.

There are several facts that students and parents should face in regard to post-secondary education, its benefits, and this student loan issue:

  1. Most students have some student loan debt leaving college. Nationally that figure is about 70 percent of college graduates. In California, the percentage is 55 percent — and the average loan debt is $21,382 (the average is about $18,000 for the California State University system–a good deal!). The cost of repayment for this amount will be about $200 per month — less than the cost of the average car payment, with that car depreciating by the moment.
  2. It is very difficult for a young person to save enough money to fund the cost of a college education, especially since college costs are increasing on a yearly basis. A minimum-wage job would have gross pay of $13,720 a year. Subtracting money for taxes, transportation, and living expenses, I have computed that it would probably take nine or more years to earn enough to pay for four years of college.
  3. Financial aid in the form of grants could decrease if the student works first. If a student qualifies for federal and state grants but chooses to work, access to those grant funds could completely disappear.
  4. When students work before going to college, they often are detracted from savings by the lure of a nice car or apartment and rack up debt that would make college challenging financially.
  5. A college graduate’s income will be significantly higher than a young person’s income who went directly into the work force.

Completely free rides are about nonexistent these days. Typically, the student is expected to commit to about $5,000 in student loan debt per year. That repayment plan will not be difficult with the post-college salary the graduate will earn.

Be wise about your college decision:

  • Lay out your financial aid offers side by side before deciding on your college.
  • Be diligent to submit every single scholarship application for which you are eligible.
  • Read the fine print on the colleges’ financial aid pages. Some schools will cancel out GRANT money if you get scholarships, while other schools will cancel out loans. This was the main reason my daughter chose UC Berkeley over UC Santa Barbara.
  • DO choose Work Study if you can get it–it won’t count as income against next year’s financial aid package and you won’t have to pay taxes on it. It’s like working for a grant.
  • Be careful not to incur other debt during college (live cheaply and don’t take on a car payment).

And go for the degree: it will pay off in the short and long term.


I’m super-excited that my book, 50 Life Lessons for Grads, will be out in April–a great gift for both high school and college graduates. Here’s a link for pre-orders:

Use your Christmas break wisely

15 Dec

While it may be tempting to just couch surf over your Christmas break, the couple or more weeks off provide a great opportunity to work on and submit the last of your college applications, as well as scholarship applications.

While you won’t win every scholarship for which you apply, you definitely WILL NOT win any for which you do not apply. Increase the odds, senior: get as many done as you possibly can. If my small-town students can win big, national scholarships, so can YOU!

Here are some tips for winning scholarships. I feel confident in sharing these, because my own four children won more than FIFTY scholarships.

  • Your best odds are local scholarships. Do those first, because a few number of students are applying for them.
  • Answer each question thoroughly.
  • Use formal language but be real and personal.
  • Use specific examples to explain your claims. Don’t just speak in generalities.
  • Don’t exaggerate who you are, but definitely think through your own personal history and try to connect with the organization.
  • If there are optional questions, answer them.
  • Spellcheck your essay. Ask someone else to read it over and offer suggestions. It needs to sparkle to rise above the pile of ho-hum submissions.
  • If the organization asks for an essay of say, 100-300 words, use the whole 300 words, which gives you that chance to show you are the right person.
  • Double-check the requirements before you mail or submit the application. Make sure you have met all the basic requirements.
  • Do not pay to enter a scholarship–that’s a ripoff.

Remember: Doing a little each day to work toward your college and career goals makes what might seem like an overwhelming task quite reachable.

How to earn $100/hour

5 Dec

Q: How can you earn one hundred dollars an hour or more as a high school senior?

A: Submit an application for every single scholarship for which you are qualified.

Q: How can you increase your chances of winning scholarships?

A: Study the organization that sponsors the scholarship and the kind of student that organization would choose to reward with a scholarship.

Before you start filling out the scholarship application, do some research:

  • Read all of the materials that accompany the scholarship application. Often the organization will give some history about the group and/or the scholarship.
  • Go to the organization’s website and read all about the organization.
  • Ask your school counselor or other adults about the organization.

Then, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are these people?
  • Why do they give scholarships?
  • For what kind of student are they looking?
  • What kinds of qualities do they want to see in the scholarship winner?

For example, your local Rotary Club is part of an international organization made up of business leaders in communities. Rotary members focus on fund-raising so as to sponsor various community-service projects, which often include scholarships for local high school students.

You can imagine, then, that Rotary Club members may be looking for students who represent the best of their own qualities, especially leadership and a mindset that community service is important.

Because my daughter had done a lot of community service for her school — organizing a school-wide effort to paint student murals on exterior walls and to spruce up the girls’ bathroom — she was a natural for a  great scholarship from Lowe’s, the home improvement store.

As you work on your scholarship application for an organization, think about those qualities that you have and those activities you have completed that would appeal most to your audience — that organization’s scholarship review committee.

CAUTION: NEVER misrepresent who you are to a scholarship organization. However, you do want to relate on that application the best of who you are that will dovetail with that organization.

And remember . . . always complete every application for which you are qualified. You won’t win every single scholarship for which you apply, but you also will not win any scholarship for which you don’t apply.