When I first got accepted to Syracuse University as an undergrad, I was over the moon excited. It was my first choice school and had one of the best programs in the country for what I wanted to study, inclusive elementary and special education. Of course, it came with a hefty price tag, about $200k to be exact after the 4 years.
I applied to every scholarship I could find, but unfortunately got nothing. I received a small grant from SU, and work study, but nothing that made much of a dent in the cost of attendance. This continued for all 4 years. During my senior year, I began to look into graduate programs, and took a closer look into my actual amount of debt. My stomach turned when I saw the number that I had accumulated. My dreams of graduate school seemed impossible and I quickly arranged a meeting with the graduate recruiter at my school. She’s hands down the best human being on this planet and has helped me through all of my troubles throughout undergrad and grad school.
I walked out of her office with a meeting set up with a financial aid adviser, scholarship applications started, switched to a new, less credit grad program and emails sent out to all contacts within my school to get me scholarships. I had done a lot for the School of Education through my undergraduate career, so she hoped this would help me get the scholarship I needed. The process was slow, but I felt better knowing that I was doing something to hopefully be able to go to grad school that upcoming summer.
When I met with the graduate financial aid adviser she immediately asked what my major was currently and what I planned to study as a grad student. As soon as she heard teacher, she questioned why I had an ABSURD amount of private loans. Here’s a tip: Get as many Federal loans as possible before private. Federal loans offer much lower interest rates, more payment plans and more opportunities for forgiveness, especially for teachers. She recommended only taking federal loans for graduate school and to make whatever kind of payments I could during school.
I began graduate school studying literacy education, and took out another federal loan to cover the cost for that semester. As much as I didn’t want to take out even more loans, I figured I was so much in debt already, what was a few extra thousand? Then, everything quickly changed during the first week of classes.
While break during one of my night classes, I got an email that I received a scholarship that would cover half of my credits that semester and the following semester. Then, I found out my teaching job at a preschool would give me 4 free credits. That meant I would have 10 credits paid for completely out of my 12. I immediately emailed the financial aid adviser and asked if there were any other grants available to teachers. She said that the TEACH grant was still available to me as a grad student, it would cover the rest of my credits (if you’re going into teaching, look into it! It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing)!! I couldn’t believe that my entire fall semester would be covered!
My spring and summer semesters I didn’t receive as much aid, but in comparison to what I thought I was going to pay, it was a huge relief. You’ll probably find it to be funny, but I ended up taking out the maximum amount of federal loans they would offer me each semester of graduate school, even though I didn’t need much. I’ll save that for another post though 🙂
What’s your student loan story? How did you make higher education possible for yourself?