Accepting Reality, Part 1

Happy New Year!

It’s been a minute I know I’ll try to do better. Just like many folks either in college or applying to college, things got pretty hectic this fall. But hopefully all of that hard work has paid off because – YOU’VE BEEN ACCEPTED! Notification of acceptance to undergrad and graduate school is pretty instantaneous these days. When I was applying to schools, those digital letters were followed by a nice big welcome packet inside a fancy school folder. Now, through the click of a login to your application portal you can now see the status of whether the school you picked picked you as well.

So hopefully you’ve gotten into your dream school and you may be thinking that you’re done. Only responsibility you have now is to finish your senior year and move on to the next steps of your life. But that’s not necessarily the case – especially if you haven’t secured full funding for this next step in education. Let me walk you through the things you now need to consider before allowing senioritis to completely settle in.

Undergrad

If you’re a senior in high school, now is the time to begin applying for every scholarship in the book no matter how large or small the amount. If you’re eligible – APPLY. By now you will have your various personal statements from the universities you applied to and now it’s about tweaking those to fit the scholarship essay question. You should also have a solid list of teachers that can write you a banging essay with a quick turnaround. Don’t reinvent the wheel; everything you need for this next phase you are already equipped with.

Next thing you need to do is compare financial aid packages. Things you should look for in terms of what schools are offering you:

  1. Grants & Scholarships: One time or Renewable (and under what terms and conditions)
    • This is money that YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY BACK. It is free money towards your education. You want to keep in mind whether the scholarship is just for your freshmen year or if it can be renewed for multiple years. Ultimately when considering your financial aid package you want to choose the one that reduce the OVERALL COST of attending the university for 4-5 years.
    • Keep in mind that if you do get a renewable scholarship, under what terms can it be renewed? Do you have to keep a certain GPA? Stay in a particular major? These are things that you have to keep in mind as well. The stipulations should not be deterrents, but you should know upfront if you’re required to maintain a min 3.5 GPA while being an engineering major (it’s not easy)
  2. Loans
    • Loans can help you pay for college. BUT YOU HAVE TO PAY THIS MONEY BACK + INTEREST. You want to make sure that loans isn’t the major source of covering your tuition in your financial aid package. I personally don’t have student loan debt so I won’t ignorantly tell you whether or not this should be a deal breaker, but definitely educate yourself as quickly as possible on what these loans can mean for you. Yes you may have gotten to attend you #1 choice but you don’t want to find yourself a college graduate unable to live alone, purchase a new car, and have terrible credit because you’re drowning in college debt – and that’s IF you get a job upon graduating 😩.
    • If you get a loan you may get a refund check. Please remember that this money IS NOT YOURS. Be smart with this refund if you get it. Put it towards your books, living arrangements if off-campus, and if possible, IN A BANK ACCOUNT. With the third option you get to stash away this money and start repaying anything you owe as soon as Sallie Mae hits you with the “what’s good” email.
  3. Work Study
    • You may have to work on campus to pay your tuition bill. Read this carefully: PAY YOUR TUITION BILL. Some universities pay your work study as a regular ole job – every two weeks you get money direct deposited to your account. Please remember that this money is to pay your tuition. Don’t go out thinking you’re ballin’ at the club Thursday night and wake up to find that you not only blown the money for you tuition but you failed your Chem Lab exam the next morning.

Graduate

  1. Grants and Fellowships
    • FYI: Fellowships = Scholarships (just so we’re clear). For some reason the lingo changes but the principle is still the same. But what you want to look out for here is whether your fellowships are stackable. Ex: You have 3 fellowships: A = 10000, B = 3000, C = 5000. B & C are stackable A is not. Which means you can either get A OR B & C. Now it can be more complicated than this example. From what I’ve seen, if you have a non-stackable fellowship, it usually covers everything so there’s no worry there. Depending on what B and C is you may be able to defer the payment to a later year. You’ll need to read the terms and conditions here and ask questions.
  2. Stipend, Fees, and Healthcare
    • What is your stipend? It’s a paycheck you’ll get over the course of 9 or 12 months (depending on your contract) that helps you get through life. This is usually tied to your responsibilities as either a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) or a graduate research assistant (GRA or GA). It may cover your life necessities such as rent, groceries, other bills. In some cases it may not. And if it doesn’t you may have to consider getting a second job. Depending on your university you may not be allowed to work more than 20 hours a week thus forcing you to find this second job off campus. Make sure you keep that in mind while juggling your other responsibilities (like getting a degree).
    • Not all financial aid packages cover students fees. If the school you’re attending doesn’t, make a plan to cover that $1000 or so in order to pay off your tuition balance. Sometimes they can deduct the fees out of your paycheck every period.
    • Not every university offers healthcare as a part of their financial aid package. If not, this too can come out of your paycheck if you’d like. You may get lucky and are able to stay on your parents’ insurance until you’re 26 but I wouldn’t totally bank on that in this climate 🙃.
  3. Loans
    • Depending on your graduate program this may or may not be a thing. But if you’ve made it to graduate school then you’re already aware of how to handle loans.
    • If you’re in STEM and they offer you loans/don’t provide full funding – find another program.

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