Forget just a penny for your thoughts: Thousands of words saved thousands of dollars for recent Barnard College graduate Naomi T., a Gates Millennium scholar.
“It was pretty intense,” Naomi said of the scholarship application. “I had to write nine or 10 one-thousand word essays and get recommendations.”
Naomi knew without asking that financial aid would be key in her college career.
“My parents were not able to support me at all,” she said. “There wasn’t really a conversation; it was more of an understanding.” She has a much older sibling who had already gone through the college application and financial aid process, so she knew the bulk of the expense of paying for college would be on her shoulders. But even though she worked in high school, the money she made wasn’t specifically funneled to college.
“I didn’t have a college savings [account],” she said.
When applying for colleges—including several University of California campuses in addition to private schools—Naomi targeted schools that specifically discussed their commitment to meeting financial need on their websites. She was also able to submit to Common App member colleges for free thanks to the fee waiver system.
Naomi also picked the brains of several graduates of her own high school, including one who introduced her to the scholarship that eventually paid for her four-year degree.
“I knew someone in my high school who had gotten that [Gates Millennium scholarship] before and that paid for four years of undergrad,” she said. The scholarships focus on increasing the representation of low-income minority students at colleges nationwide.
"I think I have less than $4,000 [in student loans], which is amazing, and I realize that's really rare,” she said. That’s despite a few bumps in the road when Barnard asked for more than her family could afford.
Her first appeal to the financial aid office didn’t change her package, but she persisted and eventually got a meeting with an aid officer who was able to adjust her package.
Between that adjustment and the scholarship, she said she only had to take out student loans for “the little things” or when she had a semester with fewer hours at work.
Having a financial cushion gives Naomi some freedom to explore different career options.
“I think it definitely impacted what I majored in,” said Naomi, who majored in Africana Studies and minored in economics. “I'm interested in the music industry not as an artist, but as someone interested in the business side.”
Naomi is currently interning and working various service industry jobs as she looks for business development or account management career opportunities.
“I am privileged in the sense that I do not have to immediately worry about paying off thousands and thousands of loans,” she said. “I don't want to, but I can afford to not make a ton of money.”
Photo by Patrick Nelson on Flickr.