‘I Set Out to Get as Many Scholarships as Possible’

How did you pay for your education, H.G.?

I don’t remember when, or even if, my parents told me that I would have to pay for college on my own, but it was always a cut-and-dry fact in my mind. The idea of getting loans to pay for college never really seemed like a possibility (I’m still in awe of the fact that I’ve been able to get law school loans with fairly little effort), so I set out to get as many scholarships as possible.

Since my main accomplishment in seventh grade basketball had been being tall enough to be in the way, academics was really my only option. In high school, I set out to take the most advanced courses offered, which isn’t too difficult in a school with no AP classes and one foreign language offering. I took the ACT several times, for reasons that are no longer clear, but came away with an almost perfect score. I joined all of the clubs you can imagine a nerdy kid being in—I was on the Math and Scholar’s Bowl (aka Quiz Bowl) teams, president of the honor society, and part of a local civic service club. I volunteered to hand out Fig Newtons to blood donors. Once I turned 16, I started working at McDonald’s, mostly to have money, but also because it showed dedication and a good work ethic.

As a senior I applied almost exclusively to in-state schools, expanding to one school the next state over because someone (my mom? the guidance counselor?) insisted on it. I searched and applied for scholarships constantly, writing essays that I thought were so very deep, which I’m sure are so very embarrassing now. I interviewed for scholarships at a couple of schools in “business” clothes from Cato’s that I absolutely hated. At one interview, the kid who interviewed before me told his mother that they asked him what animal he would be; he chose an eagle. His mom thought that was an excellent choice of strength and valor; I rolled my eyes at my own mother (Mothers, of course, are always there for a scholarship interview in Alabama). In my interview, they asked me the absolutely ludicrous question of “Have you ever done something that hurt people you cared about?” and for some reason, I told them about my suicide attempt. I wasn’t entirely surprised when I found out I was on the waitlist for the scholarship, but I cried for hours anyway. Some weeks later, I graduated off the waitlist and cried for a whole other reason.

My scholarship paid for 8 semesters’ tuition and dorms, a laptop, and money for meal plans, books, and living expenses. I got a few other scholarships, including one for my dedicated McDonald’s service. Once I was at school, I took on a job planning on-campus events that paid the amount of my dorm over again, and had a couple other part time jobs over the years. For the first (and last?) time ever, I actually had more money that I really needed. I used a large part of it to buy a new-to-me car when I was a freshman. As a senior, I used some to study abroad for half of the summer. I used the rest to live mostly unemployed (mostly involuntary) for the 5 months between graduation and the beginning of law school.

I didn’t luck into such an incredible setup for law school. As the government likes to remind me, I have about $140,000 in loans for the past three years of education. But, I am lucky that, unlike many of my classmates, this is my only debt. Furthermore, I can defer, get income-based repayment, get assistance from my expensive law school and, in my chosen field, get forgiveness in 10 years.


H.G. is a lawyer. 


8 Comments / Post A Comment

You and I had very similar ways of affording college, and very similar ways of looking at money. Nice.

Most of my education was funded through a university-granted scholarship, but I got lots of little scholarships from groups like the Lions and my grade school and the choir boosters from my high school. I got about 10 scholarships, mostly just a few hundred dollars, and for several, I was one of like four applicants. And I went to a huge high school in a big city. Crazy.

And WTF would they ask that interview question?! I probably would have blurted out that story too, if it was mine, just for being put on the spot so awkwardly. :(

sintaxis (#2,363)

@whateverlolawants That’s exactly why they ask you the off-the-wall/awkward question. To see if you can handle it with grace. I was once in an interview for a history paper competition when I was like 14 and they asked me, “If you were a Twinkie, what kind of filling would you have?”. Suffice it to say, my lack of bemusement probably put me squarely on the loser short list.

readyornot (#816)

this is great. I’ve been sitting on a (fully-written) post about my own college financial situation that is pretty similar to this, but I think H.G. said it better.

I just moved to France, lied about my legal situation, and got a free education. Can’t beat that. (Okay, I had to prove I was linguistically apt, and I did get very good grades, better than my French classmates, judged with the same criteria (not graded on a curve as an “exchange student”), so let’s just say I earned it in the end, even if I exploited a loophole and bent the truth to get in. The education wasn’t wasted on me.)
If my clever plan had failed, I’d probably have found another way to get educated for free. (I had all sorts of clever plans, this was the one that hit the jackpot, that’s all.) However, the main thing for me, was that it was the education, and not the diploma, that counted. I’d have been happy to get all the same knowledge from the library. And much of it, actually, I did. Luckily I don’t need a piece of paper to validate my career choice.
I think my way is the way of the future. Not the cheating, but the attitude. I don’t think you ought to need a serious college diploma unless you’re a brain surgeon or something. If you can do the job, why should a piece of paper make you better at it? Maybe jobs ought to have entrance exams, instead of the colleges. A lot of very silly people get great jobs, based on their diplomas, rather than their actual qualities.
I want to see a whole generation of DIY/self-educators come out of this recession, and shine. That would be the best thing to come of this crappy economy.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@carolita johnson@twitter
I would love to see an autodidactic working world, too.
Unfortunately, a lot of people are treating their redundancy as an opportunity to go back to school, meaning that they are acquiring even more pieces of paper and devaluing everyone else’s paper so that we all have to keep on acquiring more and more paper and thousands of dollars of debt. :-(
Man, I need to do something more fun – I’m saying so many depressing things about the future today!

Sadie (#700)

Yes, IBR and Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a wonderful thing! For those who don’t know about it, this is a good place to start: http://www.equaljusticeworks.org/ed-debt

uncleezno (#2,595)

@Sadie Hallelujah for debt forgiveness after 10 years. Med school bills for my wife will be 300k+ once she’s finished her residency, but the residency counts for 4 of the 10 years, her fellowship will count for 2 more, and then a few years working at the right kind of hospital means the balance of the loans is erased.

@carolita johnson@twitter Would you mind sharing how you got away with lying about your legal status? As an expat American student, I have found this to be a tempting possibility. (Not that I plan on doing it, I’m already enrolled as an international student, I’m just curious.)

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