I grew up in a family where the debate was not if I was going to college, but was instead about where I would be attending, along with the importance of financial aid in any decision made. My parents did not want to limit my college search based on just what we could afford as a family. Initially, I could tell that we had finite financial resources since I could see beads of sweat form on my parents’ foreheads when we looked at tuition, room, board, and additional costs of attending many of the schools that were on my application list. Family finances were not typically a topic that came up at our nightly dinners, but I am thankful that it did one evening during my junior year of high school.
Family & Finances
It was at this meal that my parents did something very courageous, and in hindsight, I gained an appreciation for their honesty. We had ‘the talk’ about the funds that had been saved for my collegiate education. I quickly realized that my college education was not just about me, but it was also my family’s financial investment. College would not just be a place to go for the next four years, as I needed to approach my education as a full-time job. It was a shared responsibility for us all and I was excited to know that my family had the confidence to believe in me. It also showed that my parents were treating me as an adult member of the Martin household and that I needed to know there were numerous stakeholders in my future decision.
While my parents did not want money to ever be a limiting influence on my college selection, the reality is that it was going to be a very influential factor if no additional resources were available. I learned that my grandmother had a small savings account for my college and my parents had been setting some money aside for my schooling. When I understood there was a fixed budget to fund my four years of college, I realized that any dollars above this amount would need to come from me in the form of need-based aid, private or institutional scholarships, student loans, or savings earned through my part-time work efforts.
If I chose to attend the local state university or community college, the costs could be covered. Should I choose an out-of-state public or private school, this budget would need to be supplemented. I did not see this conversation as negative information, but instead I viewed it as empowering because it allowed time to plan and contribute. When I decided to accept this challenge, I found that there was money out there to bridge the gap between cost and saved resources, but I would have to take steps to obtain it. I took the lead on scholarship research, applied for need-based aid through FAFSA, talked with financial aid officers at my top choice schools, and saved a few additional dollars from my high school job.
In the end, my college applications were sent to a broad range of schools that offered the programs and environment that matched my goals and needs. As admission decisions were received, the pool narrowed. Because I had completed the FAFSA, I was able to be considered for Federal, state, and institutional grants, subsidized student loans, college work-study. I auditioned for special talent scholarships, submitted athletic information, and applied for institutional academic scholarships in an attempt to contribute to our funding formula.
At that same dining room table where we had talked about our family finances a year before, we lined up the financial aid award letters from each school that offered me acceptance so we could review options that would fit our budget guidelines. Some were quickly eliminated because the numbers would not work, but through the efforts and contributions of each member of our family, I was able to attend and graduate from my first-choice college. Even though there were days when I did not think that my educational goals would be realized, the hug shared by my family at my graduation was confirmation that we all played important roles.