At White Picket College, we try to remain honest. So for the sake of honesty, I have to reveal the major financial aid mistake I made way back in 2007 and why it’s haunting me today. It all starts with my financial aid award letter.
Happy as a clam, I found out I was accepted into my fancy, private university, Master’s program via phone call in spring 2007. Oh how delighted I was! I wasn’t sweating it about financial aid, I mean I made nothing back then, so I was sure the university would give me a boatload of money.
My financial aid award letter arrived in the mail. Fingers trembling, I opened it with excitement, which lasted a very short minute. I learned that I had received NO student grants or scholarships. Just Stafford loans, subsidized and unsubsidized. I was crushed and mourned my loss of government and school aid for days. Then I sucked it up and accepted the university’s offer.
Fast forward to today, June 2011. I am unemployed and pounding the virtual pavement to no avail. I have a Master’s degree from a fancy school and in this economy, it makes me look more expensive to potential employers, hence no job offers. And my student loans are weighing me down.
I have two hefty student loans. Right now, I’m paying one via the interest only option, so my payments are much smaller. Last month, I had to call Sallie Mae and lower the other loan to interest only as well. That brings me to pay $234 total per month. But as of March 2012, I will be paying $600 total per month for seven to eight years on the 10-year, payoff plan.
I’ve learned two lessons. 20/20 hindsight (of course!), I should have applied to other universities–even if I didn’t want to go–to make myself more lucrative to the university of my choice. I only applied to one school. My second lesson is I accepted the university’s financial aid package. I didn’t try to negotiate. But what leverage would I have had if I only applied to one school?
I share my wisdom with you. If you are applying to a Bachelor’s or Master’s program, apply to many schools that are of the same competitiveness or better. This will make you more sought after. And if the school wants you, they will pay more.
And don’t just lie down and take their offer. Negotiate. Make an appointment with a Financial Aid Officer. Exhaust every resource until you get more money. Wish I did.
Today, you may be thinking, “The economy will be better by the time I graduate, so I’ll get a good job and a $500 monthly loan payment will be easy.” That’s what I thought, but reality kicked my butt, and here I am unemployed and bogged down with loans.
So please think way ahead of time. Plan for a slow economy. Plan for reality. In two to four years, the economy could be much better … and it could be worse. Either way, make sure you’re financially ready for it.
~ the WPC team
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