The Unexpected Story of $30k+ in Student Loans – Financial Aid Doesn’t Always Go As Planned

My wife, Heather, wrote the following post sharing her student loan story. She went to college from 2009 – 2013 and unexpectedly ended up having to take out student loans to fund the last two years of her education. 

Have a ridiculous student loan experience? Make sure to share below. 

I grew up in an environment where college was just a given.

It was always understood that I would graduate from high school and then go to college. And furthermoreI wanted to go to college and earn my degree.

So the cost of tuition was never really even something that I considered.

I knew that I would have to come up with the money somehow, whether that was scholarships, loans or somehow paying for it out of pocket.

But I didn’t ever consider not going to college because of the cost.

And frankly when I started college in 2009, it was relatively affordable to attend an in-state university.

But I knew that if I had to take out loans then I would because you do what you’ve got to do to get your education.

When I graduated from high school, how I would be paying for college was a little uncertain.

The full-ride scholarship I had been counting on for the greater part of my high school career was no longer an option after earning my first ‘C’ in a physics class I took the second semester of my senior year.

This was a huge disappointment for me, obviously. But like I said before, I knew that I would do what I had to do to make college happen.

Over the summer before I started college, I earned a one-time $5,000 scholarship from the company my mom worked for. I knew it wouldn’t go far in my four-year program, but it helped.

And after waiting for a while to see what financial aid was available to me, I finally was surprised few weeks into my first college semester to I learned that I had earned just over $19,000 in scholarships and grants for that school year alone!

That more than covered my school expenses for the year, especially since I lived at home to save money.

The bulk of what I earned was from the Obama Scholarship, which was both need and academic based. I also received a Pell grant for a few thousand dollars, in addition to my previously earned $5,000 scholarship.

The Obama Scholarship would be recurring, though I’d have to reapply for the Pell Grant each year. But since the Obama Scholarship covered my tuition and books fees, I was set for my four years in college.

Or so I thought…

Surprise! Unexpected Loans

Really, I was covered for my first two years. Things changed after that.

My mom got married during my sophomore year, which changed our family’s financial status.

Even though my mom wasn’t paying for my schooling, since I lived with her and she claimed me on her taxes, the government and my college took her finances into account when determining how much money I received in financial aid.

Before she got married, because she was a single mom with only one income, I met the financial standards necessary for the Obama Scholarship that was paying for my college tuition.

After she got married, however, my household had two incomes and I no longer met the “need-based” part of my scholarship.

I no longer had a scholarship.

So even though my parents weren’t helping me pay for school, because I was living with them and their financial status changed, I was left without any scholarships or grants and needing a new way to pay for college.

Enter massive amounts of student loan debt.

At this point, my only option was to take out loans.

Luckily I had two years paid for; but two more years of college, plus the extra summer courses I took when I changed my major, cost a lot of money.

And college tuition had shot up since 2009, more than doubling by my junior & senior year; I had to borrow a lot more than I bargained for when I initially applied.

Had I known that my scholarship would be revoked halfway through college, I would have been more proactive about looking for other scholarships or grants.

I would have tried to save more of the money I was making at my part-time job.

I probably wouldn’t have been able to scrounge up enough money to pay for my tuition in its entirety, but maybe I could have cut the cost at least a little bit and saved myself from having to take out as many loans as I did.

Here’s the point:

The scholarships you earn and the grants you receive aren’t guaranteed to be there forever.

Things can change and you can lose the money you’ve worked hard to earn.

So have a backup plan.

Be proactive about looking for other options and saving money for the “just in case” scenarios.

I am living, breathing proof that those scenarios exist, and that they can cause a lot of trouble (and debt).

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