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Are you bound to a future of low income if your current financial situation limits your college options?

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Growing up, I was the daughter of a single mother. Our financial situation could be classified as the grey area between poverty and lower middle class. Now, as I embark onto University life, my parents cannot financially support me. This leaves me choosing between community college and in state local college. My dreams are of Stanford, but my budget is of a junior college. Am I bound to a life of middle to lower middle class income through the restrictions of my post high school education. #lowincome #tuition #ivyleague #communitycollege #instate #financial-aid #financial #university #dreams #journalism #education

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Victoria’s Answer

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Hi Mariya,

This is a really important question. There aren't any guarantees in life but it's critical to assess your opportunities wherever you are and whatever you are doing throughout your life to achieve your dreams.
Your question is complex and it also shows that you can think deeply about issues on multiple levels.

It is important to be realistic about what you can afford in terms of college and to create multi-year budgets to project costs as well as how to pay back what you borrow. Map out multiple scenarios. How does the career you have chosen compare to the cost of college, especially since you are financing it yourself.

There are so many different ways to achieve success, measure success, map out your options, and to realize your dreams.

If your ship doesn't sail into the harbor, swim out to your ship (repeat this to yourself every day).

What do I mean? When you have a dream or something you are passionate about, you figure out a way or multiple ways to achieve this goal. As you become an adult, you will be more in charge of your decisions and options. Hard work, networking, strategic thinking, scholarships, and assessing your options will pay off.

Mentors are also important if you are the first one in your family to go to college or you are the first one in your family to pursue a specific career field. Volunteering in a variety of areas can help you find mentors and fields you might not have considered before. The bottom line is you are becoming the master of your own destiny.

Focus on the positive things in your life and research career options carefully. One suggestion might be to consider STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) because these careers tend to pay more on average. There are 4 million jobs in STEM careers right now that cannot be filled - you will always be able to find a job and be in demand. Google STEM and google images STEM - there are some great graphics that show you all the amazing careers and opportunities.

Think about your dream in the long term and see if you can image different paths to your dream.
Some possible examples:

If you can do really well at Community College this will allow you to apply for scholarships, open doors, introduce you to new career options. Community colleges are fabulous places with professors who are practitioners in their fields. There are also options to get your core courses and then transfer to a four year college. They are very affordable and an excellent way to boost your GPA in a cost effective way.

If you can do really well at in State College, you can get scholarships to grad school, find new career options, network with the alumni association, and launch your career. Take advantage of all the opportunities but be sure to do well by working with counselors, tutors, and professors. Don't get lost in the crowd - find ways to make the experience very hands on and personable - you might join a club or pursue a specific interest that focuses your experience. Keep your eye on the future at all times.

Other options include:

You do work study or scholarships to complete undergraduate at public or private college.

You balance work off campus with class on campus and pay for school as you go. Balancing requires good organization but it is possible. Mentors and advisors can help you figure this out. Some schools allow you to participate in cooperative education: this is where you go to school but someone else, like a future employer, pays for it. Sometime students go ROTC in order to pay for school - if you select this option be very clear about what the commitment will be, for how long, and what is covered. In other cases, if you work for a company that has tuition reimbursement the company will help pay for your education as one of your benefits (be sure to see how much and what the limitations are. if you work for a business organization, they might only fund business degrees.)

You figure out a way to go to Stanford for Graduate School or for a specific major, online, or work for Stanford and get a tuition break. Sometimes by saving up for grad school or getting scholarships for grad school you can make the experience more affordable. Everyone's situation is different which is why the budgets and planning is so important.

You go to Stanford for a certificate program for a semester or a shorter time period. You find an exchange program. You find an online certificate program..

You figure out what you like about Stanford and replicate it in Hawaii or other locations in California.

You network with Stanford Alumni in Hawaii and see how networking might help you get to Stanford or if you discover other dreams along the way.

You will figure this out and I am excited about your journey. The most important thing is to leverage all the things you learn along the way. If someone can't help you, thank them and ask them for 3 contacts or 3 ideas that can help you achieve your goal. Your experiences and hard work make you who you are and pave the way for the contributions you will make in the future.

I hope you will keep us posted on your progress.

#lowincome #tuition #ivyleague #communitycollege #instate #financial-aid #financial #university #dreams #journalism #education, #stanford, #stem, #women-in-stem
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Benjamin’s Answer

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I have a few thoughts on your question. The first one is, while I don't know about Stanford, I do know Harvard, Yale, and Princeton have such large endowments, students who parents make less than something around 250K a year go practically for free. With Stanford's elite status, I wouldn't be surprised if that was also true there. So if you have the goods to get accepted into such an elite school, I don't think finding a way to pay for it will be a problem.


My second thought is, if you are more like the rest of us who can only dream of an Ivy League education, community and state colleges are not the end of the world. My wife and I both got our start in community colleges and both attended state colleges and we are both earning six figure salaries, and more important than that, we both really enjoy our careers. Success cannot be measured in a paycheck.


My final thought is don't let a single road block derail your dream. The only thing I can promise you, is that even if you get into Stanford, somewhere along your dream path, life is going to throw some really nasty curve balls. Every successful adult you know has been knocked down into the dirt more times than they probably would care to admit. The secret of their success is that they got back up again.

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Alyssa’s Answer

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Hi Mariya.

I was in the situation of being a teen and single mother. I limited my choices instead of looking for financial aid that would have made a more prestigious school affordable. Don't make that mistake.

Additionally, education is just one part of the equation in your career. I moved out of low income status after a few years of struggling and hard work. If you want something, and you work for it, you can obtain it. It may be a harder road than if you had different options financially, but it definitely completely is possible.

Good luck,
Alyssa
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Kathleen’s Answer

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The simple answer to your question is: No, you aren’t “bound to a future” of low income. But my follow up question for you is: Have you thoroughly explored all of your options?


I see no mention of what type of career you want to pursue. That is an equally important answer to know. Can it be accomplished with a 4-year degree, or will it involve additional schooling? One key piece of advice: Know before you go!! If you know what you want to do, you will be more focused on that goal and able to graduate on time. I knew students who were deciding what they wanted to do while they were in college — so they weren’t focused and their 4-year degree took a lot longer to achieve (cost more too)


The cost of a college education - in general - has indeed ballooned but there are more options than ever for students.... and I don’t mean just student loans (note: there are plenty of cautionary tales of students graduating with too much student loan debt, so do your research on this). For example, did you know that there are all sorts of scholarship opportunities available? The options/possibilities vary from university to university and can be needs based, linked to your intended major or multiple other factors. Do your research — and check out a wide variety of options. I know you are eyeing Stanford, but there are institutions that may be offering exactly the opportunity you are looking for. Again, these scholarships will vary from school to school, so check them out!


I know plenty of students who start their studies closer to home at community colleges and then transfer to larger universities once their studies are strictly in their major. Your first year or 2 typically includes mandatory courses. I know some students, as well, that have even taken advanced Courses in high school that enable them to test out of these basic courses at university level - cutting the time it will take them to earn their Bachelor’s degree. These options can reduce the cost of a college degree.


Don’t write-off state schools or community colleges. The big benefit they offer is in-state tuition. There is no rule that says you must spend tens of thousands of dollars a year for a degree. I went to Auburn University - it’s not Ivy League but my fellow alumni include astronauts, CEOs, generals, members of the Joint Chiefs, NASA Engineers... and even the head of Apple, Tim Cook. I’ve had a great career as a journalist, including at CNN.


Don’t underestimate what you can achieve when you stay focused on what you want to do. An institution of higher learning will provide you the tools and resources you need to be successful. It’s up to you to take those tools and use them!


Other options that are popular today:

-Online degrees (allow flexibility, no need for cost of campus housing, can do while holding a job)

-Joining the military - outstanding training in the military (logistics, etc.) plus GI Bill benefits that will actually pay for your college education


My maternal grandfather earned an engineering degree following his military service. My dad worked 3 jobs to put himself through dental school and joined the military afterward to get experience in his profession. When I was in high school, he encouraged me to work and save money for college, too. I also worked jobs while at college to earn extra money - many of my friends did, too. Throughout my journey, I remained focused on what I wanted to do and that kept me on track.


My best advice for you right now, is to: do your research - talk to a career counselor at school - Make sure you’re taking the classes you need and getting the grades you need to be an attractive candidate for your chosen career path - research your options - Stay focused.



Kathleen recommends the following next steps:

  • Research the benefits/advantages of online coursework and the military’s training and GI Bill benefits. Remain focused on what you want to do and the path/paths that will get you there!
  • Learn about options you can do now — taking advanced courses in high school that will earn you college credit; going to community college for your first 2 years to get the basic requisite coursework behind you while saving money for when you transfer to a university for your intensive work/studies in your major.
  • When you’ve identified the institutions that offer great programs of study —- dig deeper. Find out about the scholarship opportunities they offer and what you have to do to meet the criteria.
  • Research all the schools that can provide you a degree in your chosen profession.
  • If you don’t already know what type of career you want - start exploring and talk to people doing the job/jobs now. They can be a great resource for career advice.
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