Surviving Student Loans and Paying for School

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Surviving Student Loans and Paying for School

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By Barbara Pace, News Writer

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Over 44 million American citizens have outstanding student loan debt, totaling at over $1.5 trillion. A 2018 study of adults with student loan debt found many were struggling financially. For those unable to front rising post-secondary education fees out of pocket, federal student loans are a much-needed help. But if not controlled, student loan debt can reduce the quality of life after graduation. Streamlining budgets and bringing in some added income during college and graduate school can safeguard a student’s future lifestyle.

 

Scholarships

According to College Factual, last year 71% of University of Utah freshmen obtained scholarships, averaging $6,131 per student.

“Scholarships are covering everything I need,” said David Leon, a sophomore majoring in recreational therapy. Leon reapplies for scholarships each year.

“Our scholarship application system is a great resource,” said Hilerie Harris, Assistant Director for Marketing & Communications at the U’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid. “Scholarships.utah.edu is the best place to look for scholarships on campus. You log in with your CIS application.”

“After filling out a general application, the website will give you recommended scholarship opportunities based on factors such as academics, diversity, and leadership,” she said. The website also refers students to departmental scholarships, although Harris recommended checking with departments as well.

“I’d like to see students utilizing all the resources they have,” Harris said. “Don’t put limitations on yourself. Apply for anything and everything you qualify for.”

“One caveat is scholarships.utah.edu will only show scholarship opportunities available at the current time. It’s wise to check periodically,” said Melanie Evans, a counselor at the Financial Aid Office. “For example, right now there may be only half a page of scholarships, while in the middle of winter there might be 3-4 pages. … Keep track of what you’ve already applied for.”

 

Grants

About 27% of U freshmen received grants last year, averaging $3,683 per student.

“I mostly depend on scholarships and financial aid I qualified for after filling out my FAFSA,” said Jackie Arellano, a freshman majoring in social work. Arellano also supports herself by working during summers and part-time on campus throughout the school year.

To receive Pell Grants, students must complete the FAFSA, or Free Applications for Federal Student Aid. Students can receive help with FAFSA forms and Pell Grants at both the Financial Aid Office (Student Services Building) and the Financial Wellness Center (Union Building).

“Students qualifying for Pell Grants and taking 12 credit hours can receive up to $6,000 during fall and spring semesters,” Evans said. With six credit hours, a student can qualify for $1500 a semester. Because these are grants and not loans, students never need to pay this money back.

A 2019 Pew Research Center report found that 25% of borrowers taking out student loans default within five years, and many others pause or defer payments, later paying much more than they originally owed. By law, student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. In other words, even if bankruptcy is declared, the student loans stick. Federal loan forgiveness is extremely rare.

“The last day to complete the FAFSA is June 30th,” Harris said. “The priority deadline for financial aid is February 1st of every year. In addition to federal grants, we have some state-funded grants students can be considered for. Students qualify for all the aid options available to them if they apply by the priority deadline.”

 

Work Study Programs

Work study programs, available both on and off campus, help students find jobs compatible with university attendance and can give students valuable degree-related work experience.

“Participating employers are required to limit work hours to 20 per week, and are also required to allow students to work around their class schedules,” Evans said.

While any student can potentially participate, students eligible for Pell Grants automatically qualify.

There are many companies offering competitive hourly pay and flexible schedules that attract and employ university students, and throughout Utah, college students are also making ends meet by donating plasma.

 

Talent Development Incentive Loan Program

Earlier this year, Utah legislators announced the Talent Development Incentive Loan Program: a $2.5 million program to help retain graduates and keep Utah’s tech sector growing. To apply, students must have completed one year on an approved academic track for a bachelor’s degree. Accepted students have their last three years paid for if they agree to work in-state for three years after graduation. For U students, this can represent up to $30,000 in debt relief. Associate degree students must be enrolled for a semester before applying.

“We specifically target students that qualify in those majors,” Harris said, explaining that the Financial Aid Office works to contact eligible students directly. Students who haven’t been contacted, but feel they qualify, can reach out to the U’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid.

 

The New For Utah Scholarship

On Nov. 7, the U announced a new “For Utah Scholarship” available only to U students. Qualifying students will attend the U with no tuition or fees for four years. To receive this four-year scholarship, students must be Pell Grant-eligible Utah residents, have at least a 3.2 cumulative high school GPA and maintain a 3.0 cumulative university GPA. The scholarship will first be offered to incoming freshmen enrolling in 2020. The scholarship application deadline has been waived for this year. Interested graduating seniors are encouraged to fill out FAFSA forms to apply.

“We’re excited as an office because it’s going to create opportunities for students who may not have even considered the U,” said Pedro Moncada, a senior admissions counselor at the U. “It can potentially affect a significant amount of the population here in Utah,” Moncada said. “I was very happy that the U is doing something like this for students. This creates a lot of opportunity and access for students who may never have considered college due to finances. Now they have a pathway.”

 

Local Companies Offering Tuition and Loan Payoff Benefits

“After getting married, I realized I needed a full-time job to help support myself and my husband through school without going into debt,” said Sarah Kappel. “I’m now working for a financial firm as an entry-level sales associate. After I work there for six months, they’ll cover 90% of my college tuition as long as I keep working there during school, pass my classes and major in a business field.”

Many companies offer benefits to help pay tuition or pay off student loans.

 

On-Campus Financial Coaching

Two organizations on campus offer students free financial guidance, helping find ways to avoid debt or get out of it: the Office of Scholarship and Financial Aid and the Financial Wellness Center (formerly the Personal Money Management Center).

“Our busiest time at the Financial Aid Office is right when school starts,” said Harris. “This is a good time to come talk to us. By this time of year you can usually walk in and see a financial aid advisor right away. If your situation has changed — through reduced income, a lost job or getting married — you may qualify for a new kind of aid. Please come to the Financial Aid Office to review your options if your situation has changed or you’re struggling. In addition to scholarships, grants and financial aid, we offer students a variety of payment plans.”

“You have to pay at least $100 an hour for a financial planning coach out in the regular community. A lot of our students are very stressed about money,” said Tiffany Davis, Assistant Coordinator at the U’s Financial Wellness Center. “Some are so worried about student loan debt that they’re putting money on credit cards instead — with higher interest rates. We can help make people’s financial situations less scary by helping students see a path through to financial stability.”

 

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