I Got $40,000 In Scholarship Money & Still Have Two Jobs To Pay For College

produced by Erin Yamagata; modeled by Khalea Underwood; photographed by Rachel Cabitt.
In this country, getting a college education can be prohibitively expensive. A June 2019 study conducted for Discover Financial Services surveyed 1,501 U.S. parents of college-bound students age 16 to 18 and found that more families than ever anticipate that paying for college will be a group effort. 38% of parents surveyed said they expect their child will pay for more than half of their college education, compared to 31% in 2018. The study also found that almost two-thirds of parents are worried about having enough money to help pay for their child's college education. With the data showing anxiety around paying for college and the trend toward needing multiple sources to cover tuition costs, we set out to understand how real students actually make it happen.
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We asked women studying at schools across the country to share who is paying their college tuition and how. From student loans and scholarships to family trusts and part-time jobs, ahead they share how their educations are getting paid for.
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Grace, 21

College/University: Michigan Technological University
Tuition cost per year: $31,000 (out of state)
Who is paying for your college tuition and how are they paying for it?
My tuition and lab fees are fully paid by a scholarship I was awarded from the school. I also have three other scholarships that then go directly to me for living costs and school supplies. I have summer jobs that also help support me through the year.
How was the decision of who is paying for your college tuition made and how do you feel about it?
There was no decision. My parents could not afford to send me to school so having this scholarship was life-changing. Everything technically falls on me, but my mom helps me in other ways like proof-reading scholarship letters and occasionally finding other ones.
Who do you think is responsible for paying for college tuition and why?
I think the student should be primarily responsible. If they have help from parents, scholarships, grants, and other places, I think that awesome, but they need to be the ones to organize or gather the help because it's THEIR education.
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Colleen, 20

College/University: Pacific University
Tuition cost per year: $46,000
Who is paying for your college tuition and how are they paying for it?
Student loans (me), Parent PLUS Loans (parents), university scholarships, university grant, two jobs (me).
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How was the decision of who is paying for your college tuition made and how do you feel about it?
We made the decision after seeing the financial aid I was given. The school gave me a certain amount of student loans, scholarships, and a grant. After that amount, my parents and I talked and decided that they would take out Parent PLUS Loans — loans in their name that they would help pay — but I'm expected to help when I'm able as well.
I currently have two jobs that allow me to live off-campus and help with school. I feel great about having them help so much because I did my part and got scholarships that covered 50% of the overall cost (the cost of tuition including room/board, meal plan, etc) my first two years. Now, in my third year, I still have all of the scholarships, and I moved off campus, which cut the parent loan cost down by half as we only pay tuition costs now.
Who do you think is responsible for paying for college tuition and why?
I think it depends on your situation. In my situation, my parents can afford to help with loans, and I have two jobs that help with payments. If you are in a situation like mine, I think the responsibility should be a combination of your parents/guardians and you (the student). Ideally, it shouldn't fall on one person because the amount is huge.
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Sydney, 21

College/University: Middlebury College
Tuition cost per year: $55,000 for just tuition, another ~$16,000 in fees and for room and board
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Who is paying for your college tuition and how are they paying for it?
Breakdown per year: $25,000 from outside scholarships; $42,000 from school-based aid and Pell Grant (full need met school); $2,000-4,000 from savings and summer jobs earnings; and $1,000-$2,000 from federal subsidized loan. Total loans: about $6,000 after four years.
How was the decision of who is paying for your college tuition made and how do you feel about it?
I only applied to full-need-met schools and handled essentially all of the financial stuff by myself. I knew that my family wouldn't be able to pay for college — I'm first-generation and the oldest kid so I was on my own. I made all the decisions mostly alone. I feel really good about handling things on my own, but I know my parents feel guilty. They make a little more money now and contribute some to my brother's college tuition.
Who do you think is responsible for paying for college tuition and why?
Honestly? The government. I think it has the potential of being a great equalizer, but I'm not totally sure how to implement it because I loved my fancy-schmancy private liberal arts college and think that low- and middle-income kids like myself deserve access to that too. Free public school shouldn't get rid of private school need-based aid.
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Caroline, 20

College/University: Scripps College
Tuition cost per year: $74,788
Who is paying for your college tuition and how are they paying for it?
My grandparents pay for my tuition money from a trust, and my parents pay for my room and board with their savings.
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How was the decision of who is paying for your college tuition made and how do you feel about it?
My parents and grandparents made this decision a few years ago, and I feel incredibly grateful and indebted to them. I feel like I owe the same to my children and grandchildren.
Who do you think is responsible for paying for college tuition and why?
I don't think one person should be responsible for paying college tuition. It could be a combination of loans, family support, personal savings, and scholarships.
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Anna, 25

College/University: Portland State University
Tuition cost per year: $10,000
Who is paying for your college tuition and how are they paying for it?
I paid for the first two years of community college by working full-time and having a Pell Grant. When I started at university, I could no longer afford to pay out of pocket, and my income increased so I did not qualify for the Pell Grant. Now, I am taking out loans and paying what I can.
How was the decision of who is paying for your college tuition made and how do you feel about it?
I don't think it was ever a question as to who would pay. I wanted to go to college so I pay for it.
Who do you think is responsible for paying for college tuition and why?
I do not think it is anyone's responsibility. Going to college is a choice and should be available to everyone, without a lifetime of debt.
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Paige, 20

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College/University: University of Virginia
Tuition cost per year: $49,970 (total expected costs out of state are estimated at about $70,000, but I save money by living in a cheaper apartment, cooking my own food, etc)
Who is paying for your college tuition and how are they paying for it?
I receive about $40,000 in scholarship money (my school's financial aid plus I apply to any merit scholarships I can find). I also work two jobs in the summer and one Work-Study during the year, which allow me to pay for living expenses (rent, food, books, etc). I also take out the subsidized loans that my school offers me as financial aid ($6,000 so far). My parents had a 529 Savings Account with $20,000 that paid for freshman, sophomore, and half of junior year, and I will be taking out loans for the rest (probably about $15,000).
How was the decision of who is paying for your college tuition made and how do you feel about it?
I had full scholarships offered to me at some colleges, and though my parents didn't agree with me choosing such an expensive and prestigious school, they still wanted to support me. They have a fixed amount of money saved for me and my younger siblings, and it is expected that we will pay for the rest by working and taking out loans. When I first chose my school, we were expecting that I would graduate with at least $50,000 in debt. I felt this was fair and was actually surprised and grateful to know they had saved for me! My family also lets me live at home for free in the summer and provides great emotional support.
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Who do you think is responsible for paying for college tuition and why?
I think paying for college depends a lot on the family's financial situation and the student's ambition. Parents who want to contribute and can afford it definitely should, but kids should also research their options. If they understand how serious loans are and still want to pursue an expensive education (rather than community college or an in-state school), I think they should take on the financial burden instead of placing a strain on their family.
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Kim, 23

College/University: Eckerd College
Tuition cost per year: Apparently, it's about $41,500. Is it bad that I had to Google it?
Who is paying for your college tuition and how are they paying for it?
My parents are paying and I believe they just write checks every semester, and the money comes out of a bank account that they set aside for me and my sister to go to college. I also got a small scholarship based on the good grades I received in high school, but I'm not sure how much it covers. I realize that I am incredibly lucky to not have to pay myself or to be concerned with the cost.
How was the decision of who is paying for your college tuition made and how do you feel about it?
This sounds terrible, but it was never really discussed. I always knew my parents would pay in full. I was able to choose any college I wanted, and of course, I just had to choose a pricier private school. Now that I am more aware of the value of money, if I could go back, I would probably look into the cost a bit more and see if I could get a comparable experience at a more affordable school. When I first started college, I wasn't even aware of how much some people have to give up to go to school or the debt that they incur for an education. I realize now that I'm outrageously lucky, and I feel very, very grateful to my parents for their financial support.
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Who do you think is responsible for paying for college tuition and why?
First off, if companies are going to require a college degree for a job that pays $12 per hour — something I've already encountered several times — then we need to make college more affordable for everybody. As it stands now, I guess people just have to pay for it however they can if it's a path they want to pursue. It's a huge expense, and it would be nice if the burden could be shared by a few family members, but I suppose ultimately it's up to the student to cover it.
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Alana, 22

College/University: University of Central Florida
Tuition cost per year: About $8,000
Who is paying for your college tuition and how are they paying for it?
For three years, I paid 100% out-of-pocket, then finally received FAFSA for three semesters only to have it be taken away for my last two semesters. So I am using a loan to pay the rest.
How was the decision of who is paying for your college tuition made and how do you feel about it?
I pay my tuition up front and my parents slowly pay me back. At first, I could not receive financial aid because of their past mistakes so I felt it was fair that they paid me back.
Who do you think is responsible for paying for college tuition and why?
I think it depends on every circumstance. I am capable of paying for it 100% on my own but felt like my parents should take responsibility for screwing me out of FAFSA. I do think FAFSA should be offered to more students.
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Stephanie, 19

College/University: Georgetown University
Tuition cost per year: $75,000
Who is paying for your college tuition and how are they paying for it?
Parents: savings they have built up through the years. They cover the bulk of tuition.
Me: part-time tutoring job. I cover textbooks and anything I buy throughout the year.
How was the decision of who is paying for your college tuition made and how do you feel about it?
My parents and I talked about it and decided that it was fair that I cover my books and day-to-day spendings. I recognize that I am very fortunate to have parents who fully support me and my education. I want to contribute more, but between my academics and extracurricular activities, I don't have time to work as much as I would like.
Who do you think is responsible for paying for college tuition and why?
I think a combination of parents and the student are responsible. Students should bear some of the load since they need to learn what it is like to work. At the same time, parents need to recognize that it is hard to make a substantial amount of money with academics and other extracurriculars.
Ideally, colleges and universities will find a way to lower tuition as college tuition has increased by almost 300% since the 1980s. I don't think college has changed that much, but the administration just wants to make more money.
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Erin, 21

College/University: University of Texas at El Paso
Tuition cost per year: $14,645
Who is paying for your college tuition and how are they paying for it?
I have a scholarship from UTEP for $3,000 a year, Pell Grant for $3,000 a year, TEXAS grant for $5,000 a year, occasional one-time-only scholarships for $500 or $1,000 that I apply for, and another full-tuition scholarship from the NIH (that also pays me a stipend on top of tuition) but because I have other sources of funding, this scholarship will usually only pay about $1,900 or so towards tuition a semester, depending on how many courses I take and any fees associated with the courses.
How was the decision of who is paying for your college tuition made and how do you feel about it?
My parents never gave me or my brother any other option than to go to college, but we knew they could not afford to pay for school. As much as I wanted to leave home, I knew that UTEP was a smart decision financially (it's also a good school, but you know, the whole moving away thing is cool to think about) and receiving my NIH scholarship is ultimately what kept me here at UTEP. I'm happy with my decisions on funding my education because I receive money back every semester from what's leftover, and I was able to buy my own car my freshman year from my NIH stipend alone.
Who do you think is responsible for paying for college tuition and why?
I think the person going to school is responsible for *finding* ways to pay for tuition. I worked hard during high school to graduate salutatorian and receive scholarships of different amounts. Not all scholarships are need-based, and yes, a $500 scholarship makes a difference. Truthfully, I don't think school is for everyone, which is not a bad thing! However, if you want to receive an advanced degree, you should be willing to work hard for it, which would also include finding ways to fund your tuition. Although, if your family offers to fund your tuition with no dirty strings attached (like paying back high interest or other conditions), then more power to you and make the most of it!
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