How To Graduate College Debt Free AND $10,000 Richer

In a sea of debt-trodden college graduates who have sadly resigned themselves to working to simply pay off their college debts and live off the remainder of their [often underpaid] salaries for the next 10-40 years, Shanice Miller stands out.

One day in 2007, 18 year old Shanice was a senior in high school and spending the day with her cousin who had recently graduated with a business degree, and was incessantly complaining about her inability to find employment in the six months since her graduation and her $9,000 in student loan debt (I WISH that’s how much I had).

Miller’s cousin’s complaints stuck with her and it was at that moment that she decided she would do everything in her power to make sure she wouldn’t graduate with the same issues. A decent student with pretty good grades, Shanice had assumed she would just be able to wait and would be awarded scholarships based on her academic merit. Now, she began to panic, wondering if, since it was already March, she had missed her opportunity to apply for the many other possible college scholarships out there.

She tried applying online to a few well-known scholarships, such as Gates Millenium, Coca-Cola, Ron Brown and Essence and after hearing back from none of them, began to worry even more, wondering if she wasn’t good enough.

A few weeks later, she began to hear back from the Financial Aid departments of the schools to which she had been accepted. Washington College had given her $20,000 in aid, leaving her responsible for the other $20,000 in tuition and expenses. University of Maryland, Baltimore Country (UMBC) awarded her $15,000 out of their $20,000 in costs.

Towson University, her “safety school” awarded her a package of seven scholarships and grants covering the $20,000 it cost to attend. Originally not her first choice, she decided to make this school her first choice, knowing it would be the best decision for her to make financially.

After still owing $2,000 at the end of her freshman year, due to a slight mistake on her FAFSA, Shanice made it her goal to never have to pay out of pocket again. She researched for more scholarships and discovered many tricks, such as applying to local smaller scholarships that are less publicized, thereby greatly increasing your odds.

Even with her transfer to another school and change of major to dental hygiene, Shanice was able to find local, private and federal scholarships for herself that covered all of her costs AND then some, allowing her to receive $10,000 in refund checks over the course of her time in school. Three months after she graduated, she used that same $10,000 as a down payment on her first house.

We should really take the time to educate our youth on the perils of student debt and the many ways to keep theirs as low as possible to help them achieve financial success.