Transcript: Jocelyn Paonita-Paying For College. Debt Free Degree
Season 3, Episode 48 Jocelyn Paonita 02.12.20
Jocelyn Paonita-Paying For College. Debt Free Degree
Dr. Colon: It's happened twice. I was happier than ever, my wedding day and the day I opened my acceptance letter to college. My mother screamed on the other end of the phone and I ran around the house like a kid on Christmas. Mom told anyone and everyone who would listen, "my daughter is going to college next year". The pride, the joy, and the pure happiness is indescribable. When I look back now, I understand there is no other satisfaction than seeing your child happy. I cannot imagine where I would be. If she had said, "ladybug, we can't afford to send you there". My mother and father were going through a divorce at the time and Lord knows she really couldn't contribute to my expenses. Together we figured it out. She was with me every step of the way through the financial aid process and helped me understand loans, interest rates, and what I would be responsible for after graduation.
Knowing what I know now, there are additional ways to pay for college other than loans, had we known, perhaps I would have applied; perhaps I would have not had college loan debt for each of my three degrees. Parents, I know you know this, but I want to say this out loud. The best gift that you can give your child is a debt-free college diploma. Let me say that again, the best gift you can give your child is a debt free college diploma. If you have a child in elementary school, this episode is for you. If you have a middle school student, this episode is for you. If you have a college bound teen headed to college in the next four years, this show is especially for you.
Holy smokes listeners you are in for a treat. Our guest today, Jocelyn Pownita, earned over $120,000 in scholarships to pay for her college. Instead of leaving with debt, Jocelyn actually left with savings and bought her first investment property shortly after graduating. What? Yep, you heard that correctly with so many asking her how she did it Jocelyn founded the Scholarship System so she could teach you what to do and how to do it. You will want to listen to the entire episode and go to my website drcynthiacolon.com/48 to get the link to her free webinar and additional scholarship resources. I'm telling you it's a treasure trove right there, drcynthiacolon.com/48.
Welcome! Let’s talk about college scholarships
Welcome to Destination Youniversity, episode number 48, paying for college, earn a debt free degree. Okay. Before we dive in today, I have to announce this week's double scuba star students of the week, plural this week, Savina and Luke. These are two siblings that have earned merit scholarships valued at $220,000 and $88,000 respectively. These two students were online essay campers, and they were such a joy to work with. Savina and Luke each have one essay that will likely be featured in this summer’s sample essay camp for my new campers, summer of 2020, they are the epitome of being open to finding that unique story that only you can write and pushing yourself to write that story in your authentic voice. I applaud Savina and Luke for trusting themselves and trusting the writing process. These essays have won them lots of dollars and I'm sure mom could not be more proud and I joined her in that pride. Congratulations on earning your double scoop star student of the week and enjoy a scoop on me.
Hello everyone. I'm your host Dr. Cynthia Colon, author of the book, Tips, Tales and Truths for Teens. Welcome to Destination Youniversity, where we explore extraordinary people who lived ordinary childhoods and found a pathway to college. If you are listening, you are likely a smart parent of acollege-boundor a champion of one and we know smart parents start early in finding the answers you need. Consider me your step-by-step college admission coach and cheerleader by being here today, you are helping to grow the community of informed families across the nation. Thank you for joining the movement.
Introducing Jocelyn Pownita, who earned over $120,000 in college scholarships
Well, hello, Jocelyn and welcome to the show. How are you doing today?
Jocelyn: Thanks for having me. I'm great. I'm happy to be here.
Dr. Colon: I am so excited, I have been following you. Listeners, you may not know, but I have been working with students for a while and I found Jocelyn and the Scholarship System a couple of years ago when one of my students was sort of interested, one of the parents was interested in what you offer. So I've been following you and been sort of waiting to have you on the show and I'm so glad that I asked and thank you for being here. How is the weather? I know you're in a luxurious, wonderful place. So share with our listeners what you're looking at in terms of outside your window today.
Jocelyn: Yeah. Well, first I'm so glad that you kept me in mind over all these years and that we're still doing this. I mean, to be doing this for so many years, I consider us pretty fortunate for that reason. Yeah, right now I am actually in the Caribbean but I'm not looking at anything too cool. We're in the office. So there's a parking lot, but normally my view includes Palm trees.
Dr. Colon: Oh, I love it. Well, my view on a daily basis includes Palm trees too. So that's what we have in common. I love it. Well to today's topic paying for college, a debt free degree is on the minds of so many. Parents out there who are listening obviously the cost of college is tremendous and most families in America cannot afford to just simply write a check. So they've got to start planning much earlier these days and I know for me, I incurred some debt when I was in college. I was happy to do so, but I don't think I really knew what the consequences would be and how long it would take me to pay that off. So I think as parents, people sort of my age that have students going off to college, it's heavy on their minds because not only do they not have it in the bank to just write a check, but they're wanting to make sure their children don't have that debt that they had, that they were struggling with when they were young. So I'm super excited though, thank you.
Jocelyn’s college scholarship journey
Dr. Colon: I like to start with the question I ask of everyone, which is our listeners like to know about your own personal journey to college. So share with us what your path was like, and who were your supporters and believers along the way?
Jocelyn: Yeah, I would love to; it's such a perfect way to really dive into that debt-free degree discussion. So I was fortunate enough to graduate completely debt-free from college and that's really where all of the experience that goes into the scholarship system and debt-free degree lab come from. But my journey to college and to that debt-free degree was not an easy one.
It was not straightforward. It didn't happen overnight and I like to say it's kind of the average family's path to a debt-free degree, because I was no superstar athlete or Einstein student or anything like that.
So my journey to college, when I was in high school, honestly, the first few years I was kind of a punk kid. I really, I did not prioritize school. I was a pretty average student. I was not super involved. My junior year, I finally realized, oh, goodness, I need something to put on my resume and so I started joining a few things and I did compete in public speaking. Actually, I love public speaking.
So I got a few things under my belt in that perspective, but really I had other teachers and I had most importantly a mother tell me, because let me rewind a bit. I'm the oldest of five. So I was the first to go through this. So it's not like we could have pulled from the older siblings’ experience. My parents, me, I was the Guinea pig.
So fortunately though, one of my friend's parents, they said, Jocelyn, if you can make applying for scholarships, your job your senior year in high school, you can get paid for four years and I was like, like any other teenager, wait, I do work now and I get paid for four years? Yeah. Count me in and so that was really the start of my journey.
But what I didn't know was all of; I got sucked into scams. I almost quit.
It took me a whole year before I won anything because I didn't know what I was doing and so it was really this convoluted, complicated road map that just had all of these kinks along the way.
But I was really grateful for that parent that put that bug in my ear because it at least started my journey and then by the end of junior year, I finally won a $500 scholarship. So a lot of people, when they hear that, they're like, oh my gosh, $500. How in the world did you get to a free ride? If you won $500, right? That's not even textbooks, but what it did was more so it showed me, okay, wait a minute, there are scholarships out there.
I just need to know where to look for them and which ones are legitimate and all of this and so it started really my trial and error process of which ones were worth my time, which weren't, which essays works, which didn't and so on and so forth.
So senior year I kept on applying got enough for freshman year and so on and so forth and so by the end of my college experience, I got six figures in scholarships, graduated debt-free and I mean, it was just, I can't even begin to tell you the amount of opportunities I've had beyond college because of not having that student debt looming over my head. So for those parents that are listening that are really trying to find an alternative to student loans, I commend you because I can personally attest to the opportunities that I've had because of not having that debt. It really does change the trajectory of their life if we can avoid it or minimize it at the very least and so that's really, that was my journey.
Where to look for college scholarships
Dr. Colon: Okay. This is so great. Parents, I hope you have, as I always say, these are some golden nuggets, have your pen and paper ready, but I want to pick up on something you said, you need to know where to look for them and maybe we're going to get into this a little bit more, but I want the audience to understand sort of what year were you graduating from high school? Because right now we have, you can go into [Inaudible11:38] niche.com. There are lots of places to look, but you're right. There's so much to look, with the internet and Google, like there's so many places to look. So can you give some tangibles here? What year were you from high school? And then that year that you were sort of testing and trying, what were you doing? And then what did you switch to?
Jocelyn: Yeah, these are great questions. So I was; Fast Web existed then so there were these online portals. Yes, Fast Web and I mean, guidance counselors still recommend fast web and it's for me, I always tell people to avoid Fast Web, but even back then, there were so many, scams is kind of a tough word on them, but they're borderline scams because are scholarships that simply are collecting students information and basically selling it to marketers.
College Scholarship Tip: Avoid sweepstakes scholarships
So when I first started the process and I was looking for legitimate scholarships, what I actually was doing was I was finding easy, quick scholarships, like any other teenager and thinking, oh, cool. 15 minutes. Yeah, I'll apply for this scholarship quote, unquote scholarship and so I was doing those over and over.
What we call those nowadays are sweepstakes scholarships. So these are based on luck. So they are the ones where they say enter your basic information and you'll be randomly selected to win X amount of dollars, or even if it's not even necessarily a drawing, but it's just a 250 word little paragraph, and they're not asking for any other criteria. They're really probably just collecting the information and trying to reach out to you in other ways. So the email I use to this day has over 20,000 unread messages and most of them are from Fast Web or from the various applications through; that email is garbage. I don't use it at all anymore.
So that was really more so what we don't want to focus on. So that's where I spent most of my junior year and so when some families come to me and they say, how can you help us with scholarships? We've applied to 50 and we haven't heard back from a single one and I asked them to describe the ones that they're applying to. A lot of times, these sweepstakes ones are huge chunk of that.
I hate to say it, but just go ahead and delete all of those from your count of how many applications your student has really submitted there. They're not worth anyone's time and some parents they'll say, well, someone has to win them.
Sure. Okay. Yeah.
But if I'm taking 15 minutes on each of these and I'm competing against tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of students, I'm not winning where I could have spent that hour, hour and a half, two hours on a legitimate essay and competed against five or six students, is it really worth my time? No. So that was my first year and then the one I finally did win, it required a small essay, as well as I believe, maybe transcripts. So those were indicators that they were judging based off of competitiveness, not based off of submission and luck.
College Scholarship Tip: Get competitive
Jocelyn: So this is where through the Scholarship System we talk about building your competitiveness. So this is where we have things within our control. If we're just throwing our name in the hat, the only thing you could do possibly to increase your chances is throw your name in the hat more frequently, which sometimes isn't even allowed.
But when they're judging it based off your competitiveness, you can get more involved. You can write a better essay, you can build a better resume. There are so many things that you can do to improve your chances of being selected. So those are the ones we want to focus on and when I turned my focus to that, that's when I started winning over and over. It really got to the point where I could reuse materials over and over, because I was really figuring out what worked and what didn't
Dr. Colon: Right. Oh, that's such a good point and I use this to parents. Now I do the essay portion and once you get on a roll and once you really craft your story, you can use that over and over again and then you've leveraged your time. Now I love this notion of having this be your job as a senior and then you didn't have to have a job right for four years.
Jocelyn: I will say I worked part time over breaks because I had enough to cover the bills and stuff, but I wanted fun money. So I still did work whenever I could but this semester is when I knew my workload was heavy. I didn't work. I didn't have to and in fact, my work in the end actually gave me a down payment to buy my first rental property two months out of college. So I was still working and accumulating savings. So you don't know many college students that leave college with savings, never-mind zero debt.
Dr. Colon: I just had to chuckle, but that's rare, you leaving college with savings. That's a testimony if I've ever heard one. Well, okay, so you've convinced me and I love; the alignment here for me is really building your competitiveness, really utilizing your time. Where is it best spent how to leverage juniors and seniors? They don't have a lot of time and so rather than shooting at a big wall and hoping they land on something, I really liked the idea of leveraging time.
College Scholarship Tip: Try for a Debt Free Degree
Dr. Colon: So, let's get into your, I know you have sort of a system and your tips on how to have a debt-free degree. So share with us your best tips for that.
Jocelyn: Yeah, absolutely. So when it comes to a debt-free degree, I always say that there are two sides to the equation.
The first way, the first side of it is decreasing the amount we have to pay in the first place. So bringing down the total bill to be the smallest amount possible, the second part of the equation is then finding debt-free money or cash-flow to cover it.
So the first part is very important because the smaller the bill, the less we have to find to cover it, the easier it is to get it covered. So this is often done through strategies. We actually, we have the four Cs to a debt free degree and so we have a whole quadrant that we walked through and everything but in reality, the side of the equation for decreasing our cost of college, of course, the first choice is choosing an affordable school.
College Scholarship Tip: Choose an affordable school
Some families might assume that means they have to go to a second rate school or a local community college, which by the way, there's nothing wrong with that. Especially undergraduate degrees in the end a lot of them are the same.
It doesn't matter the name on the diploma. We can get into a whole discussion around that, but even still, we've had some families that if you can do the research and if you can learn:
- okay, what's our financial situation?
- Do we have a chance of getting any money from the government?
- Do we not?
- Will we have any financial need?
All of these kinds of calculations, they can find universities that may surprise them and may offer them a decent package. For example, one of our families, Susie comes to mind and their family actually found out that Duke was reasonable for them. They did not think that was anywhere near their financial realm at all and by doing the research, they were actually able to figure out that, oh, wait a minute based on our situation, we might get this much in funding and then they were able to apply for external scholarships to cover the rest. So now her daughter is at Duke in her first semester, and they never even thought that was on the radar.
So by flipping the search, a lot of people what they do is they find the colleges first, see if they can afford it and then try to scramble to pay for it. We recommend flipping it the other way around.
Of course, you can have your dream schools, but try to find schools that might not, you might not even know where they are, but find ones that are a financial fit is what we call it.
So you have a financial fit, a personal fit, and an academic fit, find one that's in a financial fit and then see if you like the school, because you may find that you didn't even know about this college, and it's a perfect match. So you can use sites like college navigator, collegedata.org and college board they have a search engine where you can put in your family situation, your child's stats and see if the schools would offer any money.
So that is one of the first and easiest ways to knock off a huge amount from the bill. But of course we are actually in January covering dozens of suggestions that can add up to thousands of dollars. So there's little tricks as well that you can do once you choose that school. But that's one of the biggest components of that side of the equation.
Dr. Colon: Okay. Parents write that down there.
Jocelyn: There was a lot there.
Dr. Colon: There was a lot there, you'll have to rewind for sure. But, I completely agree on finding an academic and personal fit and then the financial fit and many times families believe just because of the sticker shock, they think that they cannot afford it.
Dr. Colon: And so we want to, I think we agree on the philosophy of going into this and saying, okay, let's find the academic and personal fit and then let's see, let's do our homework before we decide it's not a financial fit. It can be and I went to a private school, which everybody knows where I went and the down the street, the public school, there were a number of my classmates who said they actually chose the private school because they actually got more financial aid than they would have at the public school.
So there you go, just as a recap, parents, you want to figure out step one is lowering the amount that you have to pay in beginning, figuring that out. What is that amount that you're going to have to pay so that you can find a way to pay it. Okay and you said, there's a part two. So take us down the road of what's part two.
College Scholarship Tip: Find a way to pay for it
Jocelyn: Yes and actually, you know what, just to rewind, I mentioned the four Cs to a debt free degree, and this may just spur some more ideas. So say they're listening to this and like, oh goodness, we already chose a college, the bill is the bill.
We have the four Cs to a debt-free degree and those are:
- costs, and
So credits is finding ways to make your credits more affordable. This could be through testing. This could be through community college, maybe over the summer or something like that. So try to find ways that you can get credits at that school for a fraction of the cost.
You've got college, which again is back to what we just discussed about choosing a more affordable college, but also it could be even studying abroad for a semester. That's actually believe it or not more affordable sometimes, especially these days with the cost of the US compared to the rest of the world.
Then we have costs in general. So this is where you can really look at that month to month budget or semester to semester budget and see where you can save, whether it's on housing or food, eating out entertainment, travel, commute, whatever it is, leaving the car at home, textbooks, there strategy. So that's really a big bucket there.
Then the last C is cash and this brings us into the second side of the equation.
College Scholarship Tip: Look for Debt-Free Money
So this is where we find debt-free money or free up, or I should say also free up money to pay for college. So this is really the second side of the equation is finding debt-free money to pay for college.
So of course, finding debt-free money, scholarships, that is my bread and butter, maximizing financial aid through the government if that's an opportunity, that's certainly something as well. Maximizing aid or merit through the university as an option and then of course, private institutions and third parties, which is actually where I got the bulk of my funding. It was by parties outside of my university.
So for those listening, if you have already chosen the school and received the financial aid package, and now you have this gap is what we call it between what they're saying you have to pay and what you can afford. That's where a lot of the private external scholarships can come in.
So that's really where the Scholarship System is solely focused, but you can also, we just did a budgeting lesson.
You can free up some cash flow through your families. See if you can make some interest payments each month throughout college to avoid a huge snowball effect and also their tax credits. So as you can see, there are lots of different ideas that can come into play, but it's really picking the strategies that are a good fit for your family. I always say, the debt-free degree is a puzzle and your family will have a different image in the end, but you can choose your own puzzle pieces to put them together to form that debt-free degree. It's just a matter of finding out what you can do while you're willing to do and in the end, what you do end up doing.
Dr. Colon: Oh my goodness. Okay. So this is good. It's reinforcing some of the things that I do know, obviously I've been in the business for a long time in terms of college admissions, but I've always said to parents, financial aid and scholarship is not really my niche.
But there is federal aid and you use FAFSA and CSS profile you use to qualify for merit aid at that particular college specifically for private schools. Then there's outside money from different institutions or private funding and this is really what Jocelyn is talking about mostly today is how do you close that gap? Many people are going to have, this is the budget, I mean, this is what the college says you can afford to pay and you've got to come up with that money no matter what. Even if you believe you can't afford to pay it, that's what you've got to come up with. So share with us, I was curious because earlier you said that you spent some of your junior year searching for some money. So if people are listening and they're thinking ahead of time, what kinds of things do you apply for as a junior versus as a senior, or does it matter?
College Scholarship Tip: Start Early
Jocelyn: Yeah, I'm so glad you caught that because I think one of the biggest myths around a debt-free degree and paying for college and scholarships in general is that basically we need to wait until senior year and wait until we choose a college to start applying for scholarships, which then gives us only a few months of a window and then when they graduate from high school, they think it's over and whatever their situation is with paying for the bill, that's their situation is going to be the remaining three or four years, even if they stay longer. I'm so glad you brought this up because I want to say that that's absolutely not true.
Students can start applying for scholarships. Actually, there are scholarships out there for kids as young as four years old. I know that sounds crazy. Yeah, I know. I wish people could see your face.
They draw a picture and if they're selected to, when they receive a bond that matures, when they go to college. Now, of course, those are far and few between, but still it's a cool, it's a good example that it's never too early to begin. Personally, if I could reach every family in the United States, I would say start no later than junior year in high school.
I know that people think junior year is already overloaded with things, but I promise you, it just gets crazier senior year. It really does and if you wait until senior after admissions, if you wait until senior year after admissions, you already missed all of junior year when they could be applying, because there are scholarships that they can actually submit and win junior year, but they also missed all of fall semester when there are tons of deadlines, October, November, December 15th, that is a huge deadline. So we have to start it before admissions is finished.
The nice thing about this, I mean, you're an expert on essays. We can reuse these essays. So don't think that it's one or the other. We can actually utilize our scholarship essays if we're doing them junior year for admissions and vice versa. So it's not like we can snowball these effects. So that said the other side of it is the last check that I cashed was on my way home from college graduation. So they could be applying for this all the way through college as well. So while it's never too early to start, it's also never too late.
Dr. Colon: Okay, well, you just gave me an idea for my niece who's six. I've decided Papaya, that's what I call her publicly. Papaya, you're going to be drawing some pictures pretty soon here. She's got to start saving. Okay. So no later than junior year, I love this. I'm all about getting things done early because as crazy as the junior year is when I worked at a elite private girls school, we just knew that senior year comes and there's so much on their plate that they cannot possibly squeeze one more thing and they just don't have the bandwidth. You don't have the bandwidth to keep going. But if they start in junior year or even earlier than that, then at least they're in the habit of doing that. So starting early now, for those, so when this airs it will be spring, it'll be probably February of 2020 and so for those who are listening and happened to be seniors, maybe they've been admitted early, early action, early decision. Maybe they already made a choice or maybe they're waiting, what can a senior do at this at this moment?
Jocelyn: I love this. So the good news is it's not over until they're graduating from college. So even seniors that they're already down to the wire, maybe you're about to get the bill or you already got the bill. There are scholarship applications that have deadlines as late as August for that fall. So all of spring, all of summer, you should be applying for scholarships. So it really does not end and even then, once you get to college, say in the end of senior year in high school, you totally missed the boat. You didn't get any scholarships. You barely applied. You can get to college and then start applying.
College Scholarship Tip: Keep applying once you are in college
In fact, sometimes it's even easier to get scholarships while in college, because you're already there, you're already doing it and you're proving to them, hey, I'm actually going to graduate or at least, hey, I have a higher chance statistically to graduate and so many, many scholarships allow college students to apply and they like college students because again, higher chances that their investment is going to pay off that they're going to actually graduate and use the money to pursue it career.
Dr. Colon: There are statistics that show that there are students who will take four years, five years, six years or more to graduate from college. So I love what you're saying about applying once you're a student, because you're showing evidence that you're actually doing what you say you're going to be doing and so that's going to be all the more compelling in an essay to.
Jocelyn: Absolutely, so whenever we're talking about what does a scholarship committee look at when they want to choose their winner? When they select their winner, they're looking for someone that they know, if they give this money to them, they're going to do something with it; they're going to actually finish their degree. They're going to pursue a career, even if the career changes from what you write your essay about. It's just that you're going to do something with it, because also think about it for them hopefully like, for example me, the scholarships that I received, I'm now a donor. Or I now give back by giving some of my services. So by them investing in me, it's coming back full circle and so they want to make sure that they're choosing the student that's actually going to finish that is showing that they are going to do something with that investment and if you're in college, you're already doing it.
Dr. Colon: So good. So, so good. Okay. Love that. Now I want to ask you, what I love; okay, so I'm going to tell this story because, yeah, I'm going to tell it here and I've told it before to my listeners. I do have a friend who I went to college with, who has three daughters and he told me several years ago that he paid them minimum wage. Instead of getting the job at a fast food restaurant, he said, I paid them minimum wage to search for and apply for scholarships. So it's so bizarre that you said basically the same thing and he said that was a huge return on my investment. He invested like $300 each or something, each child and ranging from $6,000 to $12,000 or something like that. I can't remember. But what does that look like? How much time were you spending? Just to kind of help us understand what that job looked like. I had a part time job in high school and I was working 10, 15 hours a week.
Jocelyn: Yeah. Yeah. That's such a great question. So I'm all for bribery. Parents if you can financially bribe your children for 5, 10, 20 bucks for an application or I like the hourly, I usually say actually do it on a delivered, completed scholarship application that way they're not just kind of dragging their feet, but still I'm all about it.
College Scholarship Tip: Develop an application routine
That said, we actually say to our students 40 hours of school year, so that comes down to maybe an hour, hour and a half a week. If I'm being honest, I was not a weekly scholarship person, I was a batcher. So that's what we always tell our students. You're either going to be that weekly person where you just want to kind of knock things out slowly, slowly, chip away or you're just want to sit down and knock out a bunch of applications. So I was the latter, but I would use holiday breaks and spring break and summer break and I would just knock out the bulk of my application.
So that's the way that I did it, but in the end still, I would say it's the same time commitment. If you're doing a couple hours, if you're doing 20 hours in a semester. So if you do maybe like three, four solid days on scholarships, that's pretty good. Now of course, there's going to be a little bit of outside work like collecting transcripts or resume or recommendation letters. But a lot of times, once you do that, the first time, if you're using like a system like we teach, but you're keeping track of all of these, that is really a diminishing kind of effort.
Once you get them the first time, the second, third, fourth, fifth, you can either reuse them or you know already how to get them. So it's very quick and that's the beauty of it. I always say the amount of winnings is like a hockey stick, where at first it's slow $500, $800, $1,200, but then it shoots up because you get experience, you really worked on that essay and you're able to submit faster and faster and so while the hockey stick goes up for winnings, it's an opposite of a hockey stick when it comes to effort.
So as you're continuing this process, the amount of effort it should take, you should decrease exponentially as you're going. So for me, I would say by the end of my sophomore year in college, I was probably winning 50% of the applications I was submitting. So it was very, it was a few hours here and there on my breaks, and that was pretty much it. Once you figure it out, it's not a terrible time commitment, but I'm being honest, upfront it absolutely requires work. If it didn't, everyone would have a free ride. There's not an easy button. It's not a get rich quick thing. You've got to put the work upfront, but again, you can benefit for four years, so it's worth it.
Dr. Colon: It's completely worth it, completely worth it. Now I'm not sure. I think I heard you say, but I want to just reiterate, because this was, how long does it typically take to hear back once you submit to a scholarship?
College Scholarship Tip: Watch the award dates
Jocelyn: That actually depends. I wish that there was a standard; we have families that are already getting awards from scholarships. So we have winning awards coming in and announcements already, which is pretty early, but some scholarships they'll turn around in two weeks. I know that we actually through the Scholarship System offer scholarships as well, just to give back and we announce our winners within a few weeks, but we also put in the application, hey, we will announce the winner by this date. So a lot of applications will tell you the winner will be announced by a certain date. So I would keep an eye out for that but there are others where they take six months and we had one family, it was pretty awesome through a tax credits and some other strategies they figured it out how to get their kid to college debt-free and then like four months later, they got a letter that he won two $2,000 scholarships and he totally forgot he even submitted them. So they had a surprise $4,000 come in and so in the end they're making money actually. I mean, pretty amazing, but unfortunately it varies. I wish there was a standard, but at the very least, a lot of them do fortunately say when you can check back.
Dr. Colon: Oh, my goodness. Okay. Gosh, I'm going to have to rewind all of this. Listen to it three times. I love it. So I want to ask you a couple of; listeners, you know my book is called Tips, Tales and Truths. So I promise I will ask her the same questions I asked everybody to give a tale and to give a tip and maybe as a precursor, I have wrote down a little note here to myself to make sure to ask do you recommend getting a separate email just for this process?
College Scholarship Tip: set up a new email address for applications
Jocelyn: Yeah. So the story about my email being completely destroyed this process, 100%, that is something that I always recommend to our families. Of course, you want to make it something professional, like [email protected] or something. So try to keep it professional, but yes and you know what, it not only keeps your inbox clean. But it also means that when you log into that email, you're solely focused on scholarships. So it keeps all the junk out of your personal email, but it also means when you're logging into it, you're only focusing on scholarships versus getting emails from your friends, your teachers and so on. So I'm a big fan of that.
Dr. Colon: Okay, great. Again, we're cut from the same cloth. I recommend a separate email just for college, just also, so that the whole family can, I mean, most teenagers don't want mom and dad going into their personal email. So having an email that sort of the family can sort of check on as well. Okay, great. So you've shared, thank you for sharing. You've shared a couple of little tales of your success stories and your students, but in the college admission world, we call them shippers and receivers; shipping end or the receiving end. So if you're a college counselor, you are shipping to the colleges and if you are in the college then you are receiving. So you are somewhere in between, you're in the you're that bridge, but share with our listeners, a tale of a student that comes to mind, that's gone through your system and I want you to share your system in just a second, but share a tale that sticks with you.
College Scholarship Success Stories
Jocelyn: Yeah. Gosh, there are so many, I will say in the last year we have just had, I just feel like we've really figured it out and fine-tuned it. So our families are now over $2.3 million in scholarships and mostly external. We didn't even start counting merit until recently but a couple students come to mind. I think I'll discuss one of my favorite latest wins. This is a family where they have two children. Their first chose a state school. They gave him a certain amount of money and so for the second child, they said, okay, you're going to get the same amount as your brother, so you can choose what school you go to, but then this is what you get. So if you're going to somewhere more expensive, that's on you and so she did have a dream school that was quite more expensive and it was a private school.
Well, by going through a lot of these suggestions, she received $40,000 in merit aid over the four years and then on top of it, she got $52,000 from private sources. So she got over for $92,000 and she still has stuff coming in because they still update me. But what's amazing about that is she did it say, oh, mom and dad are only giving me this amount and so I'm just going to borrow. She didn't just settle and she didn't also just say, okay, I'll just go to a state school as well, she really hit the ground running and really focused on, okay, well, what can I do to get that merit? So planning ahead of time, looking up the test scores we need and strategizing if we know the school and we can shoot for those scores going for that to get that big win up front. I mean, $40,000 is nothing to balk at. But then not quitting there and really going for the private scholarships and I will say that they worked very hard on their essays, but after that, and this was some follow up questions; I said, well, was she a self-starter? Was she really driven? Like, tell me, you know, is she a superstar just human being?
Her mom said actually, you know what, it was kind of pulling teeth, but what she did was she really got a few solid essays that they were able to just rinse and repeat and reuse and other materials from the other scholarship applications. So I just, I loved that because a lot of people assume the only winners are either really unique stories or really driven students and for some of them, it just takes a win to motivate them and that's fine. Let's just get them to that first win and then it can become addicting. So I really love their story.
Dr. Colon: I love that story, the rinse and repeat once you get it down and you have something. I say that there are four foundational essays you need. Who am I, what am I good at, something that's connected to my future career path and what's my coolest factor, something just super cool, different about me. If you can have those four essays, you're going to be gold.
Jocelyn: Absolutely. That would answer most scholarship essays as well. That's a perfect way to outline it. Yeah. I love that.
Dr. Colon: Okay, so the tip, what is your best tip? Share with the listeners how long you've been doing this and I remember before we agreed to do this, I asked some questions and you said that because people were asking you how you had a debt free college, that you started thinking that there were something else. So how long have you been doing this and because of that, what's your best tip?
Jocelyn: Yeah, well as a, just individuals since 2008, but so that's been, wow, that's crazy over a decade, but as a business, we've been doing this since 2014, I believe and so there's even half a decade. I think my best tip really changes as we learn more and more. So there are so many amazing tips, but when I'm looking at the families that are really getting the big successes. I see it as a family affair, but not in the sense where parents are doing the work for their students, but simply in a matter of selecting a time, dedicating a time for scholarships and for applications and really tag teaming it.
College Scholarship Tip: Make it a family affair
So for our families, a lot of times, the way that this looks is parents will help with the research. They'll help find the scholarships.
We have actually a free software I can give you a link to it. I think if they just go to the scholarshipsystem.com/app, it's totally free, but it's a software where parents, the students, they can share the same login and as you're finding scholarships, so you can put them into the app, the app is actually empty. It doesn't have scholarships already in there because we want families just to put the ones that they want to apply to in there.
But that's a way that our parents collaborate with their student. They're doing the research up front for the student and then the student is just knocking out the applications. So this is such a great tag team effort, because like we said, students have so much on their plate and I know that parents do as well, but parents understand the consequences of debt so much more and so they're really way more incentivized to actually do this and so if you can help just alleviate some of the steps in this process, that's a huge part of it.
Also with that, a lot of them set aside at a certain time. So we call them scholarships Sundays, or you can do whatever day of the week works for you but setting a set time. Okay, on Sunday, four to six before dinner, we'll make some snacks. We'll sit down, I'll do my budget, the family budget while you're working on your applications. So setting that time aside and there are so many benefits to this.
First is that means that Monday through Saturday, you're no longer nagging them. So it removes you, it puts you back as a parent, rather than this administrator over their scholarship process, because they know come Sunday they're expected to do the work. So on Sunday, you can get on them, but Monday through Saturday, you don't have to, because you have to set time aside. So I really love that strategy. We have pushed that for years and the families that have had the best success, they really, really own that set family time for this process.
Dr. Colon: Yes. I completely agree, set family time. I tell families don't nag, is it done? Is it done? Is it done, every single day. Carve out I say two windows of power 20 minutes, ask your questions Tuesdays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Saturdays or whatever. So yeah, this falls right in line with setting time aside. So they know it's coming; teenager needs to be clear about what's expected of them, but also have the half has to have the autonomy of being able to be flexible with their time but know that their expectations, obviously they still live in that parent's home until they don't. So I like that family time and the tag team. Okay, so share with us how would someone find you? What do you do? How do you help families navigate the scholarship process?
Jocelyn: Sure. So as you can see, there are so many different strategies that can come into a debt-free degree and paying for college. So what we found is we started off with just the Scholarship System, which is our bread and butter. That's what we've been doing for over half a decade and it is a six step process through the scholarship process. So I think the biggest reason students don't get scholarships is because they're overwhelmed. It's because they want to apply for scholarships, but when they start their search, when they start the process, they just get overwhelmed and they end up quitting. Maybe they submit a few, but then they're done. So what we do is we break the whole process down into six manageable steps and so they actually are implementing it and doing the work and so I think even just that never mind all of the tips and strategies that we've learned to become a more competitive student and submit better scholarship applications and find legitimate ones. Those are all tips that we cover, but just the fact that they have a clear process to follow and tools to help them do it increases their chances of success exponentially.
College Scholarship Tip: use the Scholarship System
So that is our course, our online course, the Scholarship System and again, we've had families get well over two million dollars by using our six steps. So they can learn more about that at the scholarshipsystem.com and then what we've found since doing that is scholarships, of course, is a huge piece of paying for college, but it is still only one piece.
There are so many other factors, like you mentioned FAFSA, CSS profile, financial planning, tax credits, cash-flow planning, budgeting. There are so many other financial aspects to paying for college and so what we've now also created to compliment our course is a monthly membership where they can get a new strategy in addition to scholarships every single month and that's called the debt-free degree lab. So again, they can just go to the scholarshipsystem.com and can learn more about that.
Also on our website, we have tons of free blogs. Every week we release a massive detailed step by step blog that's totally free and then if they follow us on Facebook, we share scholarships and other articles and stuff on there. So I think that's a lot of great places to begin and we even have a free webinar and I can give you a link to that as well.
Dr. Colon: Ah, that's great. Okay. So much stuff and I feel like I wrote this question down and I should have asked it before, but I feel like I want to ask it before I let you go and I don't know, I kind of feel like, parents will know they know this, but in kids speak, why Jocelyn is it important to really think about having a debt-free degree?
Why is it important to do college debt-free?
Jocelyn: This is a conversation that is so important to have with our students and I think that a lot of parents approach it from the perspective of telling them why student debt is not good for them but one of the things that we do actually in our membership every month, we have a shrink come in and talk about the soft side of this, because it's stressful on students and parents alike and we often talk about how this actually needs to come from them. Why do they want a debt-free degree? Sometimes we have to walk them through the tangible and tactical side of it. Figuring out well, let's look at the alternative. If you borrow this, what would your loan payments be after you graduate? Oh, wow. Okay. They're going to be $400, $500 a month. Well, let's take a look at, if you add that on top of your monthly expenses, that means that you have $0 left over from your future paycheck to have fun and that's usually eye-opening for them.
So me, I like very practical solutions. Some students that doesn't work for them, some students you could instead say, okay, well, $400 or $500, what would you like to do with that instead of sending it to the bank? Imagine what could you do with that $400 or $500 after college? Travel, invest in retirement, buy a lot of clothes, whatever it is and so then we're talking about kind of a more reward side of their brain because teenagers and young adults, they're still developing intellectually and so when we try to break it down too tangibly for them, they're just thinking of the consequences, the long-term consequences.
But they definitely do think about travel and experience and fun and all the stuff I want to do with my paycheck after college.
So that said, why is it important to graduate debt-free? I can tell them a million reasons. I mean, there are so many stats that are clear. 30% of kids are moving back in with parents. I know a lot of parents want an empty nest and it is not happening because of student debt. Most students they're renting because they can't buy a house because of their student bills. They're putting off marriage; they're putting off starting families. They're putting off investing in retirement. I mean, if we do go into a recession or a depression, these student loans that people are having that cannot be claimed in bankruptcy, that they are stuck with no matter what that is going to keep them buried for a lot longer than what we saw in the last crisis.
So student debt, the consequences of it go on way further than five, 10 years and in fact, actually the average it takes them to payback is 21 years and that's if they even pay them back at all. So those are a few of the serious consequences that if you want, you can discuss those with your student, but I really do suggest going back to the conversation with them, like I described earlier, because you'll get so much further with them on that way.
Dr. Colon: Oh, thank you so much, Jocelyn. I so appreciate your time and your thoughtfulness on this topic. Here's the real truth everyone. The truth is we can continue to dream of a college of choice. We can continue to strive for that and find the right academic fit and personal fit but without the right financial fit, it's just a dream. Think about the consequences that will come, but think about the joy you will have when you can leave college and enjoy the paycheck that you've earned, enjoy the career and also travel, invest, do so many other things, but again, in a dream without a plan is just a wish. So please, as you are mapping out how to get to college, also map out how you're going to pay for college.
Oh, wow. Well there you have it. Before I let you go, I want to drive home the point of doing everything you can to give your child the gift of a debt-free degree. So, what will your teen need to apply to scholarships? Well, you'll need the info on where find scholarships and how to get started and you can find that at drcynthiacolon.com/48, I've got the links to the Scholarship System and the resources that Jocelyn really lays out well.
College Scholarship Tip: Perfect essays
Now once you know, which scholarships are on the list, your teen will need essays. I mean, really good, OMG, stand out from the crowd kind of essays that will earn you dollars and this doesn't happen in drafts one, two or three. It really takes drafts four to six, for a teen to reflect draft, edit and draft again and again. That's what we offer in our summer college essay boot camps.
For four days, your team will get a personal writing coach and produce four essays with no homework and no nagging and they're ready to hit send in just four days. Really, the best part is you can find an essay camp to join virtually from wherever you are across the country. You can go to my website, drcynthiacolon.com to find a camp that fits your schedule, your budget and your peace of mind and oh, by the way, at the time of this recording, I've heard that from nine campers from the summer of 2019, and those nine campers use their essays to apply to college and have earned so far $1.2 million plus in merit scholarship dollars. So I'm telling you essays are key. So make the investment now and get a return on your investment leader. You will not regret gifting the summer essay camp to your teen. It will be a gift that keeps on giving.
That's all I have for you today my friends, thank you so much for joining me. If this episode has in any way fuelled your confidence or help build your dreams. Please share this episode with three people in the next 30 minutes. You can join the conversation on our Facebook group, Destination Youniversity. It's open to all parents, no matter your grade level. If you found me, you are a parent and mentor or an advocate for college bound teens. So come on over and join the conversation and get the insider scoop. Thanks to Jocelyn for sharing the tips on securing debt-free degree. It's so important to begin planning early and speaking of starting early, the next set of interviews comes from the perspective of our secondary schools. We have someone from Laces, a public school, Candice. We have Mark from a private school, Polytechnic. We have Paula Scala, the superintendent for LA Catholic schools and also Molly from our private school Winward in Southern California. So it's going to be a great next few weeks. Again, these are folks who will give you tips from the perspective of the secondary school.
If you would like to be a guest on the show, nominate someone to be a guest on the show, or would like to become a sponsor please visit my website drcynthiacolon.com/podcast and get in touch with me today. That is all I have for you today my dreamers. Remember to share this episode with three people in the next 30 minutes and I will see you right here, same time, same place next week on Destination Youniversity, until then wherever you are, may you have a happy and sunny day. Bye for now.
Outro: Thank you so much for listening this week to Destination Youniversity. Be sure to join Dr. Cynthia Colon again next Wednesday at 12 noon Pacific time, 3:00 PM Eastern time on the Voice America variety channels and get one step closer to your success.