I’ve told this story so often that it has catchphrases and clichés…but it’s still a good story & it never stopped being true. My undergrad application process was haphazard to say the least. It was as disastrous as someone trying to run through an obstacle course blind-folded…with both feet tied together and a swarm of bees chasing them. By mid December, I hadn’t applied anywhere…and regular decision deadlines were January 1st. Let’s fast forward past the app process (I obviously got things turned in!) and head straight to the financial aid portion afterwards.

I’m a down-home, country girl from Arkansas. Okay…slightly untrue, but I did have a drawl a few years back (that I’m trying to get back!) Most of my friends were only considering in-state schools for two reasons. One, our high school only had information and brochures about in-state schools. Two, they seemed so much cheaper than private institutions. The only issue with that is that the mentoring program I was in ONLY advocated for out-of-state, mainly private institutions. Why? Because they knew a little secret…for first-generation, low-income, underrepresented students like me (yes…I qualify for ALL of those adjectives)…private institutions can actually be significantly cheaper than in-state, public universities.

Let me explain. Pomona College is a need-blind admission, need-based, no-loan, only scholarship & grants school. Let me clarify. Admissions is need-blind (they don’t look at whether you can pay tuition to determine whether they should admit you). Financial aid is need-based (do you need money to help you get through school). The aid is no-loan (if we determine that you need money, we will fund you through scholarships & grants that do not have to be paid back). All of this means that I won’t have any college debt after graduating in May this year…besides maybe that $20 that I owe Student Services for that parking ticket.

Before learning more about Pomona, I had no idea that these types of financial aid programs existed, and many schools (due to the recession a few years back, other funding obligations, etc.) have had to back down from these types of no-loan policies. But not Pomona . When you’re looking at your admission acceptances (because yes, you will have multiple), make sure to consider their financial aid packages, as well. Talk to financial aid officers…talk to current students…review their financial aid web pages. Don’t assume that in-state is cheaper than out-of-state right off the bat and DEFINITELY don’t assume that public is less expensive than private. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about money, because quite honestly, once you commit to attending a school…the next huge step is figuring out how you will pay for it (and tuition & fees tend to increase each year). I’m assuming that my children won’t be able to attend college unless I put back about $500,000 for each of them. I’m exaggerating, but I’m not joking. Furthermore, one of the leading reasons that racial/ethnic minorities and first-generation students start but don’t finish in undergrad is related to financial burdens. If you have a scholarship, make sure it covers more than the first year…or find others to supplement after that first year ends. Find out how the school’s financial aid disburses packages & see about how much debt students have after graduation (and if they’re finding jobs/continuing their education).

Don’t be afraid to ask questions because this is your future…and money matters. It’s not the most important thing…but it’s certainly not the least important either. Feel free to leave me posts or ask me questions…I’m more than happy to help!