Mary Losiak is a 19 year old attending The King’s College in New York City. Mary is a Business Administration major and lives off campus in order to save money. She recently agreed to an interview when I discovered that she is committed to attending school debt free. She finished her very first semester with a 3.46 GPA and without owing anyone a single dime! Amazing!
Me: Why have you committed to attending college debt free?
Mary: I took a financial course in high school that featured Dave Ramsey. For a lot of people debt is just a given if you want to go to school. Dave made some really good points about how to work to graduate debt free, and the whole idea seemed a little more possible after those lectures. One thing about my personality: I’m very stubborn. Most people know me to be easy going, but I do like to achieve the goals that I set my mind to. Once I accepted the challenge of graduating debt free, I put in a lot of hours applying for scholarships, and reading about the financial aid that different schools offer.
Me: Do you think it is really possible to avoid student loan debt?
Mary: Yes. It is not easy at all, and for most people the cost of graduating debt free is higher then the cost of graduating with debt. While I value being debt free in four years, many of my class mates value having time to study for all their classes, and having free time to take unpaid internships. I sacrifice my weekends, and my ability to intern, for a paying retail job. You can graduate debt free, but you have to be willing to spend your time very differently then many of the other kids on campus. (Mary works almost 40 hours a week at her job)
Me: Is it true that you completed your first semester at King’s debt free?
Mary: Yup! I should celebrate, right? I owe no money to my landlord, my school, or to my bank. I might not have enough to see all the killer Broadway shows I want, but I do have a really optimistic attitude about keeping this up for the next three years.
Me: How exactly did you accomplish this?
Mary: I found a school that values the talent and vision that I have. Not every school wanted me. I got plenty of acceptance letters, but as I got to know the admissions office, I realized that most of them just were not able or willing to help me achieve the goal of graduating debt free. Institutional aid is a large chunk of the aid that is helping me do this, and when a school really wants you on their campus because they think you will make their incoming class better, they are willing to go the extra mile to help you get to that campus. FAFSA is also a huge blessing for me. This online form can be filled out for free, and gives up to $5,500 in a scholarship grant (meaning you don’t pay it back) for a school year. Not every private school will accept federal student aid and this was a factor that steered me towards King’s. Definitely worth taking the time to fill out. Once I knew that my school wanted me, and that I could possibly enroll there, I took advantage of their different promotions. I registered early to earn a $1,000 credit, and visited to earn another $1,000 credit. Great little bonuses that made this first year even easier! I also made sure to apply on time to each of their different institutional scholarships.
Me: Are there any other ways that King’s helped you with this?
Mary: I had a relationship with my admissions counselor where I talked to him about concerns I had, and the goal I had of graduating debt free. He forwarded me information about institutional aid, and kept me updated on how much aid I would receive. Call your admissions counselor! Get to know them, and they will be even more enthusiastic about helping you.
Me: What advice would you like to give younger teens like myself so that they can avoid student loan debt?
Mary: Scholarships that you hear about through places like Capex, or Fastweb, are scholarships that thousands of other people are competing for. I applied for many of them, and didn’t even hear back from most. I would have been in a better position had I taken the time to participate in local scholarship contests. Think about participating in a pageant or writing a speech for the Optimist club. Not a whole lot of high school students compete in local speech competitions, so putting in a few hours to prepare for that opportunity will pay off better than putting in a few hours for an online essay entry, in my opinion. On campus housing can be a big expense. I was blessed by someone that knows our family and was willing to rent me a small apartment for the length of the school year. Some schools may not approve off campus living but look into it. It may not be possible for some, but I am saving money on my rent by living off campus.
Me: How do you like living in New York? Is that the real reason that you chose your school?
Mary: The city is beautiful and terrible. I love the art, the theater, even the people you get to meet, but it’s not the final reason that brought me to King’s. I certainly wasn’t expecting to end up in NYC for school. The fact that I’m at The King’s College is a huge blessing to me. I never expected to be able to afford this kind of education. Being in New York was not my priority, but I can say that I love the opportunities that I get as a result.
Me: Thanks so much for your time Mary. It is really encouraging to me to see a teenager like you working hard and doing what it takes to stay debt free. You are a real inspiration. Thank you!