Tim Caiello, 21, is a double major in Bible and Humanities and is minoring in Business at Columbia International University. Tim and I worked together as partners teaching at a speech and debate camp for younger students several years ago. I was scared to death of him because he was a senior, an amazing debater and speaker, and I was something like 14! Of course he made me feel comfortable working with him, it turned out to be a lot of fun, and I learned a lot from his leadership skills. I asked him for an interview recently because I knew he had worked very hard to earn scholarships to school and I have always been impressed with his character. It wasn’t until this interview that I knew of his commitment to attend school debt free!
Me: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your college experience so far.
Tim: I applied to five different private Christian universities. I attend Columbia International University and participate in a number of extra curricular activities. Some of the highlights have been student government, student senate, intramural sports, editing the school peer reviewed academic journal, and multiple internships. I passionately love very spicy ginger ale and am involved in more hobbies outside of school than I have either time or money for.
Me: Did you plan financially for college when you were in high school? If so, how did you plan?
Tim: I come from a family that told me from the time I was young that the reality was that if we were going to be able to afford school, we’d have to work very hard and go on scholarship. Financially, there are two main ways to pay for college: working very hard for an enormous number of hours at a job and saving money aggressively, or studying very hard and getting the kinds of grades that result in college scholarships. Either way, attending school without wracking up excessive debt entails significant amounts of work. In retrospect, if I could do highschool over, I would have worked much more to save some money for college, a car, or the expenses that come with a little more independence.
Me: Were your parents a factor in that planning or were you responsible for paying for school on your own?
Tim: My parents would have helped me if they could have, but paying for all my college was really never an option for them.
Me: Why did you end up at Columbia International University?
Tim: God opened the door for me to attend CIU on a full four year scholarship. I’m very blessed to have my room, board, and tuition completely covered by the school for the duration of my time here. I work an on campus job to pay for the things that I need over and above room/board/tuition such as books, food for my dorm room, my hobbies, travel, and the unexpected expenses of life.
Me: What scholarships did you apply for? Were they specific to the school/schools that you applied for or more general?
Tim: I applied to a number of private Christian colleges, and all the scholarships that they each offered. Besides CIU there were two- three other schools where I had a full ride, or could have been very very close and most likely would have been able to attend debt free. That didn’t just happen, I worked very hard in high school to get the grades and SAT scores necessary to win college scholarships because I had no other option. I also entered essay writing contests and scholarship drawings.
Me: Did you consider taking on student loans? Why or why not?
Tim: No. I had determined during my last several years of high school that I wanted to attend college and graduate debt free. I knew that that would be very difficult, but as I began the college search, it was one of the key factors that I used to evaluate colleges. I prayed that God would open the door where he wanted me to go, and being able to attend on scholarship without debt was without question the most important factor I weighed as I approached college.
Me: How do you support yourself at college? Do you work in order to have spending money or pay other bills?
Tim: I’ve worked a succession of campus jobs as they’ve been available to pay for books and living expenses. I’m currently trying to save money in order to buy a car.
Me: In your opinion, what is the best source of scholarship money for high school students?
Tim: Without question the sure fire way to get scholarships is to put in the time and work as hard as you have to to get good grades and SAT scores. The reality is that though college admission and scholarships are competitive, if you work hard in high school and build a solid academic resume, colleges will end up fighting for YOU! Sounds like a total turning of the tables sometimes, but it’s a reality. Colleges want strong students. They’re willing to roll out the red carpet and fight other schools by incentivizing attendance with scholarships for good students.
Me: What advice would you like to give to someone my age who is starting to seriously plan for college?
Tim: Work. Hard. College is incredibly fun. It’s a wild time and arguably the best four years of your life. That’s been my experience here at CIU so far at least. However, it’s also a paradox: in order to have the fun and be able to attend, you have to put in the work, grind out the hours hitting the books in highschool.
Me: What do you love most about college and what are your plans for the future?
Tim: I love the people. I’ve made friendships that I know will be life long. Words can’t express how much fun college has been, or how much it’s changed me and the students and professors that I get to rub shoulders with every day here are the key factor in that. If I could just give a word of insight to highschool students looking towards college skeptically as they weight the amount of work that surrounds getting solid highschool grades, applying to colleges, and then actually doing college level work: it’s worth it ten thousand times over. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but for most, you have no idea how fun, rewarding, memorable, and worthwhile it will be!
In conclusion, I think I can condense a significant amount of what I’ve said into several key points:
First, college is incredibly worthwhile, and is statistically and historically a gateway to rewarding and satisfying jobs (not to mention it’s just plain fun). Second, college is through the roof expensive, and there’s no way around the fact that getting to attend entails lots of hard work; whether that’s working to earn the money to go, or working academically to have the grades to win scholarships. My experience has been the academic route and by God’s grace alone, all the doors have opened for me. College life itself is well worth any amount of work, missed parties, and long weekends you have to suffer through in high school; take my word for that. This post has been intentionally focused on college and scholarships, but a huge part of the preparation for college, and then healthy living in college revolves around smart budgeting; but that will have to be the topic of a later post. In the mean time, if there was one thing I’d like you to take from my experience, it’s work hard now!! It will pay you back many times over.
Me: Thanks Tim. I’m going to hold you to that second post soon! I really appreciate your time and wish you the best.
How are you planning to finance your college experience? Saving? Preparing academically like Tim? A combination of both? Leave a comment and let us know about your plan!