‘I Set Out to Get as Many Scholarships as Possible’

by H.G.

How did you pay for your education, H.G.?

I don’t remember when, or even if, my parents told me that I would have to pay for college on my own, but it was always a cut-and-dry fact in my mind. The idea of getting loans to pay for college never really seemed like a possibility (I’m still in awe of the fact that I’ve been able to get law school loans with fairly little effort), so I set out to get as many scholarships as possible.

Since my main accomplishment in seventh grade basketball had been being tall enough to be in the way, academics was really my only option. In high school, I set out to take the most advanced courses offered, which isn’t too difficult in a school with no AP classes and one foreign language offering. I took the ACT several times, for reasons that are no longer clear, but came away with an almost perfect score. I joined all of the clubs you can imagine a nerdy kid being in — I was on the Math and Scholar’s Bowl (aka Quiz Bowl) teams, president of the honor society, and part of a local civic service club. I volunteered to hand out Fig Newtons to blood donors. Once I turned 16, I started working at McDonald’s, mostly to have money, but also because it showed dedication and a good work ethic.

As a senior I applied almost exclusively to in-state schools, expanding to one school the next state over because someone (my mom? the guidance counselor?) insisted on it. I searched and applied for scholarships constantly, writing essays that I thought were so very deep, which I’m sure are so very embarrassing now. I interviewed for scholarships at a couple of schools in “business” clothes from Cato’s that I absolutely hated. At one interview, the kid who interviewed before me told his mother that they asked him what animal he would be; he chose an eagle. His mom thought that was an excellent choice of strength and valor; I rolled my eyes at my own mother (Mothers, of course, are always there for a scholarship interview in Alabama). In my interview, they asked me the absolutely ludicrous question of “Have you ever done something that hurt people you cared about?” and for some reason, I told them about my suicide attempt. I wasn’t entirely surprised when I found out I was on the waitlist for the scholarship, but I cried for hours anyway. Some weeks later, I graduated off the waitlist and cried for a whole other reason.

My scholarship paid for 8 semesters’ tuition and dorms, a laptop, and money for meal plans, books, and living expenses. I got a few other scholarships, including one for my dedicated McDonald’s service. Once I was at school, I took on a job planning on-campus events that paid the amount of my dorm over again, and had a couple other part time jobs over the years. For the first (and last?) time ever, I actually had more money that I really needed. I used a large part of it to buy a new-to-me car when I was a freshman. As a senior, I used some to study abroad for half of the summer. I used the rest to live mostly unemployed (mostly involuntary) for the 5 months between graduation and the beginning of law school.

I didn’t luck into such an incredible setup for law school. As the government likes to remind me, I have about $140,000 in loans for the past three years of education. But, I am lucky that, unlike many of my classmates, this is my only debt. Furthermore, I can defer, get income-based repayment, get assistance from my expensive law school and, in my chosen field, get forgiveness in 10 years.

H.G. is a lawyer.

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