Editor's note: With the 2016-2017 FAFSA now available, many students will be beginning their financial aid journey. Here is one student's experience; for a how-to on financial aid, click here.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
There’s a world of answers to that question, but hardly anyone answers with “in debt.”
For Nick Haney, an Arizona State University pre-law and political science major, his answer was always clear: someone who helps others. He was the only kid at Disneyland bypassing Mickey Mouse and doing photo ops with the nearest police officer.
Whether it was being an elected official or a firefighter, Haney was determined to serve the greater community.
Not part of his plan: having a financial snag nearly derail his college journey.
ASU was an easy choice for Haney. It allowed him to stay near his close-knit family, and it was a family tradition. His mom — whom he describes as “annoyingly smart” — is both an alumna and a current ASU graduate student with a 4.0 grade-point average.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Haney ended his freshman year with a 4.0 GPA. That was the easy part.
Paying for his freshman year in college? That was a challenging learning experience.
Haney had been heavily involved in high school, but when it came time to apply for scholarships, he brushed it off; he would worry about it later.
It wasn’t until the second semester of his freshman year that reality hit. He had an outstanding balance and could not enroll in classes.
Haney, who didn’t like to ask for help, felt guilty, realizing it was something he could have prevented if he’d taken it more seriously.
“It was really tough; it was something that I regret. I wasn’t proactive, so I really didn’t know and luckily my family made a lot of sacrifices so I was able to finish out my freshman year,” Haney said.
His aunt helped him fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), something he was unaware existed.
“In high school they pushed going to college, but they didn’t necessarily push applying for scholarships or even the FAFSA. It was all unknown to me,” he said.
He also landed a job at ASU’s scholarship office that fall, opening his eyes to the range of available scholarships and the ease of applying. He said it gave him the motivation to finish out his freshman year.
Now a senior at ASU, Haney is on the path to fulfilling his career aspirations. As Senate president of the Undergraduate Student Government on the Tempe campus, he has had the opportunity to be involved on campus.
Haney’s advice to other students? College can be affordable. You don’t have to be the smartest kid in class; you just have to take advantage of the help available. There are scholarship opportunities that address different interests and groups of people.
He recommends students apply to as many scholarships as possible, regardless of amount. Every little bit is one step closer to finishing a degree. When applying for scholarships, he advises:
• Be yourself.
• Tell your story.
• Don’t count yourself out.
Donors want to help students pursue their goals, Haney said. Really look at the pool of scholarships and “cast your net,” he said.
After the hard-learned lesson of having to accept a loan his freshman year and working as many as three jobs, Haney completed the FAFSA and applied for scholarships. After his junior year, he was attending ASU on scholarships and grants. No loans. He was going to college nearly for free.
“It’s really allowed me to run for student government and be more involved, and it’s opened up a lot of doors just through the scholarship program itself,” he said. “It’s definitely that missing piece of college that I didn’t have and it’s really something I love because it’s changed the way I think about ASU and everything I’ve been able to accomplish thus far.”
As for the household GPA battle, Nick just laughs, before saying his mom is in the lead.
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